The Saga Re-Read: Saga #32 gives us more Marko and Alana

Saga #32 first debuted on 12/23/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — They’re back! After an issue without the story’s central couple, Saga #32 is almost all Marko and Alana, with a brief Prince Robot IV chaser at the very end. It’s also one of the better issues in terms of capturing the beauty of their dynamic, of being romantic in the way that only stories about long-term relationships can. Oh, plus there’s a heist!

Maybe it’s because we’re now firmly into the stretch of issues that I actively remember reading as they came out, but I find myself thinking of this arc as the one in which Saga as we’ve known it in recent years really hit its stride, really found a comfortable cruising altitude. The relationships are mature, we know our central characters, and Fiona Staples artwork has become nothing short of absolutely phenomenal. It’s a beautiful thing, and for may the hundredth time I’m finding myself really grateful to be undertaking this re-read project. I will also, it should be noted, be sad once it’s over...although I may jump right into Paper Girls at that point.

Anyway, onto the other parts of this feature!

Saga #32

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #32, which was first released back on December 23, 2015, on one of those really fun new comic book days that happen during the height of the holiday shopping season and (hopefully) don’t inconvenience the staff at shops all that much…

Marko and Alana learn something.

Welp, once again we know pretty much nothing. Although, I suppose after an issue of not seeing them at all, we do find out here that we will in fact be getting a storied centered on Marko and Alana, who were reunited in Saga #30...before being separated from Hazel by a DRAMATIC TIME JUMP in Saga #31. Let’s do the thing and take a look at the individual elements.

The Cover: This marks two in a row that I’ve really liked. Again, the composition and colors here are pretty fantastic, as is the casual romance with the even more casual fantasy/sci-fi touches, the wins on Alana and the sword/shield on Marko...it’s all very cool.

The First Page: Hey hey! For the first time in six or seven issues, we get one of (what I consider to be) the trademark sensational Saga opening pages, this one being Alana accosted and choked by a disguised Marko who’s (presumably) pretending to be holding her hostage. As we learn shortly, they’re actually running a scam and working to fool a security guard. It’s a nice way for the book to let us know that during the DRAMATIC TIME JUMP, Marko and Alana have become a cohesive team once again, as cohesive as they were before, anyway.

The Summary: The story opens with Marko and Alana trying to lie there way past a security guard in a building where there is information about where Hazel is being kept, before that goes sideways and they knock him out instead. They’re in the midst of a full-blown heist. As they go about executing it, they hash out what happened between them in a way that almost feels organic and not intended to mostly remind the audience about stuff.

They eventually get caught, and it looks pretty much as bad as it could get for Marko and Alana. That is, until a missile appears in the air. Security flees before we see that the “missile” is actually the family’s spaceship/treehouse. The excitement of it all pulls them into coitus, and they decide afterward that they’re going to need (presumably) Prince Robot IV for the next phase of the plan, which involves a rescue operation on the Wings homeworld of Landfall. The issue ends with Ghus and a surly Prince Robot IV seeing their ship approach.

The Subtext: I don’t know if this counts as subtext or not, but I found this to be a very romantic issue, at least as it pertains to the conversation between Marko and Alana as they perpetrate the heist. Brian K. Vaughan’s writing here does a wonderful job of teasing out the dynamic between them, showing how complementary they are to each other, and, ultimately, why their love really truly works. We see Marko being his overzealous self when it comes to making a mense about throwing a bag of groceries at Alana, and we see her admitting her own culpability in the frayed relations between them. We see Marko’s peacefulness and practicality paying off as Alana’s spontaneous risky thinking teases him out of his uptight shell. It’s all really sweet, and one of the best recent examples in any fiction of what it feels like to be in a happy marriage (which I maintain is part of the reason this book works so well, because it so often perfectly captures both the very good and the sometimes bad of marriage, or long-term romantic entanglements).

The Art: There wasn’t all that much of a unifying thread to be found in the artwork this week, so instead I just pulled together some of my favorite segments and panels. Gallery is below...

The Foreshadowing: There are maybe a handful of minor and inconsequential instances of foreshadowing dotted here and there in this issue, but I think far and away the most interesting is when Prince Robot IV correctly tells Ghus that everyone who gets tangled up with Marko and Alana finds themselves dead eventually, essentially predicting part of his own storyline as well as that of many of the other side characters, too. It’s also funny in how Ghus very lightly sticks up for them.

Join us next week as we get within striking distance of the 20-issues-to-go mark!

Saga #32
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #31 and the DRAMATIC time jump

Saga #31 was first released on 11/25/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Well folks, here we are on the back half of the Saga Re-Read Project, examining an issue that features the series’ second (and so far most recent) DRAMATIC time jump. I’m going to take this as a brief and rare occasion to discuss the current ongoing Saga hiatus. After Saga #54 came out, the creators quickly announced that the book would be going on a one-year minimum break, maybe waiting until we all that fateful comic in our hands so as not to tip a major and devastating plot development.

That book came out on July 25 of last year, meaning we’re a scant 4 and half months plus change from the minimum amount of time before it resumes. Rumors have flown suggesting there would be a time jump (I tend to agree), and that the break might be much longer (I’m not sure and am maybe preparing for that so as to not be disappointed. Anyway, it all makes me think about what we’ve gotten from the book so far, which is in my opinion 54 of the best and most coherent issues of any one comic, ever. It’s a wonderful thing, so let’s enjoy the remaining 20 so weeks of re-reading and savoring and discussing this series!

Onward!

Saga #31

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #31, which was first released back on November 25, 2015, which seems like only yesterday to me. Hey, waitaminute, what if there was a time jump in my own life and I’m just now figuring it out?! Best not to think about it (because it’s dumb), and move on...

After a dramatic time jump, the three-time Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series finally returns, as Hazel begins the most exciting adventure of her life...kindergarten!

