The Saga Re-Read #14: Many Moving Parts, One Small But Painfully Heartrending Moment

Saga #14.

By Zack Quaintance — I think at this point in Saga, we’ve maybe hit our cruising altitude. The tones, concerns, and rhythms of this long story have settled into place. I’m not saying Saga gets predictable from here on out—as we learned from Saga #54, that never really becomes the case—but it does seem as if Vaughan and Staples really lock into their comfort zones, their confidence that this is a vital story 100 percent worth telling.  

What’s also worth noting in this quick hit introduction is that we once again get very little of the story’s central couple. They’re hear and they speak, but we learn more about the world and what’s happening in it from newer and tangential characters like Alana’s age inappropriate stepmom Even and the second over appearance of Upsher and Doff. Heist does a lot of work too, quickly endearing himself as a tortured writer type to what is almost certainly a pretty bookish audience.

Now, let’s break it down further!

Saga #14

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #14, first released on Sept. 25, 2013 (jeez, that sounds long ago to me right now):

Gwendolyn and Slave Girl think about the future.

As brief and safe as the usual teasers for these stories thus far, this one actually compliments the cover quite well, cluing us in on the emotions the two featured characters must be feeling. Let’s get to this issue’s individual elements...

The Cover: This cover is simply wonderful. It’s definitely not one of the more ostentatious Saga covers, nor is it one of those that has something grand to say about the story. It is, however, uniquely Saga, very much of Saga’s world with a look unlike the visuals from any other story. In it, two relatively minor characters who don’t factor all that strongly into the plot share a moment together, with the newly-named Sophie staring in wonder to a vast horizon as Gwendolyn, a repurposed civil servant hunting for her ex-fiance out of a desire for retribution and a vague sense of duty, sort o protectively stands over her. A confident, and, as I said before, simply wonderful work.

The First Page: A normal looking winged woman (later revealed as Alana’s stepmom) opens her door and asks, Is this about Alana? Is she dead? The least provocative or scandalous page in sometime. What this does do, however, is set the tone for a glimpse into Alana’s life and backstory, much of which has been obscured thus far in favor of exploring Marko and his past. Far from the most memorable Saga opener, this is one that does work.

The Surface: An old drunk man vomits on an infant. A woman goes fishing with a lance and catches a flying polka-dotted shark out of the air. A man whose head is a television re-fueling a skullship as a giant ferret guy makes a call from a payphone behind him. Some great and farout Saga visuals. Also, weird the most absurd part of all I just listed is the now the payphone. Anyway, kind of a moving parts issue, effective in getting characters into certain places. The highlight of the dialogue is the conversation between grandma and Heist, which is loaded with strong lines, including In the end, nobody really escapes this thing, and all the contemplation about losing a spouse, which really tugs at the heart, as this book is wont to do. Speaking of which, the line where Sophie says I am all dirty on the inside because I did bad things with—and Lying Cat interjects: Lying. Downright wrecked me.  

The Subtext: Frankly, I’m not sure there was much of it. Grandma bonding (and probably eventually falling for) Heist was subtle and well done, but for the most part, there’s so much plot in this issue that Vaughan’s script leaves precious little room for metaphor or subtext. The closest is The Will’s internal struggle to fulfill his mission or remain stranded and live off the land, where he is likely to be haunted but peaceful and happy.

From Alana’s goth haircut to the non-plussed look on her father’s newly-wedded face, this one panel reveals so much about her background and character.

The Art: I’d like to isolate one panel here to discuss how effective Fiona Staples artwork can be at its best: the wedding day photo of Alana’s dad marrying her stepmom, who is roughly Alana’s same age, as Alana glowers in the back, presumably made to wear that pink dress and all gothed out. The scowl and haircut are one thing, but Staples just so perfectly captures the closed off, resentment that comes with such a relationship taking root in one’s life. I also really like the visual decision to give Alana’s stepmom butterfly wings, whereas Alana’s own have always kind of looked like a dragonfly or something. Nice touch. The suburban-looking home exterior shot that bookends the stepmom scene is also perfect.

Foreshadowing/UPCOMING SPOILER TIME: A little bit gets done here. Hazel notes her mother never again set foot on the planet where she was born, which could be more evidence to support the idea that Alana will also eventually sacrifice her life for her child, as her husband did before her. Hazel also notes that her and granny do visit that planet much later, which, quite frankly, is a plot point I’ve forgotten...illustrating why this re-read has been so necessary/enjoyable for 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.