By Zack Quaintance — One of the qualities I find impressive within Saga is the way the series can both linger with you for the scope of its massive (and defiantly coherent) narrative, while also consistently landing some of the best individual moments in comics. For example, I remember this stretch of issues as the abortion arc, a somber aside that fit into the larger story because it sort of settled the question of whether Marko and Alana would have more kids. Upon losing and subsequently terminating the pregnancy to save the mothers life, they realize they won’t. It’s a vital part of the massive story going on here, if a bit of a side quest, so to speak.
So, it stuck in my mind for all of that. Now upon re-reading this issue, I also find that the larger effect is buyoed by a pair of incredible moments: the first page where the attackers plead for mercy, and the sequence in which Hazel sings to the theoretical ghost of her brother as he slowly fades away. Two very different and searingly relevant happenings. That’s just a small part of the larger equation that makes this comic so great.
Let’s check out the individual elements….
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #46, which was first released on August 30, 2017. We’re within two years on this thing, which really puts into perspective how far we’ve come. Anyway...
An operation and a farewell.
The entire arc has really been leading to this, although we will get a couple of issues of post-event story before heading into the next hiatus, which is actually the last Saga hiatus before the big one, during which we’re doing this re-read project.
The Cover: This one makes me queasy. Some people are afraid of spiders, some snakes, etc...for me, it’s ad hoc and dangerous surgeries. It’s maybe why I like (/hate) body horror comics so much, but anyway, this cover really turns my stomach, although visually it’s just fine and very much in line with everything this arc has been about.
The First Page: This is a pretty excellent first page, one that picks up right where the last issue left off and could also maybe standalone as a satirical cartoon about cyclical violence. You can see it below (obviously), but in it, the would be robbers/lynchers are bloody and begging for mercy with their hands up in the first two panels. In the third panel, Robot IV has his gun on them while Petrichor coughs and crouches, injured with their noose around her neck.
“Fuck your mercy in the face,” says Robot. Speaking once again to one of this story’s central thematic tent posts—that violence will continue to beget more and more violence if you let it.
The Summary: So yes, we start with Robot rescuing Petrichor. There’s banter between him and the gang that would have lynched Petrichor, during which they manage to inadvertently appeal to Robot as a parent. So, he lets them go. He frees Petrichor, who immediately punches him in the face, who had a death wish and is upset it wasn’t satisfied.
Meanwhile, Marko and Hazel are looking for help for an unconscious Alana, approaching an area we know (but they don’t) is likely to mean danger (if not outright doom) for them all. A nasty wolf with bloody hands turns out to be an endwife, who offers services on a sliding scale. The wolf ushers them into her house, where there is a litter of sleeping pups. Marko goes with Alana into the endwife’s operating theater, while Hazel waits outside, again seeing a vision of the little boy who would have been her brother. He says, he’s afraid, she holds his hand to comfort him, and I’m about to cry all over again.
Elsewhere, Petrichor opens up about her suicidal thoughts to Prince Robot IV. The crux of which is that she has nowhere to go and her last lover was killed by friendly fire. The duo continue bonding as Petrichor turns some alien nastiness from the ground into strong drink with a process she learned in prison.
Back in the operating theater, Marko glimpses another woman sleeping, and the endwife reveals that she took her baby at 30 weeks. He then begins to open up about his own misgivings around the entire procedure, especially as it applies to procedures (unlike their own) for babies that have not already died in utero. Marko’s upbringing under a mostly-pacifist father comes up, and he starts to discuss the nature of war in general. It’s a familiar discussion about abortion, in which the endwife asks Marko what he’d have done if they knew Hazel would have a crippling brain defect. He goes quiet, with the book giving us more just devastating interactions between Hazel and her never-to-be brother. The work Staples in particular does here with their faces is so emotional and raw. As the boy fades away, I am now crying...again.
The issue ends with Petrichor and Robot first fighting because of the history of war between their peoples, and then finally sharing an embrace and a kiss.
The Subtext: It’s pretty blatant here, but we can go into it...yet again. This comic is just filled with the aforementioned central theme about cyclical violence. The conversation with Robot IV and Petrichor, specifically deals in this. There’s also quite a bit more intermingling family business with the eternal war, and yes, I know that’s what’s for sale, but I can’t help but wonder if part of the point Vaughan and Staples are making (even if unintentionally) is that seeking truth and solace and understanding and respect and all that goes along with it from those around us could be a solution to feelings of violence, control, greed, and whatever else causes war. It’s a bit of a leap and maybe an under-developed thought, but I’ll keep noodling with it as we move forward here. Maybe it will get sharper.
The Art: I think I’ve mentioned this in past pieces, but during this more serious arc, Staples seems to have wisely stepped off the stunning designs and holy shit moments...just a bit. Her work, however, remains stellar, with the heartbreaking Kurti fades away scene here ranking as some of the most heartrending visual work done so far in this series.
The Foreshadowing: There’s not so much of it here, really. You could argue (as you can in many of these issues) that the violence will undo you lesson is foreshadowing, but we’ve seen it done far clearer than it is in this issue.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.