Wow! That’s downright descriptive relative to other Saga preview text, although I guess a good portion of it was spent celebrating the team’s well-earned Eisner Award accolades. We do, however, learn that going into this issue there has been a dramatic time jup and now Hazel is in kindergarten. Wait, didn’t we see all that on the last page of Saga #30? We did! No matter, let’s look at the individual elements in play here.

The Cover: A very cool Saga cover, one that also clues us in on what we can expect from the upcoming plot, which is maybe a little rarer in Saga than it is in most series. I really like the use of perspective in this image, using the high walls as both a means of showing how small and inconsequential the teacher and Hazel really are (juxtaposed as well against a literal map of the galaxy), and letting us know that Hazel’s current situation is that of a prisoner. It’s all quite striking.

The First Page: One of the cuter Saga openings, and it somehow doesn’t even feature Ghus! Joking aside, I really like this four panel grid as a first page, working in an intriguing way to just straight up clue us in on what’s been going on with an aged-forward Hazel. This is all business that could have felt like an information dump (stories always run that risk following a time jump), but it doesn’t. It’s smooth and welcome all around. It also reminds us—as this book is wont to do at all times—that war and violence are always always always horrific.  

The Summary: The story opens with a few pages of Hazel just being a regular kid in a kindergarten…which is monitored by armed guards. We then flashback to the exact logistics of how Hazel was captured and by whom—the same Robot Kingdom guards who were pursuing Marko and IV, turns out. This is convenient, because as Last Revolution fighter Lexis points out, Drones don’t negotiate, so they can’t use Hazel as a bargaining chip, which means her captors don’t understand what she really is.

Klara, Hazel’s paternal grandmother, concocts a story upon capture that they were in a prison camp, and as a result, Hazel, Klara, and Lexis are sent to detention center for non-combatants, run by the coalition, which are—we remember—the side of the wings. Some shenanigans from ghost nanny Izabel means Hazel doesn’t get a proper medical examination, and her captors are none the wiser about her hybrid status. The majority of the issue takes place in the detention center, which is also where we meet Petrichor, who becomes integral to the plot moving forward.

The major plot point in this issue involves Hazel revealing to her kindergarten teacher that she’s a daughter of the two sides of the conflict...which then causes the teacher to fall and hit her head (quite honestly, I don’t recall whether she was fine, although I think we see more of her).

The Subtext: There’s quite a bit of subtext in this issue about identity, mostly bore out in the scenes of Hazel revealing her wings and Petrichor, a trans-woman, taking a shower, which results in Hazel asking questions about identity. Maybe I’m projecting, but I think the underlying subtext of it all is that antiquated feelings about individual identity are something that can be manipulated to further the goals of power structures. In our society, that often results in political pandering and polarization, and that’s what it seems to do on the page. Case in point, the scene where the Wings guard insinuates that Klara and Hazel are not human because of their species identities and again later when in a nearly symmetrical scene, Petrichor points out that some of her own species didn’t see her as human and she was expelled from the army.

The Art: Saga #31 is less visually-dense than the preceding issue, which had a whole lot of plot. There are three full-page splashes in this one, one of violence and the other two of nude or semi-nude bodies. I haven’t identified any sort of clear trend to which issues have more splash pages or why. I do, however, think all three of those in this issue work well.

The Foreshadowing: It’s pretty spare in this issue, which mostly works to fill us in on some things we’ve missed during the time jump. Hazel does note briefly that Lexis becomes protective of her over the years, but it’s unclear whether that means during the space we missed out on due to the time jump, or in later plot to come. My hunch (and vague recollection) is that Lexis does not end up being all that important of a figure moving forward.

Join us next week as we DRAMATIC time jump an entire month to look at Saga #32!

Saga #31
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read #30: Saga #30 is an action-packed story arc finale

Saga #30 was first released on 7/8/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — The end of the most recent story arc is upon us, and so is the shift into what I’ve come to think of as the more recent issues of Saga, those essentially published after the book went from big-time comics hit to somewhere closer to broader cultural touchstone (although it still needs the inevitable TV/film adaptation to go all the way), and this finale is a good one.

I’ve written about this elsewhere during our Saga Re-Read project, but I’ve found this arc to be more unpleasant than those that came before it. This is, presumably, by design. The book was maybe running the risk of turning into a series of madcap adventures that the core family continues to escape mostly unscathed. This arc changes that, using temporary separations in a way that emphasizes the stakes for those are basically as high as they would be when dealing with injury or death. Just...different. Anyway, what we get with this finale is a packed adventure story with tons of consequences. It is, in a word, good.

Let’s take a look!

Saga #30

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #30, which was first released back on July 8, 2015. This issue has a special significance for me, because it was after this one that I decided to make the crazy jump from Saga trade waiter to Saga monthly reader, which then opened to door to buying a whole slew of creator-owned comics monthly and ultimately starting this website. Ah, the follies of financial irresponsibility. Onward!...

Sooner or later, everything dies.

Sigh. A preview that is both mysterious and terrifying, meaning that the only way to figure out even part of what it’s talking about is to read the damn comic. In other words, I supposed this morbid vaguery has done its job…

The Cover: This is without question my favorite cover from this arc, featuring as it does a clearly alien flower atop an ample splattering of blood. It gets to two of my favorite facets of Saga—the imagination and the backdrop of shattering relatable tragedy. I also think the color choices on the leaves provide a nice (if subtle) contrast to the deep crimson of the blood splayed over the ground. Great stuff.

The First Page: Yet another divided first page, this one used well to show us Marko and his current plight (with a dash of foreshadowing...but more on that in the foreshadowing section). The shot start on the planet where Marko has crashed, zooms in, and then zooms in again to show him splayed and wounded in the snow. It’s as intriguing a set of images as an establishing first page for a long-running story can offer, and it’s made even more powerful by Hazel’s narration, which suggests her father might be hurt worse than we think.

