By Zack Quaintance — So, this is an interesting issue, in that it was discounted to $.25 and aimed at attracting new readers to a long running title. I like these sort of things and comics like this. I came up reading books that were 400-some issues into their numbering and still working hard to summarize what had been going on lately on the off chance it was even just one reader’s first issue. This harkens back to that just a tad.Read More
By Zack Quaintance — One of my favorite things in monthly comics is when a long-running series has become so comfortable with its characters and plot, that it can start to center entire chapters around theme, rather than knocking things out it has to do to hit big dramatic flourishes. Phew. Anyway, Kurt Busiek is a master of this, but Brian K. Vaughan has some pretty strong chops as well.Read More
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.Read More
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…Read More
By Zack Quaintance — We’re roughly at the midway point of the War for Phang storyline, and, as is in keeping with the rest of Saga, we really haven’t seen all that much warring. Instead, our central characters have remained at the margins of any actual fighting. The war is still a threat to them, but none of our main cast are all that invested in how it’s going or who wins. They just want to be rid of it, which I think is…Read More
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…Read More
By Zack Quaintance — One thing I’ve noticed often during this re-read is that there are almost two distinct types of Saga issues. The first is a surface level rapidfire burst of action and plot. The second is a slower, more emotional sort of issue that uses a lot of metaphors to get at deep truths about love, family, and relationships. This series is so grandiose (look at its title), that it certainly has room for both…Read More
By Zack Quaintance — The closer we get to the end of this re-read, the more I remember actually reading these past issues. With this one, for example, I can remember the very day and conversation at the cash register I had while purchasing this comic. I know it’s not that interesting...but also I’ve mentioned it twice later in this piece!Read More
By Zack Quaintance — Hey hey, friends! Here we are back again with the Saga Re-Read, which if I’m being honest is one of my favorite features on the site, albeit not one of the more popular. And I get it! Following this takes a lot of time and also a lot of tolerance for my personal reaction to this comic. Still! I’ve had so much fun doing it, that once we wrap up Saga in 20 weeks or so, we’re going to start another comic!
And I’ve already taken to Twitter a couple times to solicit suggestions for what that comic should be. No final decisions have been made as of yet, but I should not that it is very likely to be another creator-owned Image Comics title from roughly the same era. Books like Wicked + Divine or East of West have been bandied about, and I will say that I find both of those to be very intriguing suggestions. I just haven’t finalized my pick as of yet.
But enough talk of other comics! Let’s get on to Saga, specifically to issue #33...
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #33, which was first released back on January 27, 2016...as cold a day in this world as there ever was (I don’t really remember, to be honest, and I was living in Austin then which meant less than 50 degrees would quality). Let’s get right to it…
Upsher and Doff are back on the case.
Hey! My guys are back. I’ve made no secret in these pieces that I really really like these characters. I went to journalism school, spent several years doing real news writing for newspapers, and still work as a staff writer for a trade journal today—I have a soft spot for the chase the story at all costs journalists type of character, even if I’m skeptical about any continuing to exist in the real world today.
The Cover: This cover is a simple one, which is a trend I’ve noticed in this most recent arc, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. My favorite Saga covers are generally those that start with a simple, relatable concept and extrapolate it just a bit to the point it finds a new space that’s both poignant and weird. This one is basically just two reporters going to work, hand in hand...except underwater. It doesn’t quite hit the rarefied satirical air that some of the later media commentary covers in this series do, but it’s nice to look at and a great glimpse into this chapter’s story all the same.
The First Page: This is a solid first page on a broader story level, reminding us in one fast and good-looking stroke of who Upsher and Doff are and what their function is within this story. I should note, however, that having worked in a number of newsrooms, I found a photographer staring at a developing photo and saying out loud Goddamn did I luck into a golden triangle here...to be absolutely absurd. I like that Vaughan was going that extra mile to show that he has a nuanced understanding of how photography and photojournalism works, but it’s like having a chef say, Holy hell did I salt this brisket to the ideal taste level...if someone said complimented themselves on the basics of their job aloud like this in real life, you might wonder if they were having a stroke. Nit-picky esoteric professional qualms aside though, I think this is a solid starter for the reasons I mentioned at the start.
The Summary: The story opens with Upsher rushing into the dark room and disrupting Doff, so as to break the news that The Brand—who dosed them with something that would kill them if they ever broke the Marko-Alana story—was dead, thereby freeing them from their professional constriction. After some really well-done office hi-jinx about meal reimbursement and frequent flyer miles, our intrepid duo is off in search of the galaxy’s biggest story again. They pick up right where they left off, following a (valid) lead that Alana is working on the Open Circuit...I’d say this lead is years old by now, but chances are this is all happening during the time jump.
We learn that Upsher has not stopped investigating this story, to the point that he found a lovelorn classified ad that Ginny (remember Hazel’s dance instructor?) had placed in a paper for Marko to find. As with all things Ginny-Marko, it’s unclear whether she’s interested in him or simply concerned about the well-being of him and Hazel. They go to Ginny’s house, where they find her surprisingly gruff and brawny husband, and this hilarious line when they cold call her at the door, Oh, you must be here about the trampoline. Ginny doles out a bunch of almost-truths, and the journalists are off to chase them.
The trail takes them to an icy meteorite on which they find—The Will! Who has packed on quite a few pounds since the last time we’ve seen him. The Will wounds Doff in the shoulder, reveals that he knows who they are and all about his sister’s past interactions with them, and ultimately takes the pair prisoner.
The Subtext: This issue is absolutely loaded with media, to the point it’s almost a paean to print media. The golden triangle line aside, there are some great subtle touches in here...including the way Upsher has done his work, the editor pouring coffee and grumbling about reimbursement for travel, all the way down to how Ginny sought to find out about Marko with a paper classified ad. I know newspapers are a going concern of Vaughan’s (see Paper Girls, which would have launched a few months before the release of this issue), and it’s nice to see him play out that interest here in a future setting, seemingly making an argument that society (even a sci-fi one set among the extended cosmos) is always better with newspapers.
There’s even a bit of philosophical banter about the well-being of one’s subjects versus the way the larger world would be served by breaking a story, which in my experience is a conversation at the heart of every last decision made in journalism (or at least it should be). I also particularly enjoyed the confrontation late in the issue between The Will and Upsher and Doff, in which they get ennobled about their profession and he cops to being out only for himself and his own motives. It’s a nice way to get at something I also firmly believe about the profession: the overwhelming and vast majority of reporters (especially in today’s diminished market) are mostly doing this damn job because they think it’ll make a difference (and if they get a little money or some validation along the way, even better).
The Art: This story is essentially a journalism procedural, which let’s face it, is a pretty boring sort of narrative (I know, I’ve lived it), but Fiona Staples does a great job finding interesting visual touches to include between scenes of slow investigation. All of that leads up to a little bit of a scuffle at the end and a really interesting (and telling) reveal about The Will’s physical state.
The Foreshadowing: There really isn’t too much here, although I suppose you can make the case that because the entire issue is centered on Upsher and Doff, the creators are tipping their hand a bit that these two are going to be a continued and important part of the story moving forward.
Join us next week as we officially hit the only 20 issues to go mark—ahhhhhh!
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.