By Zack Quaintance — Here begins Saga’s self-contained The War for Phang event story, which I remember being a tad bit disappointed with at the time. In retrospect, it’s really more on me than it is on the creator’s of this comic. Saga is not and has never been that kind of comic, the one to play up grandiose warfare into some kind of marketable event. Besides, have you seen the rest of this site? I read enough of that kind of comic.
What we do get here, however, is a more direct examination of the effects of this forever war than we see throughout the rest of the series. In this issue, we see some actual warfare as we revisit Phang, a backwater that’s rich in fuel and is thereby also rich in bloodshed. This is also the place our story began, which will presumably lead to some symmetrical poetry as this story line unfolds. More on that to follow…
Let’s get to it!
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #37, which was first released back on August 31, 2016. And boy is it a doozy! I don’t even know how to react. Here it is…
SAGA is back with its most epic storyline yet, and to celebrate, FIONA STAPLES graces this issue with a gorgeous wraparound cover! Finally reunited with her ever-expanding family, Hazel travels to a war-torn comet that Wreath and Landfall have been battling over for ages. This arc is a self-contained "event" we've been building to since our very first issue, so now is the perfect time for readers who love SAGA's bestselling collections to join our monthly adventures!
So, there it is. At the start of this new story arc, the preview text has expanded to match the scope of the story, which is now speeding into Saga’s self-dubbed contained event, The War for Phang. Let’s see if the actual comic can keep pace with the grandiosity of the marketing.
The Cover: This is, as far as I can recall, the only wraparound cover in all of Saga, and like its preview text before it, it’s a doozy. To my mind, depictions of all-out combat have been conspicuously absent, a choice I read as deliberate. I think the creators are making a statement about how forever war can fade into the background as we concern ourselves more with everyday life. This cover, however, very much emphasizes actual combat. We see both sides (horns and wings) across the field from each other. It’s a small shot, as battle depictions go. Still, the big takeaway for me is an extrapolation of what this war really looks like. It’s interesting, if not excessively poignant or provocative. It does set the stage well, however, for the size of the story to come.
The First Page: A very nice one. It’s got an adorable-yet-real looking spalsh panel of Hazel knocked out so hard in bed with her doll that a little drool is coming down her cheek. Meanwhile, her narration says Families are goddamn wildfires, providing an excellent contrast. When taken together, it’s a nice encapsulation of both the joys and challenges of domesticity, the comfort and chaos they provide our lives. Basically, I love this.
The Summary: This issue opens heavy on the family stuff, with Marko and Alana (whose pregnancy was just revealed last issue) talking about the future when the tree turns orange with some kind of alert. That alert gives us a chance to check-in on our entire crew, seeing what each is doing when it happens. We then cut to Prince Robot IV having some alone time, during which we see everything. His unique anatomy (screen for head) allows us to see what he’s fantasizing about, which turns out to be Alana. Basically, he no longer wants to murder our heroes. They’ve grown on him. Cut to Petrichor and Izbel, Petrichor who as a member of the horns still feels no affinity for Alana or Prince Robot. The orange alert, apparently, means low fuel.
Petrichor suggests they hitch a ride on a nearby comet, which brings us back to...Phang! Exactly where the story began. A brief bit of added exposition about Phang gives us one of the gruesome war scenes in our story to date. That exposition goes on to talk about how Phang is rich in materials that can be used as fuel, making it strategically important. That, however, gives way to checking in on some old friends—Sophie and Lying Cat! And of course Gwendolyn as well. Sophie is much bigger than the last time we saw her, and she has a clear mother-daughter relationship with Gwendolyn now, Gwendolyn who shuts down her dreams of applying to intern with a freelancer (like The Will).
Sophie’s motivation, we soon learn, is to pay Gwendolyn back, both monetarily and by finally enacting revenge upon Marko. Gwendolyn, however, is very much over that. With help from Lying Cat (the best narrative device in comics), we learn that Gwendolyn’s unsettled past with the traitorous Marko is preventing her from landing a better job in Wreath high command. The issue ends with our heroes encountering a Porg-esque little fellow (this pre-dates Porgs, btw) and his large extended family, who are in need of assistance.
The Subtext: Whereas Phang was cast in earlier issues as a war-torn backwater, it is now depicted as an encapsulation of the essentially bi-partisan discord that has roiled the entire galaxy. Also, Phang being rich in fuel makes it a pretty obvious analog for Iraq, which by this issue’s publication in 2016 was mostly out of the headlines. That, however, quickly segues into a story about refugees, which was all over the news back then.
The Art: Look how colorful this week’s crop of chosen panels is! Although they are not without total carnage...
The Foreshadowing: It’s not long-term or anything, but Gwendolyn’s conversation with Sophie foreshadows the carnage to come on Phang. Hazel’s narration also tells us that few adventures will end worse than this one, which re-readers know is not really true. But hey, it pays to build suspense.
Join us next week as we dive into Saga #38, ...
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Check out previous 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.