The Summary: Marko, Prince Robot IV, and Ghus crash land, with Ghus staying to tend to an injured IV while Marko storms off to find his family. Speaking of his family, Alana, Klara, and conflicted murderous kidnapper Dengo (who gets humanized here) fight their way free from the Last Revolution. Things...do not go well for the Last Revolution, but the survivors of manage to abscond with Klara, Hazel, and a spaceship without much fuel. Once they do, Alana turns to kill Dengo and is stopped by Marko. The reunion, of course, is quite satisfying.  

As they struggle over whether to hurt a now-vulnerable Dengo, Prince Robot IV shows up and wastes him immediately as recourse for Dengo did to his own wife, quickly turning to enjoy his own reunion with his son. Elsewhere, Sophie, Gwendylon, and Lying Cat sneak The Will from a hospital (off page), and administer the antidote to him, waking him from a years-long incapacitation. The Will is devastated to learn that his sister died in the service of waking him. Finally, this arc ends with a shot of Hazel presumably interned in some kind of jail/kindergarten. Intriguing.

The Subtext: This is one of those issues where the plot mostly crowds out any potential subtext. What room there is for reading between lines is also mostly devoted to foreshadowing events to come. Still, there is the continued beating of the all violence is bad drum that has in many ways been the foundation of the commentary in this series. Any sort of broader familial subtext here is lacking.

The Art: There are a lot of panels in this issue of Saga, at least relative to some of the other recent issues. I didn’t expressly count, but it’s quite possible the only splash page in the entire issue is the final cliffhanger. As such, Fiona Staples is asked to pack a lot of intricate action into several busy pages...and she unsurprisingly pulls it off with ease. See below...

The Foreshadowing: There’s a good deal of foreshadowing in this comic, from the first page hinting that Hazel will lose Marko, to Hazel telling us later that she would spend a great deal of time separated from her own family. As noted in the subtext section, Hazel’s narration also hints that problems have always and will continue to stem from Marko and Alana struggling to limit their own use of force, as does her narration when The Will awakes from his coma: Nobody knew exactly what kind of nightmare had been awakened that evening...but in time, my parents would find out.

All in all, this is a pretty telling issue, at least in retrospect upon re-read. The first time through, the action made it hard to focus on anything past what happens next! It should also be noted that IV wasting Dengo for killing his lover as Dengo begs for mercy is an eerie parallel to something that happens to IV much later...

Join us next time for the start of a brand-new arc, the one that began after Fiona Staples went off and helped Mark Waid re-launch that new Archie line, which as far as I know are the only other comic interiors she’s drawn since starting Saga...

Saga #30
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read #29: Saga #29, the rigors of sacrifice

Saga #29 was first released on 6/10/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Welcome back to The Saga Re-Read, where eagle-eyed readers may notice we’ve made a minor tweak...we’ve changed the surface level category to be a straight up summary. This is great, because it allows us to unpack more in the subtext section, while also turning these pieces into minor reference guides for myself and anyone else who might come in search of a literal plot summary of the major things (and some of the little ones too) that take place in each issue.

So, where are we at now in terms of this story arc? This is the penultimate issue. Next week will see the finale of this first arc in which the family at the story’s center has been separated by its plot. This has been a tougher arc to read, which is something I didn’t get during my first time through but definitely feel now. I just want them all to face these things together, damn it. Though suffering in stories will ultimately make the good times better, just like in life, amiright?

On to the individual elements!

Saga #29

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #29, which was first released back on June 10, 2015. You know what that means? The Saga Re-Read project here is on the cusp of turning 30. We can only hope and pray that it has less anxiety about that than I do about turning 30 in my own life. Anyway!...

The Last Revolution makes their move.

Hey now! That’s an enticing summary, and—dare I say it?—even a bit revealing, at least by Saga teaser standards. The Last Revolution has essentially been coiled and ready to strike since the start of this arc, and now all signs point to that strike coming. Which brings us to the first of our individual elements, the cover. Onward!

The Cover: This cover, in all its neon orange glory, puts the Last Revolution front and center, which connects nicely to the issue’s solicit. Front and center there we have the scantily glad fish-woman character, who reads to me like a riff on an era of superhero art that was maybe in its death throes when this issue was published: an era of butt floss and stripper gear and just overall general objectifying of female characters. It’s not just the scantily-clad fish woman character though, the entire team plays like a parody to me, a send-up of the type of revolutionaries that are often glorified and made lead characters in galactic war stories like this one. Just a reminder that Saga aspires often to be capital S, Subversive.

The First Page: See above, at least to some extent. This first page is all business, reminding us that while The Last Revolution might look like early Image characters (like early early...back when they were under Malibu), they are ruthless zealots who only care about their own causes, so much so that they’d sell a literal child to a military industrial complex who is being pretty clear that it’s goal is to kill said child. Not the most visually scandalous Saga front page, but pretty appalling from a morality standpoint.

The Summary: The issue opens with The Last Revolution trying to negotiate a trade of Hazel to Wreath High Command in order to further its own fight. Talks, however, break down when the murderous android kidnapper Dengo is spotted. Even though he literally murdered Robot Kingdom royalty, the woman from Wreath is clear that she will not under any circumstances negotiate with “one of those death machines.” Just a nice little insight into how deeply-entrenched the war is at this point. The Last Revolution immediately throws Dengo under the bus to make the talks tenable again, thereby completing Dengo’s now-intense disillusionment with them. In the brig, Alana tries a desperate negotiation of her own, aimed at saving Hazel’s life. That’s not necessary, as Klara and Dengo save the day, however violently.

