If the Phoenix Mars Lander had been an adorable robotic cat high on the spirit of adventure, she might have resembled Ellie of the webcomic Ellie on Planet X. Ellie tours a distant planet — and beams back charming footage.
James Anderson's Ellie on Planet X has a simple premise: Ellie is an explorer robot sent to a newly discovered planet. She records her findings and beams them back to Mission Control, but it takes eight years for her data to reach Earth. So Ellie is (at least initially) all alone, searching the planet for signs of life.
But it's the execution that makes this comic something special. Ellie is a charming tour guide, and encapsulates so much of what you'd want in a space explorer. She's curious, intellectual, optimistic, and not above a bit of silliness. She doesn't merely drink in her surroundings; she appreciates them. When she eventually encounters alien lifeforms, she pokes and prods at them playfully, whether by flying with a hovering balloon creature, or testing the abilities of the all-knowing Mind Shrub.
Planet X is home to a number of strange and bizarre creatures, and Anderson enjoys introducing us to them — especially the numerous species of Caterslink. But he never lets the weirdness of the new alien life overwhelm the central theme of the comic, which is the sheer joy of discovering and interacting with something (or someone) new.