By Zack Quaintance — Here we are at the penultimate chapter of The War for Phang, which concludes neatly next week with its sixth part. First, however, there is more fighting and more suspense. Giving into violent urges a theme that is as central to this book as those about family, and we see it here thoroughly unpacked.
More about this below, of course, but I’ll just say first that this is something I’ve been thinking about often with the ending of Game of Thrones upon us. Is there ever a justification for the use of force? And if not, does it ever make it okay to root for the good guy to just smack the bad guy in our stories? I think it would serve us well to have more stories where the overarching theme is just talk it the hell out. One thing I like about both Game of Thrones and Saga is that they make you root for death on the surface, before subsequent events make you walk back your impulses.
Let’s take a look at this issue!
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #41, which was first released back on December 28, 2016. I remember this one! They had to reprint it and push it back a week because the first cover came out too dark...
"THE WAR FOR PHANG," Part Five...Alana and Marko get their war on.
I was able to get one of these misprinted covers by the way, because the owner of a shop I stopped in slipped it to me. I, of course, envisioned the guaranteed massive riches one associates with obtaining a misprint. Still waiting for those, obviously. Onward!
The Cover: It’s a pretty cool cover. The dark-ish neon green color pallette sets it aside from the vast vast majority of the 40 issues prior, and we don’t often get to see Marko or Alana engaged in action on the front of these comics. The misprint looked fine to me, too (darkness doesn’t bug me, I actually liked that one episode of Game of Thrones), but I can see why they wanted a do-over. Might have discouraged some from grabbing it at random off the stands, although I’m not sure too many new readers are flocking to #41 of anything the way current comicbook stories are told.
The First Page: It’s a pretty straightforward front page with relatively transparent motives by Saga’s standards. We have Petrichor—who last we saw was on a super dangerous kind of secret mission—saying, We’re all gonna die. And I don’t mean, like, eventually. She looks a little worse for the wear, with ripped clothes and a cut on her face. Ooooo, what’s about to kill our heroes? That’s the question this first page is asking.
The Summary: The story opens with Petrichor returning from her fool’s errand all beat up, telling one of the little rodent fellows that everyone is fleeing from this comic because it’s headed for something called a Timesuck (sounds like my day job, amirite?!...kidding, I like my work). This disaster is about to happen within the hour. The rodent fellow is unconcerned, preaching faith in God to protect them. Petrichor is not on board. The conversation stops abruptly when Petrichor detects a whiff of expensive body wash.
We then pickup last issue’s cliffhanger inside the tree ship, where Prince Robot IV (super high) has his arm cannon to his own head in front of Alana (whom he has just asked to be the mother of his son). His face screen reveals that he’s been fantasizing about Alana. Marko interrupts and the gun gets turned on him. Robot fires on Marko, who blocks the blast with a shield and is slammed against a wall. The aggressor is immediately remorseful, which Alana takes as an opportunity to brain him unconscious with a lamp.
Meanwhile, Hazel and her rodential friend Kurti are outside playing when the fearsome two-headed bounty hunter, The March, comes upon them. Hazel is hiding, so The March picks up Kurti and puts a sword to his throat to try to get some answers. The March makes a big threatening proclamation as Alana looks on (Marko and Robot indisposed nearby) while Hazel covers her ears.
We next visit Sophie, Lying Cat, and Gwendolyn, who are discussing their collaboration with the enemy (Landfall) when they reunite with The Will. He hasn’t seen any of them in years. The Will and Gwendolyn argue, with The Will wanting to take Sophie away and make her his freelancer apprentice (once he sorts out his licensing struggle). Sophie interjects that she can make her own decisions, and she tells The Will she’s not interested in his life but rather be a power player like Gwendolyn. The question then becomes who Lying Cat wants to be with. Lying Cat chooses Sophie, and The Will hangs his head and shuffles off.
Back at the standoff, Alana puts a gun on The March, who reveals that the Moonies are their employer and that The Wings also have a massive bounty out on our little family, the difference being that The Horns want Hazel alive. What’s notable here is that her very existence is now an open secret within the highest echelons of our two warring factions. Anyway, Hazel casts a fireworks spell that distracts The March until dropping her friend. A rain of laser fire rips the brother head of The March to pieces, before the assailant is revealed to be Marko, who has once again broken his oath to perpetrate more violence. Annnnd scene.
The Subtext: There’s a nice thematic throughline here about children who witness or experience horrible things, with Hazel’s narration talking about young ones seeing violence both in real life and on TV. Sophie, meanwhile, is a survivor of unspeakable horrors herself. While Hazel is still in the thick of it, however, Sophie is now at a relatively safe place where she has gained both wisdom and a bit of agency, which she uses to put herself on a path toward changing the world, a notion I hope this comic revisits later. Anyway, the subtext with all that in mind is almost hopeful! Though still quite sad.
The Art: The stuff on Phang is dark and moody as it has been throughout. We do, however, get a bit of a juxtaposition with the scenes of Sophie refusing The Will’s offer to join him and get on the path to being a freelancer. I think this is intentional, given the subtext of growth and hope I detailed above.
The Foreshadowing: The foreshadowing here is pretty clear to me: Marko will never be able to entirely forego fighting, which long-held dogma would suggest means live by the sword, die by the sword...ack, that’s a conversation for later!
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
The Saga Re-Read might be 41 but it doesn’t feel even a day past 34...
Check out previous installments of the 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.