Sophie, The Brand, Lying Cat, and Gwendolyn, meanwhile, continue their quest to get the alien dragon semen (I think) that they need to save the life of The Will...and we get one of Saga’s trademark scandalous visuals, the alien dragon having some...fun...with himself across two pages. They get the sample, but at a pretty steep cost. RIP, The Brand.

As this unfolds, Marko, Prince Robot IV, and Ghus find themselves in a space battle. They take a big risk and retreat...right into an ice storm. That goes about as well as it sounds (much like Rick Moody’s classic suburban ennui novel, The Ice Storm, but I digress…)

The Subtext: This is another issue in which Hazel’s future self narrates the subtext into pretty much being regular text. She notes throughout that parents often make sacrifices for their children, as we watch the three separate storylines all require sacrifices to save the day: The Brand distracting as Sophie gets the dragon semen, Dengo killing again to save Hazel, and Marko and Prince Robot IV realizing that Yuma made the ultimate sacrifice for them last issue. I don’t know if there’s really any deeper meaning here than that. There’s certainly something to be said about glorifying revolutionaries and the disillusionment one often suffers as a result, once they show themselves to be either too extreme, too selfish, or a combination of both as we see here, but it takes a significant backseat to the more latent (sub)text about familial sacrifice, especially as it applies to children.

The Art: Whereas for Saga #28 we saw the finest work being done in facial expressions, this time around Staples talent manifests most clearly in a pair of action sequences, detailed in the full pages we’ve clipped below:

The Foreshadowing: I suppose one could read all of Hazel’s narration about sacrifice as foreshadowing for the events of the most recent issue, Saga #54, but it’s a bit of a reach. The events in that issue continue to strike me as more of a commentary on the end results of aggression and war, than any sort of statement on what we all give up to have families. Still, it’s there if you want to make that connection.

Join us next time for the conclusion of this arc as well as the inevitable existential crisis that’s likely to come before, during, or right after our little re-read project’s 30th birthday!

Saga #29
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #28, boys and girls

Saga #28 was first released on 5/13/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — I’ll get into this more below, but this arc to me feels like a less concentrated set of chapters than those that came before. This is, I assume, partially by design, what with Marko separated from Alana/Hazel for the first time. Saga is at its core a story of a little family, and now that family is separated. As a result, the story starts to feel less streamlined than it has in the past. It doesn’t, however, lose much of its momentum or any of the continued thematic interests it’s determined to explore.

Saga #28, for its part, uses the separation to get at some questions about the roles of men and women in war, and whether the obvious line of thinking—that men are more likely to be killed and killers, so it is therefore harder on them—is the right one. In this story, we get Marko and Robot IV fighting for something, while Alana, Hazel, and Marko’s mom struggle to escape captivity. The politics that has laced the arc since the extremists showed up takes a backseat to individual circumstance (as it took a backseat to Marko’s anger issues last time), and that’s just fine.

Let’s check it all out!

Saga #28

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #28, which was first released back on May 13, 2015. Time is really flying now, eh? On to the preview text, which I’m sure will be detailed and ample…

Alana acts.

What a surprise. It...wasn’t. Although I suppose that tells us a lot, given that the last time we saw Alana she was being held quisi hostage by a radical group of potentially murderous terrorists, or at least terrorists who were holding her captor in high esteem for having murdered a woman tending to her child. Let’s look at the individual elements of this issue.

The Cover: It’s certainly concerning, with Hazel tumbling in the fetal position while her mother, Alana, lunges toward her with a look of panic on her face. It stands alone in the regard that you can probably look at it without knowing anything about this story and surmise that this is a mother trying desperately (and maybe failing) to protect her child, which is also what’s happening inside the book.

The First Page: This opening page (see below) tells a quick, three-panel story that shows a group of our characters sleeping and camped before culminating with The Brand presumably finishing a lengthy explanation to Sophie about what abortion is. Saga is filled with oblique references to concepts like this—a small child being frankly told what abortion is—that shouldn’t be faux pas but maybe are to certain folks in certain parts of the country. To me, first pages like this one (and, indeed, many of the others) seem to simultaneously want to know, Are you scandalized by this?! and, Why?   

A story in three panels.

The Surface: This isn’t the neatest issue of Saga, and I’d actually put it among the slowest of the series so far. That’s not to say that what’s happening on the page isn’t interesting or consequential, it’s just far more scattered. In fact, this entire arc has lacked the breakneck urgency of the previous two, or the intriguing world-building and character development of the earliest chapters. What it essentially comes down to is that this is a book about a family, and it loses its fastball when it starts to keep the members of that family apart. That said, there are some really memorable visuals in this one (more on that soon), including the ending panel, which I feel like should be a meme on Comics Twitter, or at least something trotted out every April the 20th.

Also, there’s a fantastic line in here where The Brand tells Sophie she hasn’t killed all that many people, and Sophie replies with, You want me to wake my cat? (I am nothing if not an utter shill for Lying Cat.)

The Subtext: The book comes right out and makes Hazel’s narration directly about this, but there’s a real division of the genders thing going on here, presumably to illustrate how a similar situation affects each. We have Marko and Prince Robot IV in one contingent, and Alana, Hazel, and her grandmother in another, while Hazel describes how war affects women. The subtext for it all ends up being—perhaps unsurprisingly—that war is no good for anybody, which is, of course, the overarching subtext of the entire series, too.  

The Art: I say this week in and week out, but as good of a writer as Brian K. Vaughan is, the all-time great work being done in this comic is that of Fiona Staples. This issue is so plot heavy that it feels almost procedural, and still Staples manages to steal the show left and right with the most basic of comics storytelling ingredients: the emotive facial expression. Below is a quick gallery of four of my favorites from this issue.

The Foreshadowing: Eh, not all that much of it this week. Which is fine. Last week’s Saga #27 was essentially a roadmap for Marko’s story arc in later issues, at least for re-readers it felt that way.

