By Zack Quaintance — There’s a lot going on in this week’s Saga #19. This is the first issue back from one of those Saga hiatuses, a five-month break which now in retrospect seems downright abbreviated. There’s been a time jump, characters have moved around, and the central family seems to have settled into a new status quo. More on all of that later. What I’d like to touch on briefly in this intro is what Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples were working toward here.
Saga, especially in its early days, was a book built on not shock value, but definitely on provided comic book readers writ large with visuals, feelings, and even a few ideas that had maybe never before been captured on the paneled page. With the start of its fourth arc, there’s definitely a feeling here that the creators are working to keep things fresh, to keep readers on that unpredictability high, and to find new places in this universe that will enable them to do so. I remember on first read being just a bit ambivalent at times in this arc (just a bit, because, as this feature should probably make evident, Saga is my favorite comic), and I’m anxious to see how it plays on re-read.
With that in mind, let’s get to this week’s comic!
Here’s the official preview text for Saga #19, which was first released back on May 21, 2014. We were all so young then...sigh. Anyway, here’s the bygone solicit text for the book…
Saga returns! New planet, new adversaries, and a very new direction, all from the same old Hugo Award-winning team. Mature Readers.
Saga took a five-month break between #18 and #19, and when it returned, it came back with a time jump (teased at the end of last issue) and a new direction. This is the point where I recall the book not exactly losing momentum but definitely settling in after a pretty rapid pace of plot developments over the course of its first three arcs. I’m interested to see how my memories square with the actual story upon reading reading.
The Cover: The new direction mentioned by the solicit text is evident in this cover, which like some of the other most memorable covers is clearly indicative of the Saga world and aesthetic, yet basically contains nothing we’ve seen before. This one is also different, in that it features an established character in a costume/storyline that we’ve barely seen hinted at as of yet.
The First Page: So, this one’s a doozy...a close-up shot of Prince Robot IV’s baby being born, like a really close-up shot, as a voice from off panel yells, One last push! This is one of those Saga first pages that reminds you what this book is really about: an unflinching look at love and life and family, depicted with some of the wildest sci-fi designs you’ve ever seen. The baby having an old TV stand-by pattern on its screen as it’s born is also incredibly funny, btw.
The Surface: This first issue of the arc didn’t represent as drastic of a shift in the plot as I seemed to remember, potentially because I’ve read another 30-some issues past this and can see it in the context of the whole. Either way, at our slow one-issue-per-week pace, Saga #19 to me felt like a pretty natural extension of all that has come before it, even if what the characters are actually doing is a major shift. Alana has a job acting on the pirace circuit, Marko is a stay-at-home dad, and Prince Robot IV is MIA. Notably absent are Gwendolyn, Sophie, The Will, and Lying Cat, who were all pretty instrumental to the climax of the previous arc.
The Subtext: There’s not much room for elaborate metaphor in this issue. There’s a lot of subtle work done to hint at what’s gone on with the characters in the time jump, though. There’s also a couple of hints (granted, easily missed) that the raging forever war has maybe not done wonders for the economy, that everyday folks—the janitor for the Robot royals, as well as our central family—are facing a larger challenge to provide and survice. That all makes sense given that this came out in 2014 and was presumably written and drawn sometime before that, when we had maybe just then started to really put some distant between ourselves and the devastating 2007-2008 global recession.
The Art: Staples often seems to put together some of her best work in the return issues following a Saga hiatus, and this one is no exception. In addition to the opening page splash, there’s a more vibrant full-page here that depicts a now-toddler-sized Hazel playing in a bouncy castle with other kids, her little horns now starting to show with an expression of pure joy on her face. It’s incredibly well done and also welcome after the danger the family has just faced (at least in our minds as readers), and Staples nails it. Also, shout-outs to the one-pager with Alana smooching another actor on set amid a buzzing throng of adorable flies, and the ending page with its perfect mix of dread and cuteness.
Foreshadowing: Tons of it in this issue, really. This is the story of how my parents split up. That last line, of course, sets the tone for the marital drama that will play out in this arc. There’s also Alana’s job stress and Marko’s hesitant friendship with the dance instructor on the playground. Meanwhile, in the Robot Kingdom, the presence of the embittered janitor who broadcasts a skull on his television face screen when someone walking away mentions the royals is something to keep an eye on. Also interesting is how this issue starts to pay off so much of the foreshadowing done in the last arc: Alana acting on the circuit, the job being important, the kids settling into family life, etc.
Check out past installments of our Saga Re-Read.
Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.