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Monday, 6 June 2011

At the Panelists earlier this spring, Charles Hatfield saw a little too much Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl:
Zita, after all, is the story of a feisty young girl who passes through an unexplained portal—in this case opened by a videogame-controller-like device discovered in a fallen meteorite—and who undertakes a quest in the company of a growing cast of helpmates, all male, all weird, each with his own tics and challenges.

In this case we get a giant mouse, a couple of dysfunctional robots, a big, strong, childlike monster called simply Strong-Strong, and, for expository purposes, a human: the minstrel-magician Piper, a self-serving rascal, who seems to be the only one who knows what’s going on (and whose Pied Piper-like music echoes Hatke’s self-proclaimed enthusiasm for the tin whistle).
Hatfield laments “the story’s rote, generic setups, its illogical or merely coincidental plotting, and its shopworn characterizations,” but notes that it seems to have a good time in well-traveled territory.

Given its large cast, Betsy Bird proffered Zita as an exception to her “Oz Quest Theory” that stories like The Wizard of Oz regularly involve the hero picking up three companions. (“Mute pet companions of the Toto variety don’t really weigh into all this.”) But perhaps the dynamic works different in comics, where a supporting character can remain a presence in the background without needing to be involved in every conversation.

Incidentally, I’d say that Toto stands out from Dorothy’s companions not because he’s “fairly superfluous,” as Betsy wrote. (Whom, after all, does Dorothy leave the storm cellar and the balloon to retrieve? Whose plight spurs her to slap the Lion? Who knocks over the Wizard’s screen?) Rather, Toto stands out because he was part of Dorothy’s life from the beginning. He’s a symbolic extension of her, not something new she picks up along the way.

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