Saga #28
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #27, our story hits its halfway point

Saga #27 was originally released 4/8/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa...we’re officially at the halfway mark of our Saga re-read project! For those who don’t know, this project sees us re-reading one issue of Saga each week from now through #54. The idea is that once we finish, the book will hopefully be back from it’s one-year (minimum) hiatus, and we can all just pick right back up with it, possessing as we will a better understanding of all that has come before.

You can find older installments of the Saga Re-Read project here. If you still want to get in on this, I think a little time and determination could catch you right up, enough to join us next week as we move past this halfway point, anyway. This week finds us in the middle of a story arc, with the family still separated and the creators (obviously) building toward a reunion eventually, though maybe later rather than sooner. The individual elements will tell the story better though, so let’s get moving!

Onward!

Saga #27

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #27, which was first released back on April 8, 2015. Kind of fun how these dates are ever so slowly catching up with us as we move forward in this thing, right? So yeah…

Poor Marko.

Oof. Now that doesn’t tell us much, does it? It’s a bit ominous, though as we’ll see later it gets more ominous, especially for the aforementioned poor Marko. Combine this little teaser text with the cover, and this was probably a pretty scary issue to open, although I think in this phase of the story I was maybe operating under the assumption our core characters were untouchable, which they largely were for many issues. Onward to the individual elements!

The Cover: This cover’s pretty good, and, really, could maybe stand as a movie poster if this arc were to be turned into a movie. I really like the rendition of Hazel’s face, looking pensive as she continues to grow toward a better awareness of her and her family’s situation. The other elements—Marko floating in space and the icy planet—don’t work quite so well for me, but I like the whole much better than parts, especially knowing as we do that Marko and Hazel have been untethered from each other. The little doll in the other corner of the page is slightly heartbreaking.  

**WARNING: This issue’s first page is maybe not entirely safe for work.**

NSFW - The First Page: I wonder if they made a conscious choice to divide all of this arc’s first pages into panels, because here it is yet again, differing from the vast majority of the series. What is, however, familiar, is the salacious nature of what’s happening in the story: here we get a flashback of Marko and Alana having sex (fairly graphically) during her pregnancy. It’s obviously a flashback, given that Alana is not pregnant, and, perhaps, more consequentially, our central couple has been acrimoniously separated throughout this arc.

The Surface: That aforementioned flashback culminates with Marko confessing to Alana that he hit a woman he was with before, which really seems to cast what happened last arc with the groceries in an entirely different light...until Marko admits that it happened when he was seven years old and the girl was hurting his pet. Still, the point is made—Marko has and has long-had anger issues that can culminate in violence, even if his anger is mildly justified. Meanwhile, we get another flashback of Marko, fighting in the war. It’s all framed in the context of Marko spiraling back through past memories due to a bad batch of drugs, and it really makes for a more interesting story than it would have if we were just bouncing through the past because it was convenient for the author. Though it doesn’t leave all that much room for subtext.  

The Subtext: There wasn’t that much subtext in this issue—sure, the first scene is hallucinatory, but the Alana vision comes out at one point and demands to know why Marko did what he did—but a lot of what the comic is doing is pretty clearly laid out for us. If there is subtly to this string of vignettes, it’s the overall effect of leaving us with a portrait of Marko’s anger as it has manifested through his life, complete with the (often justified) reasons he acted the way he did as well as with the subsequent regret. It’s a powerful issue, knowing what we know now about where this anger-regret cycle of actions ultimately take him. It’s almost as if this story is making a case against half measures, although I’d be shocked if that were ultimately the case.

The Art: More typically amazing linework here from Fiona Staples. What caught my attention more than anything was her work on the character of Ghus, who to this point has been pretty much entirely adorable. In this issue, though, Staples gives him range, and the effect is powerful in the plot and also pretty funny when you pull it out of context. Check out the panel below.

The Foreshadowing: Really, this entire issue could be considered foreshadowing in a certain light. Foreshadowing what? Well, Saga #54, and why it hurts so bad, of course. I’d mostly forgotten this exploration of the exact causes and effects of Marko’s anger issues, and if nothing else, I’m really glad this issue gave me a chance to re-visit. It really frames his character arc in a different light, maybe even helping me come to grips a bit better with what eventually happens. Phew, I’m getting worked up all over again, so I’ll end now...

Saga #27
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #26, to fight or not to fight?

Saga #26 was originally released 3/4/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Saga #26 is almost—but not quite—one of those comics that seemed bent on making its readers mentally decide what they would do in a given situation...would they accost the man robbing the convenience store or fade into the back and hope he doesn’t notice them? Would they fight the dragon monsters trying to eat them or listen to the little girl suggesting they should talk? Would they stab the TV-headed terrorist in the neck with the shiv or join his anti-establishment revolution?

Okay, so maybe these aren’t all relatable within the context of our everyday lives (and I’ll go into what I think they mean later), but there is a shared question to them all: would you use violence or try to find another way? This isn’t a novel question within the context of the series. Hell, in some ways this is a war book, meaning would you fight is the question all along, but this issue embraces the episodic format and uses that question to show readers more about each character. This, I must admit, is yet another little bit of craft I didn’t notice my first time through.

Now on to the rest of it...

Saga #26

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #26, which was first released alllllll the way back on March 4, 2015, which means I would have still been living in Austin, Texas and gearing up for South by Southwest, which is that city’s Mardi Gras. Ah, memories....

Gwendolyn's quest takes an interesting turn.

Well, hot damn! After not getting much (or really any, excepting the last issue) of Gwendolyn and The Will in the last arc, this new one is a veritable bonanza of continuing their story. I’m there for it. I like them well-enough and love (as regular readers well know) Lying Cat as a narrative device. Anyway, onward to the individual elements!

