By Zack Quaintance — In Saga #40, The War for Phang is raging. Although, the real combat is happening almost entirely off-page. What we see instead is a number of characters making very dark admissions, about a range of topics, from being so worried about being a bad parent that they have come to the brink of suicide, to admitting that violence feels good. This, my friends, is a hard chapter to read.
It’s obviously cliche to say it, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. If I recall correctly, however, any kind of dawn is still way way off. This storyline in my memory gets much worse before subsequent issues let it get just a tad bit better. Anyway, the difficult beats within this one are all executed well, making for a compelling read that moves are plot in organic and important directions. All of that is to say I really enjoyed the subtly I found upon re-reading this.
Let’s take a look!
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #40, which was first released back on November 30, 2016. We’re deep into The War for Phang, and so I’m sure the preview will reflect that...
"THE WAR FOR PHANG": Part Four-It's all fun and games until…
Until what? Until what?! Also, I kind of take issue with this having been all fun and games. One character is dead and several more in precarious places. Though I suppose the teaser there is a bit tongue-in-cheek. As always. Anyway, we will of course learn more by actually re-reading this thing, so let’s get on to that!
The Cover: I am nothing if not a sucker for covers with the Robots on them, and this one is very good. A child is rapt at the bright cartoony images playing on his caretaker’s TV screen face. There’s a lot of metaphor there for how we raise our children through media these days. Not my favorite Robot cover (that one is still coming—relax!), but a nice piece nonetheless.
The First Page: This three-panel obvious dream sequence gives us some insight into how Prince Robot IV feels about himself, and it ain’t pretty. He’s on a pegasus clad in regal armor, every inch the war commander monarch, towering over his young son….who is calling him a good father but a terrible man. The Prince then basically insists that he isn’t even a good father. I think this means he sees the two as so intertwined that there isn’t a distinction. In order to be a good father, he must be a better man, etc. If there is a silver lining to this bleak dream (which gets even bleaker in a moment), it’s that Prince Robot IV would presumably not be having it at all if he didn’t want to change on some level.
The Summary: Prince Robot IV is having a nightmare, which plays out on his face as Kurti and Hazel sit and watch. Hazel and Kurti talk about her mom’s pregnancy, in what actually feels like a typical conversation between kids. Robot awakens and chases them away.
Meanwhile, Marko watches from a far as Wreath forces who greatly outnumber their enemies order a retreat, wondering what the deal is. One of the little rodential people is with him, urging him to reconsider his self-imposed ban of swords and other offensive weapons, going so far as to suggest Marko is scared. This suggestion brings out Marko’s violent temper. Which he—as usual—quickly apologizes for having. They’re being watched by that brutal two-headed freelancer.
Gwendolyn, Lying Cat, and Sophie, meanwhile, are elsewhere, engaging in some back channel diplomacy with The Wings. The Wings are trying to close the fighting on Phang with the help of whatever Gwendolyn gives the, noting that if anything goes wrong, they’ll have her quietly killed so she can’t share the deal they’re making with the press.
We next pick up with Petrichor, who is in dangerous territory searching for a ghost babysitter that unbeknownst to our characters has been killed a second time. Also, she has a conversation with a giant fanged mushroom, part of a species planted in places of conflict to remember tales of battle for future—This scene ends with one of the more disturbing designs (see the art section), and one that is not my favorite of the many impressive designs in this book.
In the next scene, Prince Robot IV gets very high and makes a pass at Alana. It goes very poorly, and he ends up pointing his arm cannon at her. He babbles on about how his feelings for her started out as being sexual, but that he has recently come to see that he was confused. He actually has feelings for her because she would be an excellent mother to his son. The issue ends with Robot putting his arm cannon to his head, asking Alana to help his son be a better man than he was.
The Subtext: There are a few telling conversations in this one. The exchange I found most interested was between Marko and one of the little rodent aliens, in which he describes being a soldier as exhilarating, comparing it even to holding his daughter for the first time. There’s something to be inferred here about violence being an instinctual part of existence, as instinctual as reproduction. There’s also something here about wanting to a better person and parent, but I can’t quite get a read on the exact questions are story is trying to raise around that, at least not yet anyway.
The Art: This is an aesthetically darker issue relative to the rest of Saga, with pretty much every page taking place at night or in space save for one in which Gwendolyn gets ready to rendezvous with The Wings. This aesthetic fits the issue. This is a dark chapter, one that deals with suicide and crippling insecurities and an admission that going to war feels as exhilarating as holding a newborn child. It’s dark stuff, and the visuals match it. Here are as always four panels from Saga #40...
The Foreshadowing: Nothing to see here, not really. The stuff with Gwendolyn is intriguing, but a little too mysterious to really foreshadow anything. Marko’s temper is maybe a different story, but that’s character development, if we’re being picky.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Join us next week for the Saga Re-Read’s early 40s mid-life crisis, it’s going to be EMBARRASSING.
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.