By Zack Quaintance — The War for Phang story arc has been billed as a self-contained event for Saga, and so as you’ll see in a moment, that means teasing the death of a character. Indeed, in modern comics no event is complete without loss, and even indie-minded Saga capitulates to this idea. Sigh.
This event is a strong one, though, taking us back to the roots of our story in a way that reminds us of all that’s at stake here. Simply put, much like the rest of this series, this arc is upon re-read exceedingly thoughtful and well done. I’m already liking the War for Phang better on this second read through.
Let’s take a closer look at why!
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #38, which was first released back on September 28, 2016. After one week of really really detailed preview text, we’re back to the usual. There’s a certain comfort in that...
"THE WAR FOR PHANG," Part Two...When your babysitter's a ghost, death is never very far away.
Death, what a tease. Also, there’s no surer way for a comicbook to draw attention than to tease the worst—the death of a much loved character. Oof, get ready to ache. Let’s do this!
The Cover: I absolutely love everything about this cover, from the scene it depicts—the two characters obviously engaged in some child-babysitter shannanigans—to the washed out yet heavily pink color pallette. It’s a great one, really eye catching and a nice diversion from other covers in the Saga line.
The First Page: This first page is really funny. I also think it might be the moment where Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples were clearly like, fuck it, let’s go for it. There have been first pages that reek of that before. This one, however, has zombies, and instead of hungering for brains, they’re hungering for taints. It’s the exact type of crude absurdist humor this book loves to deal in, and I’m there for it.
The Summary: Zombies hungering for taints gets put in hilarious context in the first pages here, when they are revealed to be an illusion created by Izbel the babysitter. (Extra points for Marko being like, “Taints? What in the world are—”) It doesn’t fool the little rodential guys, who are all refugees. At Hazel’s behest, Marko and Alana decide to share their provisions with these war-torn folks. After this there follows a six-month time jump, during which Alana becomes heavy with the new child she’s carrying. Also, the little rodent folks straight-up move into their tree.
The denizens of the tree-ship have all grown close in that time as the fighting has raged around them. Petrichor seems to be the only concerned member of our little group. Petrichor has past experience with the race of rodents, believing them to be terrorists. Petrichor and Marko go on to debate, whether entire races should be judged on the actions of a few. Meanwhile, Hazel bonds with a young rodent boy named Kurti, as children do, while Prince Robot IV and Hazel hatch a plan to find fuel at an abandoned Robot Kingdom embassy on the other side of Phang. At the end, we cut to The Will, who is off in search of Gwendolyn, coming face to face with her surprise wife. Cut back to Hazel at the aforementioned embassy.
Hazel’s plan is immediately problematic. She encounters a foe that can harm her in her, even though she’s a ghost. The March. This nasty freelancer has two heads, and like so many other characters is in search of Marko and Alana. They are also able to harm Hazel, which they do when she won’t tell them where Marko is, running her through with a sword and causing her to disintegrate. This hurts.
I don’t know where to fit this into things, but this is the issue where Prince Robot IV becomes fully hilarious, saying things like, “A beheadable-yet-fair assessment” and “Thanks to your employers, my only son has been left in the care of a mentally deficient seal lad for far too long.” Great stuff.
The Subtext: There’s some heavy subtext at the start of this one that has to do with Marko and Alana’s current role in the war. Are they deserters? Terrorists? Consciousness objectors? Nobody really knows. They do, however, wonder it aloud, which almost bumps this from subtext to summary, but this is my site and my rules and I want to put it here. Anyway. There continues to be a ton of subtext in this plot about the plight and value of refugees, owing to the Syrian crisis presumably, which was unfolding in the headlines during this time. This even carries over into Petrichor accusing them of being terrorists. Hazel bonding with Kurti gives us a wonderful juxtaposition, showing how children without preconceived notions of each other can basically always bond.
The Art: There are a lot of panels in this issue, but Staples of course handles them abruptly. Also, for every super intricate page (of which there are many), Vaughan’s script gives Staples a splash page to absolutely hit out of the park. It makes for nice pacing throughout. As always, here are four favorite panels:
The Foreshadowing: There’s not much, aside from Hazel’s narration continuing to describe The Will as the family’s main enemy, despite him not having been much of a threat for a while now. As caught-up readers know, there remains a reason for this. Within this individual issue, the script does a nifty job of giving a character about to die (Hazel) a few moments to shine before she goes, a move right out of prestige TV.
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.