Of Writers and Wars: Saga #12 is a Nigh-Perfect Comic

Saga #12.

By Zack Quaintance — I’m one of those people who count Saga as my favorite comic. I know, shocking. I only Tweet about it at least once a week. I don’t actively realize, however, exactly why that is, at least not on a regular basis, and, quite frankly, I’ve been a little surprised that to date this re-read project has been short on holy shit moments that remind me—until I came to Saga #12.

This issue is just such a great example of all that this book does so well: the varied cast of characters, the range of ideas and meanings, the lofty conversations that lesser writers would bungle into boring heavy-handed tedium. It’s all in here. It’s perhaps telling that our central family doesn’t even make an appearance until the last panel, that Vaughan and Staples could leave them unseen and still make the stakes incredibly tense, the so-far little-used characters so compelling. Anyway, I could keep fawning or I could get down to the meat of what this re-read project is all about: a weekly thorough examination of individual issues of Saga and some quick categorized talk about why I love them.

Saga #12

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #12, first released on April 10, 2013:

Prince Robot IV makes his move.

I feel like that description can be trotted out a few more times between now and #54, not that it even tells us much, other than to expect plenty of one of my favorites, ol’ Prince Robot IV. Let’s do the individual elements thing…

The Cover: As noted above, I am admittedly partial to covers that feature Prince Robot IV, and while this maybe isn’t one of the best of them, it definitely shows kernels of some of the ideas that will make my favorite Prince Robot cover (Saga #49) possible: specifically alluding here to the way Staples uses the character’s face as an actual TV screen that bears familiar TV imagery from our world. It’s a way to draw a direct connection between our daily lives and the fantasy of this story, and it absolutely works.

The First Page: Speaking of a blend of fantasy and reality, the first page of Saga #12 is a case in point. It shows a Wings shoulder holding an injured Prince Robot IV. The prince is dripping his literally blue blood as the soldier screams for a medic. Basically, here we have a man with what look like peacock-esque feathers sprouting on his back holding another man with a TV head as they both fit into familiar imagery from our own wars. After several issues that dealt more in this tale’s domestic issues, this first page here works as a stark and brutal reminder that the entire world is affected by a forever world. Oh! And not to discount the shock to the prurient that is a finely-honed Saga tradition, look closer and you’ll notice that as he’s dying, Prince Robot IV’s face features fellatio (his face and the war around it only get way more graphic throughout the scene—side note: holy hell do I love this comic).

The Surface: There’s a great deal of plot in this comic, even with its first act essentially consumed with a battle scene that has no discernible purpose other than to (as noted above) remind us of the war and suggest that Prince Robot IV might be suffering from PTSD. It’s good stuff, too, a humanization of a guy with a TV head, a tense roller coaster of an interrogation scene, and a last page reveal liable to really bug your eyes and keep them that way until next issue. I like Saga #12 even more on re-read, as it seems to me like this was is where the story becomes a bit less predictable than it has been so far. If I have one knock on this issue, it’s that some of the writer’s voice comes through too clearly in the Oswald-Heist verbal sparring. More on that below...

Saga #12 features the first appearance of Ghus.

The Subtext: There’s a really thin line in this conversation-heavy issue between what’s being said and what’s being meant. We’ve delved into some of the subtext in the early scenes above, but what I’d really like to unpack a bit more in this section is what’s beneath the conversation between Oswald and Prince Robot, which bounces from a tense interrogation to a meditation on the cost and meaning of war, with a sprinkling of the role of the artist in society and some thought about whether succumbing to PTSD makes one strong. It’s a lot, but it never feels heavy handed or forced. That’s not the point of this particular section, however, so let me just note that upon a second read I think there’s a very deliberate idea between the two men here that aspires to say something about the roles of individuals in warring systems, as well as about the things we justify to ourselves for the sakes of our children, born or dead.

The Art: And now we come to the fawning. I’m really struggling to make this section more productive, to write something than other Staples DESTROYS YET AGAIN, because she does, every damn issue. Here perhaps the most notable artwork is her design of Ghus, who makes his first appearance before going on to eventually be immortalized as a plush toy with multiple outfits and (for my money) one of the coolest pieces of merchandise to stem from a paper comic yet to be adapted. It’s a credit to Staples’ versatility and skill that in a single issue she can draw scenes of such horror and creatures of such adorable aesthetic.

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.