The Saga Re-Read: Saga #2, People Like This Book

Saga #2 introduces us to one of Fiona Staples many excellent alien designs: The Stalk.

By Zack Quaintance & Cory Webber — We went live with our Saga re-read project last week (in which we’re reading one issue of Saga every week during the book’s hiatus), and, lo and behold, it turns out that people really like Saga! And I mean, like like. Not a shocker; this is a popular comic (to no one’s surprise).

Anyway, our hope from the start was that many people out there would come along with myself (a re-reader of Saga) and Cory Webber (a first-timer), as we embarked on this project, using some space here on Friday’s for a brief discussion and our thoughts about a single issue. It turns out our hopes seem likely to be validated! So that’s cool. We even have a great take that came to us from a friend via Twitter…

Andres Garcia says

That Tarantino observation is a really great addition, given some of the ways the book approaches sex and violence (and even the revenge and family dynamics). The only thing we’d add is that if you’re going to discuss how Saga translates to the world of family, you would do well to also reference Guillermo del Toro, because Fiona Staples’ monster designs are that good.

Read our take on Saga #1.

Saga #2

The cover of Saga #2, which is way scarier after you read it.

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #2:

The ongoing epic continues!  After deserting their galactic armies, former soldiers Marko and Alana must now protect their newborn girl from the lethal killers dispatched to destroy their family.

That’s a pretty vague description, but it does get at what this issue is about: our young family is being hunted by increasingly dangerous threats. We get our first glimpse of The Stalk here, which kind of backs up what I was saying earlier about the Guillermo del Toro aesthetic. Also, at the issues very end, we get our first look at the much-feared Horrors. More on them next issue, though.

Ultimately, this is a nice follow-up to the first issue. I can’t see anyone who liked the debut jumping off after #2. It continues to introduce us to the nature of our heroes, while throwing more obstacles into their way so that we can later see how they respond, and, therefore, what they’re made of. It also gives us more of Staples’ incredible character designs. As mentioned, this time it’s The Stalk, whose design mixes ethereal beauty with body horror grotesquery. Really impressive stuff.

A Re-Reader’s Perspective by Zack: The Star Wars qualities that one assumes were vital to the book’s pitch and its early marketing are evident here: the fun space monsters, the glimpses at the realities of the freelancer market, and even a rare look at one of the military bases the war is being waged from. I suppose this stands out to me on re-read, because by #54 the book has so many of its own unique qualities that Star Wars couldn’t be further from my mind. Basically, Saga is its own massive thing now, but back then, you can see that it was still taking form.

A New Reader’s Perspective by Cory Webber: This is only the second issue, but it feels like Vaughn and Staples have been doing this for much longer. I like the comparison to Star Wars and Romeo + Juliet by Tarantino and Del Toro, but allow me to add that I’m getting a Coen Brothers vibe too, what with the eccentric characters and hilarious-yet-mundane sense of humor. For example, Alana’s secret that she likes the taste of her own breast milk, or how the prison guard tells Prince Robot IV about the harlequin-type books Alana was reading. I found it interesting that she refers to them as books housewives buy at the supermarket. It gave me the notion that this very well could be another solar system in our galaxy, not too different from our own. Something, I assume, was intentional in order to make us feel that Vaughan has something socially-relevant to discuss. I already gushed about Vaughn and Staples, so let me just take a second to praise Fonografiks’ lettering and design. I particularly like the font and placement of Hazel’s narrations. Last but not least, WHAT THE HELL IS THE STALK AND WHY IS IT AFRAID OF THE HORRORS?!

Cory’s New Reader Prediction: My prediction is last week’s prediction was either A). correct and I should stop while I’m ahead or, B). there’s NO WAY Marko is dead and The Horrors are actually decent folks that help non-warring types, and they will resuscitate him because there’s NO WAY Vaughan is that heartless <rant over>. 

Thanks for joining us, and be sure to check back next Friday for a discussion of Saga #3! Tweet us @BatmansBookcase with your own thoughts, and we may run them here next week...

