Ben Hatke's colorful Zita The Spacegirl and her impressively large cast of supporting characters -- both old and new -- all come together for one last epic adventure in "The Return of Zita The Spacegirl," centered around breaking Zita out of prison. However, in appropriate Zita fashion, the story is more about saving the world and doing what's right.
Hatke's designs for Zita's world have always been well-informed, vibrant and lovely. As he brings together a massive cast of all Zita's friends and allies, Hatke's work feels almost effortless here. His storytelling has a fluid and loose feel to it but he knows just when to slow things down and focus on character beats and emotions. Hatke's strengths are in some of the visual comedy elements, world-building choices, expressive character work and unique characters. New characters Ragpile and Femur are the standouts of this new volume and they get all the best and funniest lines. Though Hatke is also good with action there are times in this volume when it gets away from him a little bit, feeling slightly rushed and lacking clarity.
Hatke does a good-but-not-great job of straddling that line between a book aimed at children and one that is still thoroughly enjoyable for adults. There are some funny characters that will engage both kids and adults equally, but for the most part this does feel like a kids' book, which is fine, but it's always a nice bonus when a book like this has enough layers that it is also fully engaging for an adult. Books that can manage both audience obviously increase their potential audience and perhaps more importantly, allows a book to be read over and over again for years, with new things gleaned from each reading. The layers necessary for that aren't really here. But as a book for kids -- one with strong and passionate superhero themes of doing the right thing, never giving up, showing compassion and not being afraid of making mistakes -- this book is both powerful and lovely.
For fans of the series Hatke does an excellent job of actually bringing Zita's adventures to a close but also opening the door wide for future books. It's about as satisfying an ending as one can expect in a trilogy while still having hope to see more of the world and characters at a later date.
On the whole, Hatke's Zita series is exactly what the comics world needs -- more wonderfully developed passionate comics about superheroes geared toward kids. The stories and lessons in "The Return of Zita The Spacegirl" are beautifully universal without ever feeling cloying and it's exactly the kind of book every kid remotely interested in superheroes and adventure should read.