The Cover: Another busy cover with a lot going on, and I hadn’t even recovered from the hella busy cover for Saga #25 yet! But yes, this cover is packed. The main thing is, of course, Gwendolyn using a wooden staff to prop open some lizard beast’s mouth as it tries to eat both her and Sophie. I kind of like Lying Cat looming over and side eye-ing the whole deal, but, overall, this isn’t one of the more memorable Saga covers for me.

The First Page: Whoa whoa whoa! Another first page split into panels. Memory is a funny thing, like a boat filled with holes plugged by assumptions. For my part, I guess I’d assumed that the entirety of the series was all one-panel splash pages openers. I certainly think now that the series will get back to it at some point, but can you really trust me after that last confession? Probably not. Anyway, this one is a bit of a trope: Marko shopping in a convenience store in the middle of a robbery—something that happens to a strong majority of fictional characters but never to anyone I’ve ever met in real life. This does that always-interesting Saga thing of directly juxtaposing the fantastical and alien with familiar activities or imagery from real life.

What would you do?

The Surface: Marko goes on to break up that robbery in a fit of violent rage (more on that in foreshadowing). Marko’s not the only one who has to face down a tense situation. Alana, Marko’s mom, and Hazel are all still hostages of Dengo as the Revolution arrives, while Gwendolyn, The Brand, Sophie, and Lying Cat are on the brink of being eaten by a bunch of dragon mares (as they search for a bull dragon to get The Will medicine he needs).

The Subtext: The metaphor here has much to do with the way raising children means you spend time with odd adults you might otherwise never met. It’s not the most subtle point, though, given that Hazel’s own narration basically comes out and says that, as it is often wont to do with this series’ subtext. In a larger ideological sense, the subtext in Saga #26 has to do with perspective. Meaning, from one perspective the Revolution might look like freedom fighters, but from another terrorists. With the media manipulation we’ve dealt with so thoroughly in recent years, this is a topic that should resonate as much (if not more) today than it did when this comic was new almost four (!!) years ago now. There’s also a question raised that I think about a lot, which is does combating powerful opponents justify extreme tactics? Like the best fiction, the book leaves the answer largely to the reader’s interpretation.

There’s other, more prominent, subtext here as well that serves as a double commentary on gender roles, toxic masculinity, and the way violence begets violence. The majority of the male characters in this story have often resorted to violence. Marko does so again to solve his robbery problem, Prince Robot IV is a very violent character tormented by visions of his now-dead wife, who Dengo (yet another male character) is torn with guilt over murdering. Our central female protagonists, meanwhile, solve their problems with diplomacy...eventually. Lending this issue that commentary (although Gwendolyn and Alana were both leaning toward committing violent acts when something else got in the way).

The Art: Like last issue, there aren’t any jaw-dropping splashes or massive holy sh%t visuals, but this is another dense script that asks Staples to often fit in panels that could have been a splash...and she does so seamlessly. Below you can find an example of a couple pages that really tickled the part of my brain reserved for absorbing stories (weird)...

This whole sequence had enough action for multiple splash pages.

The Foreshadowing: Jeez, forgive me for not being all that careful of a reader, but I hadn’t realized just how many times we saw Marko give in to a fit of uncontrolled violent rage that starts out being maybe a bit justified and then ends with him going way over the line. This issue certainly has some of that, with Marko assuming a pose that almost directly mirrors the one we saw him take in Saga’s most recent issue. He even goes into a bit of a fugue here before we see him put his foot down about no killing (more of that comes later too). Oof. I’m getting busted up all over again...

Saga #26
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #25 is the most grandiose chapter yet

Saga #25 was first released 2/4/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Saga #25 is the first issue back from the break, and, apparently, the creators used the time away to conceptualize and execute one of the series’ most grandiose chapters yet. I most certainly did not pick up on this my first time reading through, so consumed was I with what exactly was about to happen next, but it’s pretty evident here.

I’ll go into more detail about this below, but the most notable thing about this issue is that in it, the creators finally crack and give us the broadest view yet at the war that has riven the galaxy and essentially given rise to the events of this story. We get a macro view of it all, one that ranges from showing how the conflict has become unnoticed for most on the homefront to the history of enlistment techniques. It all leads up to a last page that shows us an inevitable reaction to a forever war—political opposition.

Let’s check Saga #25 out!

Saga #25

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #25, which was first released all the way back on Feb. 4, 2015, with 10 whole days left to buy a copy for your significant other for Valentine’s Day (aw!)...

Saga is back, as is almost the entire cast! And as thanks to retailers and readers for helping our audience continue to grow every new arc, Fiona Staples created an amazing wraparound cover for this action-packed issue, which is still only $2.99, the best deal in comics!

This is the longest Saga preview so far, but in keeping with the established pattern, it tells us absolutely nothing about the plot. It does, however, speak to the idea that the book had become a certified mega-hit at this point, so much so that it staying at $2.99 (which has now ended) was actually a really good deal. Anyway, onto the individual elements...

The Cover: This cover is one of the more epic in scale, a wrap-around featuring action and more characters than any other Saga cover to date. It’s busy by design, which actually sets it aside from most of the other covers in this series while making it more at home among the other sci-fi comics on the rack. It’s not among my favorites, I’ll say that much, but I don’t hate it either. Coming back from one of the book’s breaks, it does a great job reminding us of what’s happening and who are our principal actors.

The First Page: Like the cover, the first page of this issue also stands apart a bit from the rest of the series. It’s black and white, subdued, and split into multiple panels, a stark contrast to the full-page splash of a shocking or fantastical, full-color image that we usually get (a couple of which actually come later in the comic). Conceptually, I like this quite a bit. The visuals are ho-hum, but it works well for the narrative, giving us some historical context for the forever war that has both created and shaped the little family at the center of our story. It’s specific to this space opera, and the next few pages go on to convey universal ideas we’ve seen play out in our own society as it relates to war. We don’t often get broad looks at the conflict here, but when we do, the creators tend to make them count. This is a great example.