Cory Webber is a work-from-home entrepreneur who also reads and reviews comics for fun. Find him on Twitter at @CeeEssWebber. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife and three sons.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

The great character development continues throughout this issue.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #1 and Foreshadowing

The lewd-yet-mundane opening panel is an ocassional Saga tradition that started way back in issue #1.

By Zack Quaintance & Cory Webber — Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples recently announced a 1-year (minimum) intermission for Saga, our favorite ongoing comic here at Batman’s Bookcase. To be blunt, we’re ambivalent. We know artistic inspiration is fleeting and intangible, and that one cannot always just will it into being. Great work is often done by creators who are rested, happy, unstressed. Basically, we know even massive talents like Vaughan and Staples need a break.

That’s our logical stance. Emotionally, however, we’re bummed to go an entire year without Saga, and so we’ve decided to occupy ourselves by undertaking an idea we saw on Twitter: during Saga’s 52-week (minimum) intermission, we’re going to re-read the series in its entirety, one issue per week.

We’re going to talk about what happens (briefly), share observations made with the benefit of hindsight, and wrap up each installment with impressions from a first-time reader. We’re going to keep spoilers to a minimum to make this accessible for veteran Saga fans and newbies alike. And we’re going to invite you all to join us—like a massive and amorphous online book club, without the part where everyone meets to talk about it for a few minutes before devolving into unrelated conversations and drinking lots of wine.

Anyway...there you have it. Check back each Friday for the next year (gulp!) as we discuss our re-read of Saga.

Saga #1

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #1:

A rare scene of the two species in combat. The war the series is so heavily informed by is afterward waged mostly off panel.

Y: THE LAST MAN writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN returns to comics with red-hot artist FIONA STAPLES for an all-new ONGOING SERIES!  Star Wars-style action collides with Game of Thrones-esque drama in this original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers, as new parents Marko and Alana risk everything to raise their child amidst a never-ending galactic war. The adventure begins in a spectacular DOUBLE-SIZED FIRST ISSUE, with forty-four pages of story with no ads for the regular price of just $2.99!

That’s a decent description, although the Game of Thrones comp is off...there is no dynastic politicking to be found here. Saga #1 definitely has hints of Star Wars, though, including but not limited to this killer line: It was a time of war. Isn’t it always.

This is overall a great debut, one that orients the reader in the world of Saga and also introduces a number of excellent character designs, including Lying Cat, Prince Robot IV, and the utterly fantastical chaos our young family encounters at the Uncanny Bridge. What this debut perhaps does best from a script perspective is establish the relatable dynamic between Marko and Alana, our two central lovers. In fact, a better solicitation might have been Star Wars-style action collides with Romeo and Juliet-esque drama if the star-crossed lovers had managed to have a child…but in 2012 (same as today), George R.R. Martin was a far more relatable reference than ol’ Willy Shakespeare. Sigh. 

This foreshadowing is yet to come to fruition, although it is established a few panels later that Alana carries a non-lethal weapon called a heart breaker...

Veteran and First-Timer Perspectives

A Re-Reader’s Perspective by Zack: What’s most interesting to me is the foreshadowing. So much plot is hinted at by via quick lines. I won’t go into detail (spoiler free, after all), but for re-readers I don’t have to. In terms of craft, Vaughan’s preference for exploring family dynamics versus war is evident. Staples art, meanwhile, is noticeably rougher—in everything from colors to linework—but her ambitious and unique designs are here from the start. Last, I’ll just note that a Saga tradition—the lewd-yet-mundane first panel—is the perfect place for our story to start.

Veteran readers who are all caught up show also checkout Why Saga #54 Hurts So Bad.

