By Zack Quaintance — Here we are at Saga #23, the penultimate issue of this story’s dour fourth arc. I have to admit, upon first reading this series, this arc was not my favorite, which in retrospect is a testament to how accurately writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples convey the marital discord. I didn’t like this arc—which follows a time jump—because the romance and resultant little family was so severely threatened by problems I myself could relate to.
Murderous cosmic bounty hunters and robot nobles who can turn their arms into cannon are scary, theoretically, but wanting to escape one's routine for something more exciting? Well, that was a threat I could easily see in my own life. I’ve been ready for it this second time through though, and so I’ve enjoyed this arc quite a bit more, coming to understand how pivotal it is within the plot. What is this touching romance worth if it’s not tested on its own merits, rather than an increasingly wacky parade of independent threats? It’s hard to say. The fact that mundanity is as difficult as the extreme makes the love feel more authentic and the story all the more engrossing.
Anyway, on to the individual elements!
Here is the official preview text for Saga #23, which was first released back on Sep. 24, 2014. I don’t want to call it time travel, not exactly, but it’s starting to feel wild that our weekly reading schedule is moving at a faster pace than the issues came out (it makes perfect sense, obviously, but still…)...
Whoa. It’s just one word, but what a word! I once had a friend I hadn’t seen in a number of years come visit me somewhat out of the blue. He’d been living with a woman in New Orleans, and when he got by me in Austin, he drank like crazy and didn’t want to sleep, like at all. When I asked him how his life was going, he told me, “There’s been a betrayal.” I haven’t seen him since. Anyway, onward to this issue of Saga!
The Cover: Perhaps it's the meta nature of this cover’s concept, but I think this is one of those occasional Saga covers that can stand alone as an independent work of art, independent of its association with these characters and this series. It’s not as politically relevant as some of the other covers that fit this description, but a hunchback plant woman with an obscured face in reality but a pretty and concentrated look in the canvas reaching out and into her work to paint herself—my head just exploded, but still, my point is this concept and cover are intriguing.
The First Page: Sticking with the one-word pattern established by this issues preview text...salacious. This issue opens with Marko’s flirtation—the dance teacher and kindred mom spirit he met bringing his kid to the park—leaning casually in the doorway of what is presumably her home, wearing naught but a concert t-shirt (The Mistook) and a come hither look as she says, Why am I not surprised to see you? This arc has promised us marital complications, and with the last issue ending with Marko being tossed from his home after pelting his wife with a bag of groceries, well, none of this is good for our little family, none of it at all.
The Surface: This issue moves forward our various plotlines, curiously pitting Marko’s pelting Alana with a bag of groceries in a fit of rage against Alana’s descent into drug use. I suppose it’s not the story doing this so much as the ghost babysitter character Izabel. Either way, it’s an interesting juxtaposition, and the main case the character is making here is that both have a vast potential to damage a child and ruin a family, which is the central conflict of this arc. Also, Izabel has the ultimate high ground to make any point about ruination she wants, having herself been a victim of the conflict between Marko and Alana’s two sides, ultimately losing her life. Anyway, things really move here, to the point the promised separation between Marko and Alana (which turns out to be literal) occurs at the end of the issue, with Marko and Prince Robot IV coming face-to-face.
The Subtext: There’s some heavy subtext about the ongoing forever war here, and the way that regular members of society enable it. I’m thinking specifically of when the drug pusher/costume designer from The Circuit tells the kidnapper, Even if I could get you on the air, once you start ranting about politics, ninety percent of your audience is just going to change the channel. This wasn’t as painful to read as the first time I came across it, back in the halcyon political times of 2014, but now with a reality star wrecking brutal chaos in the White House, it hits so much harder. The drug pusher goes a step further to suggest Marko and Alana are analogous of the wings and horns higher powers, propagating a fake war while hooking up behind the scenes in an effort to oppress the common man. This is an idea I don’t recall being revisited often (although in many ways this very notion is why higher powers don’t want Hazel’s existence getting out), but I think it’s ripe for further exploration once this book returns from its hiatus.
The Art: Fiona Staples does an incredible bit of work here with facial expressions, using almost every central characters face to convey feeling and set individual tones within the plot. Here are some of my favorite instances of this....
The Foreshadowing: There’s not really all that much in here. Hazel makes a disparaging comment about her dance teacher, which sort of hints at how that woman’s role develops in the family mythology moving forward, but other than that, this issue is short on hints about the future.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
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.