This uncharacteristic Saga first page starts our first super broad view of the war at the heart of this series.

The Surface: The first five pages of this issue are the most direct look at the war the series has given us yet, with Hazel the narrator taking the 20,000-foot (or would it bee 20,000-light years?) view of what’s happening, how it’s progressed through time, and how it affects many of the residents of the two central planets. It’s interesting that it took 25 issues to get here, to some extent, but really, the story was so engaging with its hyper focus right from the start, that it had the freedom of leaving the war around the edges. The creators probably could have withheld that five-page explainer further, but they knew they had their audience on the hook. Also, I’d imagine it simply felt like time. Following the expository opener, Saga #25 goes on to bounce between our many sets of characters. Three months have passed, and the surface of this comic has a bit of work to do catching us up to the various status quos.

The Subtext: The subtext in Saga #25 is largely about hierarchy. It’s so prevalent in the opening five-page explainer that it’s basically surface level, but it pops up a couple times later, first when Marko’s mother tells Alana to get it together because they aren’t helpless damsels in distress, and later when Prince Robot IV tells Marko he is forbidden to address him directly, despite their shared plight and mutual objectives. These are all subtle-yet-effective ways to remind us this universe, much like our own, is one built on rigid social pecking orders. It all leads up to the introduction of the Rebellion Revolution...a group of characters I had 100 percent forgotten about.

The Art: Fiona Staples is given a chance early in the book to go full Star Wars, depicting scenes of intergalactic war and outsized alien monsters. And she knocks it out of the park. Fiona Staples is also given a chance to show what it looks like for many denizens of this universe on the homefront. And she also knocks that out of the park. These returns from a hiatus, with their presumably lengthier lead times, are always an absolute visual treat, and this issue is no exception.

The Foreshadowing: A little heartbreak with the foreshadowing here as Hazel lets us know that it would be years before she and Marko are re-united. But hey, at least we know they’re eventually re-united!

Saga #25
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #24 is a different type of finale

Saga #24 was first released 10/29/2014.

By Zack Quaintance — Here we are at the end of another Saga story arc, the fourth story arc, to be exact. This has been one of the more uncomfortable arcs, even as the characters involved face down less danger, at least physically. This story was very much rooted in the emotional strain of starting a new family in a stressful world, looking at what happens after the initial rush of having the baby, escaping two sides in a galaxy-spanning forever war, and settling into the everyday realities of married life. That old canard.

And, really, we mostly got our emotional finale last issue, with Marko heading home to make peace with his strained family and finding they’d gone, likely being put into danger. It was powerful stuff. This issue, meanwhile, catches us up with a group of characters we’ve been wondering about since the conclusion of the third arc: The Will, Gwendolyn, Sophie, and Lying Cat. It’s a different but not unwelcome way to structure a narrative arc.

Let’s take a look at the individual elements...

Saga #24

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #24, first released all the way back on Oct. 29, 2014...a spooky pre-Halloween issue for a less scary time...

Hey, it's The Brand and Sweet Boy!

This is a more specific teaser than we’re used to, albeit one with just as few words. It, however, doesn’t really clarify all that much, at least not for me, a guy who is on his second full read of this story and doesn’t know who either The Brand or Sweet Boy are off the top of his head. Although, context clues suggest to me that it is perhaps the two characters on this cover...

The Cover: Well, this is certainly a sinister cover. As I noted above, I don’t off the top of my head know who The Brand or Sweet Boy are, but context clues suggest to me that they are indeed these two characters on the cover. I recognize the humanoid as maybe the shadowy figure who’s been pulling some strings trying to get our family taken out, a CIA type who I think hired the freelancers to go after them in the first place. This cover doesn’t stand all that well on its own, as many of my favorite Saga covers do, but it’s effective in terms of conveying something ominous to come for the climax of this fourth arc. Now, let us move on and see if this first page is just as sinister...

What an adorable little fellow…

What an adorable little fellow…

The First Page: ...it’s not. It’s absolutely 100 percent super cute, sporting as it goes the little fuzzy walrus man, Ghus, dopey half-smile on his innocent face as he asks, Are you lady folk? Not the most stunning or salacious or brutal Saga first pages, but we’ve got our share of those (and will get more in the future), so I’m willing to just enjoy the adorable simplicity of this one. Plus, it’s Ghus. Who doesn’t just love Ghus?

The Surface: We finally start to get some closure on what’s up with The Will, Gwendolyn, Sophie, and Lying Cat! I like the way this arc was structured, withholding this subplot until the very end of it so as to put more focus on the strain placed on the relationship between Alana and Marko. Works well for all involved, although I’m not sure I felt the same way when reading this monthly. In the time since we’ve last seen them, Sophie has grown and Gwendolyn has become a much better fighter, presumably by necessity. Anyway, this issue focuses mostly on them, strongly implying they’ve been engaged in a long-term quest to study and procure a remedy for The Will’s condition. We do, however, ultimately shift back to our little family, doing so in a way that incorporates Ghus into the plot longer-term (yes!) and also gives us a fantastic last page cliffhanger that sees Marko and Prince Robot IV teaming up as desperate dad bros on a mission, hell bent on doing whatever it takes to find and free their families. It’s self-serious paternal responsibility at its most badass, folks.

The Subtext: There’s a little bit of commentary about broken for-profit medical practices—Healthcare Syndicate has been paying these trolls to keep it off the market…—but that’s all pretty overt. The more rewarding subtext to me was to see how happy and healthy Sophie seemed now that she has love and support around her. Once known as Slave Girl and kept inside a brothel, she’s now thriving, even stopping short of using profanity against The Brand and instead calling her an evil B-word! It kept making me recall the panel where she suggests she’s irreparably damaged inside and Lying Cat tells her, Lying. Sweet stuff, all things considered.  