 

A New Reader’s Perspective by Cory Webber:  Wow! Okay, I get why I’ve heard fans hyping this book since I started reading comics four years ago. First, Saga #1’s world building is uncanny. After just one issue, I feel like I’ve been living in their same universe. Also, Vaughan writes these characters as if they’re real people he’s known for a lifetime. They are flawed, emotional beings—none more so than Alana and Marko—and I find myself sympathetic toward almost all of them (hey, I’m just not sure about The Will and Lying Cat right now, okay?!). Out of the gate, Alana is my favorite...she is witty, feisty, sardonic. I did, however, have to re-read this book a couple of times due to its length. This issue is dense, yet it’s not overly complicated, nor is it filled with any inconsequential fluff. It’s just so detailed that you really have to pay attention. All this, and I haven’t even mentioned Staples’ art. She brings an enormous amount of emotion and humanity to her characters through their faces and postures. Even, surprisingly, for characters that have TVs for heads. I’m excited to finally be starting this journey, and can’t wait to see where this goes...even though I hear the final issue before the hiatus is a real heartbreaking note to end on.

Cory’s New Reader Prediction: The last page shows Alana and Marko with the baby, along with a narration from an older Hazel that makes me think one of them won't make it past #54. There’s no way Alana will be killed off, so I’m guessing Marko kicks the bucket along the way. I sure hope I am wrong!

Thanks for joining us, and be sure to check back next Friday for a discussion of Saga #2!

Cory Webber is a work-from-home entrepreneur who also reads and reviews comics for fun. Find him on Twitter at @CeeEssWebber. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife and three sons.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

LYING.

Why Saga #54 Hurts so Bad

Warning: This piece contains spoilers for Saga #52 - #54.

By Zack Quaintance — Saga is my favorite comic. I jumped on after the first arc (dumb, still hunting early issues at a feasible price...ugh), and I’ve since shared the trades with friends, family, even coworkers....simply put, I love Saga. It has a plot that fits its name: there is galactic and generational war between two species, and now for the first time, members of those species have reproduced together. The comic follows a would-be family hunted by powers vested in keeping their coupling from becoming known so as to maintain forever war.

Artist Fiona Staples’ landscapes, spaceships, monsters, and aliens are among the most imaginative illustrations ever, and writer Brian K. Vaughan’s characterization is deep and honest. It’s all so good. I, however, never realized how real it felt to me until Saga #54 hit, until...here comes the spoiler…Marko dies.

Not to be histrionic, but I gasped when I read it and choked a teary no when I realized it was real. Even now, I have a lump in my throat. I was and still am devastated, perhaps more than I’ve ever been while reading comics (and I’ve read lots of comics). Marko’s death hurts. Through my grief, I want to look today at why it hurts.

Normally, this is where I’d say Let’s do this! but I’m in no mood. So, with all respect, let’s proceed...

The Hero’s Journey

Let’s start with the writerly reason this hurts so bad: Marko was engaged in a hero’s journey that was abruptly ended. Killing protagonists isn’t new. Jason Aaron did so at the end of his first arc of Southern Bastards, and George R.R. Martin made a career sending Starks to their dooms. But I struggle to think of a protagonist that died while on as dynamic a hero’s journey as Marko's in Saga (he was even writing a novel!, or rather...more of a secret novella, really, as he put it).

Ned Stark certainly wasn’t (being stuck in his ways did him in), and neither was Robb, who in both the books and show earned death via youthful hubris. Hell, in Southern Bastards we barely knew Earl Tubb when he died at the end of Coach Euless Boss’ big stick (the names in that book rule). Marko, however, spent 54 issues at the heart of Saga, making mistakes, learning, growing from them. Saga has ample side characters, but for protagonists there are only three: Marko, Alana, and Hazel; and there was precious little to suggest any were in danger. That brings us to our next point...

The Surprise

The death of Prince Robot IV in Saga #53 seemed to suggest the following issue would be more about repercussions than the loss of another major character.

Marko’s death came as an abrupt surprise, and being unprepared exacerbated the hurt. Characters in modern serialized fiction die more frequently than perhaps they have in the past. We also have rabid and engaged fandoms that demand stakes stakes stakes, as if death is the only consequential form of defeat. As such, a pattern has developed that precedes main characters dying, and Saga didn’t follow it. This wasn’t a milestone issue, there was no fanfare, no one leaked a spoiler, and, perhaps most significantly, the book just knocked off two other characters, one of which was prominent.

