The Saga Re-Read #17: Death of a beloved character

By Zack Quaintance — The first time I read Saga, I consumed it rapidly, perhaps even a bit too fast, so greedy was I to get through the story. I was a late-comer to the book, a trade waiter back then who messed up and didn’t get hip to this one until it had progressed well into its 20s. Once I’d gotten the first few volumes though, the issues fell away so fast I maybe missed some key details. The shared structure of each issue of this arc was one of those details. I’m really enjoying the pacing of these issues the second time around, the way they all start with Upsher and Doff, before moving into Marko and Alana, with a splash of The Will and Gwendolyn and Sophie and Lying Cat (do they have one of those t-shirts for Saga? I bet they do…).

It just speaks to something I deeply believe to be true of comics. Talent is one thing. A great idea is one thing. Great creators make great art, though, when they’ve accrued a critical mass of experience. The way these past few issues are structured show off Brian K. Vaughan’s impeccable writing chops, chops that maybe weren’t as sharp while he wrote some of his past efforts (like all of which I love, but just saying…). The bottom line is that during a second a slower read this arc is incredibly tight, with the excitement of each issue owing as much to the telling as it does what happens from panel to panel.

And now? On to the story!

Saga #17

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #17, first released on Dec. 18, 2013, just (obviously) a week shy of Christmas that year, although the issue doesn’t have anything to do with all that:

Prince Robot IV gets everyone into trouble.

Oh, that old storyline again! To borrow a cliche, he sure does—and it wouldn’t be the last time either. We’ll probably talk about this a bit more below, but Prince Robot IV’s role in this story as an interesting one to me. I halfway suspect he was originally planned to be more of a villian than he would later become, but as Vaughan and Staples humanized him, an attachment took hold, ultimately causing the creators to make him into the sort that complicates the plot out of well-intentioned mistakes rather than something like selfishness or greed, but I digress…

The Cover: The cover to Saga #17 combines two of my favorite regular Saga elements: a slight hint of salaciousness and Prince Robot IV. The latter is such a valuable asset for Staples as a cover artist, I think, for a couple of reasons. The first is that he’s a visually-striking character. If newsstand comics were still a thing, I reckon any cover with him on it would sell just a tick better than most of the others. Second, it allows Staples to use his face to broadcast (heh) just a bit more of what’s going on, essentially giving her a cover within a cover from which to convey more plot info, and she uses it well here, as well as in a later Prince Robot IV cover maybe 20 issues or some from now. But more on that in the future.

The First Page: A sweet and understated front page that is basically just Upsher and Doff spooning in bed, with Upsher (I think he’s the reporter, not the photag), pondering the location of the family. The past three issues or so have all opened with Upsher and Doff, pushing their search for the story of our central family along in quick increments before cutting to said family and advancing their action. It’s a sound structure, one that has served this arc well as it works hard to pack in a borderline unwieldy amount of plot, which could be bad but is done so well here it actually helps to make this story all the more compulsively readable.

The Surface: All that plot about to slam together at the end of last issue? Well, in here it does. SPOILER: The biggest twist here is the death of Heist, killed almost inadvertently by Gwendolyn, Marko’s former fiance. He was a great and gone-too-fast character. Here were some other highlights from another packed issue...Great line: Because the only journalists that deserve killing are sports writers. And another: The advice to ‘kill your darlings’ has been attributed to various authors across the galaxies...and Mister Heist hated them all. Also, I love how The Brand shows Upsher and Doff mercy due to their favorite coverage of the Freelancers union during its last strike.

The Subtext: As with all recent issues, there’s some commentary here about the role of reporters in the war and within power structures, but this is again another issue that hems closer to the surface than it does to subtext. That’s not a bad thing. Metaphors have been drawn and meaning bestowed, so Vaughan and Staples are free to wisely let compelling action grow out of all that. We’ll see how subsequent arcs read upon a second time, but I have a hard time imagining any arc other than the most recent will feel as exciting in the moment as this one.

The Art: On week’s like this one where I don’t have much specific to say other than Gee, Staples is such a major talent, wow, I’m just going to start posting a favorite panel from the book. Please see this week’s below:

Foreshadowing: Not much of that (that I picked up on here), although I did think teasing The Will’s death was maybe notable. It felt significant, like a vision of things to come perhaps. His whole arc (especially after Saga #54) continues to intrigue me.

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. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.