The Art: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the very graphic love-making flashback scene between The Will and The Stalk, and I’m actually a bit surprised the panel of him on top of her wasn’t trotted out for a shock value first page. All told though, I think the reappearance of Lying Cat is better Fiona Staples artwork. The creators here know they have a fan-favorite, series mascot emerging here, and Staples gives Lying Cat’s entrance the gravitas it deserves.

Lying Cat, arguably the best new comics character in the last decade, makes a triumphant return to our story.

The Foreshadowing: There’s really not all that much of it to be found here, although I suppose the last page (double dads doing their duty!) lets us know a little bit about what to expect from the next arc. This was, so far, one of the less consequential story arc finales, in that it mostly concerned itself with catching us up on Gwendolyn, The Will, Sophie et. al. rather than giving us a major payoff. Which is fine. This uncomfortable arc was rooted more heavily in emotions than action. One of my favorite qualities throughout Saga is the way this story is expertly built to make room for both.

Saga #24
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.

The Saga Re-Read #23: Saga #23 is heavy with betrayals (plural)

Saga #23 was released 9/24/2014.

By Zack Quaintance — Here we are at Saga #23, the penultimate issue of this story’s dour fourth arc. I have to admit, upon first reading this series, this arc was not my favorite, which in retrospect is a testament to how accurately writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples convey the marital discord. I didn’t like this arc—which follows a time jump—because the romance and resultant little family was so severely threatened by problems I myself could relate to.

Murderous cosmic bounty hunters and robot nobles who can turn their arms into cannon are scary, theoretically, but wanting to escape one's routine for something more exciting? Well, that was a threat I could easily see in my own life. I’ve been ready for it this second time through though, and so I’ve enjoyed this arc quite a bit more, coming to understand how pivotal it is within the plot. What is this touching romance worth if it’s not tested on its own merits, rather than an increasingly wacky parade of independent threats? It’s hard to say. The fact that mundanity is as difficult as the extreme makes the love feel more authentic and the story all the more engrossing.    

Anyway, on to the individual elements!

Saga #23

Here is the official preview text for Saga #23, which was first released back on Sep. 24, 2014. I don’t want to call it time travel, not exactly, but it’s starting to feel wild that our weekly reading schedule is moving at a faster pace than the issues came out (it makes perfect sense, obviously, but still…)...

Betrayal.

Whoa. It’s just one word, but what a word! I once had a friend I hadn’t seen in a number of years come visit me somewhat out of the blue. He’d been living with a woman in New Orleans, and when he got by me in Austin, he drank like crazy and didn’t want to sleep, like at all. When I asked him how his life was going, he told me, “There’s been a betrayal.” I haven’t seen him since. Anyway, onward to this issue of Saga!

The Cover: Perhaps it's the meta nature of this cover’s concept, but I think this is one of those occasional Saga covers that can stand alone as an independent work of art, independent of its association with these characters and this series. It’s not as politically relevant as some of the other covers that fit this description, but a hunchback plant woman with an obscured face in reality but a pretty and concentrated look in the canvas reaching out and into her work to paint herself—my head just exploded, but still, my point is this concept and cover are intriguing.  

The First Page: Sticking with the one-word pattern established by this issues preview text...salacious. This issue opens with Marko’s flirtation—the dance teacher and kindred mom spirit he met bringing his kid to the park—leaning casually in the doorway of what is presumably her home, wearing naught but a concert t-shirt (The Mistook) and a come hither look as she says, Why am I not surprised to see you? This arc has promised us marital complications, and with the last issue ending with Marko being tossed from his home after pelting his wife with a bag of groceries, well, none of this is good for our little family, none of it at all.

This first page conveys the biggest threat the little family has faced yet: relatable marital discord.

The Surface: This issue moves forward our various plotlines, curiously pitting Marko’s pelting Alana with a bag of groceries in a fit of rage against Alana’s descent into drug use. I suppose it’s not the story doing this so much as the ghost babysitter character Izabel. Either way, it’s an interesting juxtaposition, and the main case the character is making here is that both have a vast potential to damage a child and ruin a family, which is the central conflict of this arc. Also, Izabel has the ultimate high ground to make any point about ruination she wants, having herself been a victim of the conflict between Marko and Alana’s two sides, ultimately losing her life. Anyway, things really move here, to the point the promised separation between Marko and Alana (which turns out to be literal) occurs at the end of the issue, with Marko and Prince Robot IV coming face-to-face.

The Subtext: There’s some heavy subtext about the ongoing forever war here, and the way that regular members of society enable it. I’m thinking specifically of when the drug pusher/costume designer from The Circuit tells the kidnapper, Even if I could get you on the air, once you start ranting about politics, ninety percent of your audience is just going to change the channel. This wasn’t as painful to read as the first time I came across it, back in the halcyon political times of 2014, but now with a reality star wrecking brutal chaos in the White House, it hits so much harder. The drug pusher goes a step further to suggest Marko and Alana are analogous of the wings and horns higher powers, propagating a fake war while hooking up behind the scenes in an effort to oppress the common man. This is an idea I don’t recall being revisited often (although in many ways this very notion is why higher powers don’t want Hazel’s existence getting out), but I think it’s ripe for further exploration once this book returns from its hiatus.

The Art: Fiona Staples does an incredible bit of work here with facial expressions, using almost every central characters face to convey feeling and set individual tones within the plot. Here are some of my favorite instances of this....

The Foreshadowing: There’s not really all that much in here. Hazel makes a disparaging comment about her dance teacher, which sort of hints at how that woman’s role develops in the family mythology moving forward, but other than that, this issue is short on hints about the future.

Saga #23
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past 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.