By Zack Quaintance — The holidays are over, which means many of us spent (and survived) time with our family. I know I spent quite a bit of time with my parents, who have been divorced for years but came together to spend time with me in the same room because I rarely make it from California home to Chicago. And you know what? It wasn’t all bad!
I’ll spare you the details of our own familial complications, noting only that what’s happening here in Saga right now—with Marko and Alana buckling under the pressure of raising a young child in a challenging world—feels familiar to me, as I’m sure it does to a good many readers. Reflecting on my own childhood while doing this re-read really impressed upon me the universality of this book, the way that as a married adult now I can see myself in both the parents and the child. I know I know I know...I’m a broken record heaping praise upon Saga (see our Best Comics of 2018!), but I really do like it that much.
And now, our usually weekly deep dive into the twists, turns, and bliss that is this individual issue!
Here is the official preview text for Saga #22, which was first released back on Aug. 27, 2014. Ah, what a time that was, amiright? Anyway, below you will as always find the bygone solicit text for the issue...
The family is tested.
Really, you all? This could essentially be the preview text for literally every last issue of this series. That said, upon re-read it certainly seems like this is the arc in which the family is most tested. At least, until the arc that concluded last summer, anyway. But I digress. Let’s keep the focus on this issue! Vamos haber...
The Cover: This cover isn’t one of the most visually-stunning, but I do like it in concept. Featuring Marko’s mother seated with Izabel and that big alien walrus thing to each side, I suppose the intention behind this one is to show just how odd their little family unit has become. Perhaps odd is the wrong word. Maybe unlikely is better. Either way, I like that notion, even if this cover isn’t as illustrative of the ongoing quiet family conflict as the arc maybe demands.
The First Page: Okay, so maybe I’m in a bad mood today, but I also really don’t like this first page. Which is maybe the point? This page shows a homely-faced character in pastels and a mini-skirted rollerskating outfit having a cosmic digestive issue and remarking, Oopsie, I made a universe! This character is actually Izabel pretending for Hazel. Which is why I’m supposing part of the aim here is to be in annoyingly poor taste. I suspect either Vaughan and Staples had been watching some bad kids TV with their own kids at the time of inception...so yeah, mission accomplished, in that it re-enforces the idea that pandering to kids all the time becomes a difficult environment for adults to totally lose themselves in. Showing this annoying joke at home re-enforces (to me, anyway) why both Marko and Alana are elsewhere looking for escape.
The Surface: Marko and Alana get wind of each other’s mutual escaping from the mundanity of the routines they’ve settled into, doing what must be done for the sake of their young child, Hazel. This gives rise the heated conflict that has been building between them for several issues, tears and yelling and regret. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but done tastefully in a way that stands to show us what our characters (and more importantly, their marriage) are really made of. Meanwhile, Robot IV’s plotline progresses in two place: with him visiting his father at home and with Dengo (the kidnapper) showing up at Open Circuit, looking for access to mass media. This all ends in one hell of a cliffhanger, with Alana’s friend/co-worker/drug dealer (whose name escapes me) offering her up as a bargaining chip, a recurring plot point throughout this story.
The Subtext: There is an idea laid out pretty blatantly in this issue that has floated under the surface throughout the entire story. Agent Gale tells a disgruntled Robot IV that The whole point of having enemies abroad is getting to ignore the ones back home, as the duo stand on a palatial balcony overlooking an obvious slum, in which the homes are built atop one another. It’s a bit heavy-handed, straining the definition of subtext, but it does tease out some past subtext. This is becoming an increasingly difficult section to write, as the subtext (so much an emphasis in early orienting issues) fades into the background in favor of rapid plot points. I’m not complaining.
The Art: The headlining art in this issue is the visage of King Robot, which, to my mind, is one of the most memorable designs in the entire series. It’s a pretty risky one, extrapolating the concept of a kingdom of cyborg’s with TV heads to an extreme that could have looked really silly. Staples, however, transcends that and pulls it off, which in my opinion is yet another testament to the vast contributions she makes to the book every damn issue.
The Foreshadowing: A little bit of foreshadowing in Alana’s storyline, with Upsher and Doff noticing her use of a line from one of Heist’s novels. That will certainly come back to be relevant later. Perhaps more interesting (and subtle) is the return of Marko’s volatile rage. He pelts Alana with a bag of groceries here before immediately regretting and apologizing. We’ve seen Marko erupt before, but we’ve never seen him look so despicable doing it. The creative team is seeding his rage well, which stands out upon re-read, knowing what we do now about where this plot is headed.
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.