By Brendan F. Hodgdon. It’s been 7 long and remarkable years since the debut of Fiona Staples and Brian K Vaughan’s Saga, and the series is showing no signs of slowing down or losing its edge. What started as a book described by its writer as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones” has grown into a sprawling, complicated narrative with some of the most remarkable artwork in comics. And that’s on top of being a boundary-breaking, industry-redefining financial success.
But perhaps what is most fascinating and impactful about Saga is its thematic underpinnings, which are complicated not so much in content as they are context. In this regard, the Star Wars/Game of Thrones mashup is accurate, as this series feels to some degree like the emotional ethos of Star Wars if it were thrown into the ultraviolent ugliness of GoT and forced to fend for itself. After all, how else does love, empathy, family and pacifism exist but under constant assault from war, cynicism, politics and greed?
This is (to my humble mind) the emotional core of Saga, the energy that binds it all together. It is how Alana, Marko and Hazel hold together and stay true to each other, even in the face of a hostile galaxy and their own frustrating failures. And this latest issue speaks to that about as well as any other has so far.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan.
Illustrated by Fiona Staples.
Letters by Fonografiks.
Metasextual. As Molly Jane so aptly pointed out in her Staff Picks piece about this issue, it is very Saga-like for the series’ milestone issue be just another chapter in the story. No dramatic deaths or returns, no massive shifts in the status quo. Just general early-Act-Two stuff. But, leave it to Vaughan and Staples to find a way to comment on this landmark issue in a satisfying way. Namely, after an orgasm.
After bluntly (and again, very Saga-ly) opening the issue with a sex scene, Alana and Marko comment on the fact that their de facto anniversary is coming up. And just as quickly, they dismiss it, as both they (and Hazel, via her narration) discuss the fact that such milestones don’t define the nature of things as much as the feelings behind them. It lays down Vaughan and Staples’ feelings on their own milestone as much as it does Alana and Marko’s. It speaks to the transitory nature of life, which is heightened by the continuous journey that these characters have been on since issue #1. And it also highlights the fact that, in a world filled with as much unexpected and sudden violence as this one, every day this family survives is an accomplishment itself. So what’s one day more? Everything, and nothing.
Executor of The Will. One low-key development that does occur in this issue is the continued degradation and destruction of The Will. Or, as vengeance-minded “diplomat” Ianthe cleverly dubs him here, The Help. The former bounty hunter has slowly had his stereotypically principled badassery stripped away from him over the course of the series, more recently to tragic and pathetic effect. Now, The Help is just a broken, horrified stooge, being forced to enact violence on bystanders as part of another’s desire for revenge. He has been chewed up and spit out by the galaxy that Alana, Marko and Hazel have so far endured.
And given the nature of Saga as a whole, this seems about right. While The Help has had his share of compassionate and emotional moments (mostly involving Sophie and Gwendolyn), his is still a life defined by mercenary violence, and his current status as an enslaved killer feels like a logical endpoint to the life he’s lived. In fact, the moments of love and humanity that The Help has experienced previously only heighten the tragedy of his current predicament. He was so close to breaking free of the violence that has enveloped the galaxy, just as Alana and Marko are trying to, but he failed. And now, he’s here.
Days of Our Robots. While the plight of The Help and the endurance of Alana and Marko seem to reflect each other in this issue, the rest of our cast is caught up in a whirl of plot movement. Robot IV schemes with Upsher and Doff to unveil a massive, galaxy-shaking conspiracy purely for his own benefit, and in response we see Petrichor grappling with her choice to go with him and Squire’s outright rejection of this possible future. There is no way this will end well, which makes it all the more evil that Vaughan and Staples make you want it to be so.
While Robot and Squire’s conflicting choices are being made at very different levels of complexity. But unlike Alana, Marko and Hazel, they are willing to do so in ways that will sacrifice much of what motivates them in the first place.This is amplified by Petrichor’s conversation with Hazel, where Hazel challenges her adoptive aunt and teacher to explain why she’s willing to compromise on her identity and body in ways she hasn’t before. It’s heartbreaking to see these characters grapple with these sorts of choices, but in the process it allows us to recognize the simple success of living that our primary protagonists continue to represent.
50 issues in, and Saga continues to be one of the best comic series out there. This probably comes as a shock to pretty much no one, but that should in no way diminish the immense accomplishment that this series already represents. Vaughan and Staples continue to work on another level here, both in terms of their specific disciplines and in terms of being collaborators. There is a strong sense of purpose to every choice they make, that ties all the disparate threads and details of this book together beautifully. If you’ve liked the series this far, this issue keeps the good times rolling. As for the what’s to come next… my, what an adventure we have waiting for us.
8.5 out of 10