I mean, just consider that over the course of its run, Saga hasn’t been a story in which every character was liable to die at any time. So, losing two in three issues seemed to imply safety, especially for our leads. In Saga #53, The Will tears Prince Robot IV’s head from his shoulders, and in Saga #51, photojournalist Doff dies at the hands of Ianthe. I don’t think I was alone expecting this issue to be about repercussions not about upping the body count, but, hold on, Ianthe and The Will merit closer inspection, which transitions nicely to...

The Will

Marko’s death hurt because of who killed him. The Will. You know The Will. The heartbreak. The weight gain. The enslavement by Ianthe. The saving of the girl on the bordello planet. The Will isn’t admirable, but he’d become relatable, human. He seemed to be humbled in a way that would allow him to join our heroes. The Will making all this progress and then ultimately getting his revenge on the family he considers responsible for the death of his beloved is downright Shakespearean. 

Even so, Vaughan and Staples warned us often that he would kill Marko. Check out this foreshadowing:

Hazel tried to warn us about The Will...(from Saga #4).

  • During The Will’s first appearance, Hazel’s narration says But if he’d known what wheels had started spinning over Wreath, my father never would have left those tunnels.

  • That same issue, she notes for the first time she doesn’t become a great war hero or all-important savior, and that her parents gave her a chance to grow old, saying...Not everybody does as below the text they kiss.

  • When The Will saves the girl from Sextillion, Hazel says Like every freelancer I had the misfortune to eventually meet, he was a fucking MONSTER.

We were told repeatedly who The Will was and what he would do, yet we ignored it, wanting reality to be different. Oh, how it hurt when it was not, which brings us nicely (yet again) to...

Paying for Mercy: A Lesson for 2018

Marko’s death hurt so badly because it happened when he showed The Will mercy. In Saga #54 it is established that Marko was abused, not severely, but enough to realize violence is an ineffective solution for solving problems. His past trauma stops him from delivering a deathblow when The Will is prone beneath him, and it’s this mercy that gets him killed.

During this year of much tumult , it has become difficult to see the world as a place that rewards kindness or mercy, that rewards anything other than selfishly protecting one's interest above all else, even if to do so involves lying, cheating, betrayal, or corruption. Conversely, responding to those things has also seemed to be universally done with rage. I know my own often-optimistic worldview has certainly been tested. This was part of my read of Marko’s death, although admittedly, maybe I’m proscribing more meaning to it than is actually there, which (yet again!) brings us to our next point...

Family

The last reason this hurts so bad is because Marko’s death was tangled with ideas of family. Hazel has told us before and tells us again in this issue that she doesn’t grow up to be a great hero or messiah. That her life is only as meaningful as any other life, and that, as such, her parent’s sacrifices within are happening to give her a chance at that life. It’s a nigh-universal sentiment, one that readers can relate to (hard) both as children and potential or current parents.

Essentially, this is a story about family and generations (as the most powerful stories often are). It’s about the sacrifices Marko and Alana are making for their child, flashing back at times to their own childhoods when they’re informed by the sacrifices their parents made. It’s about Prince Robot IV (who flashes a rattle on his screen before shooting The Stalk, which eventually earns his own death via The Will) doing the same, and that’s a heartbreaking notion, at least for me as I move further into my 30s and come to face parenthood.

There you have it. Five reasons I think Marko’s death has hit harder than most in comics. I should note that most comic deaths also involve superheroes, which means they often come back, and Saga isn’t that sort of story. I should maybe also note this could all be over-analysis, and that Marko’s death is maybe best explained on a primal level: someone we loved is gone and we’re sad. As David Foster Wallace wrote in Infinite Jest, maybe...sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That’s certainly how I feel after the latest turn in this story.

Click here for more comics analysis.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.