By Zack Quaintance — Saga #26 is almost—but not quite—one of those comics that seemed bent on making its readers mentally decide what they would do in a given situation...would they accost the man robbing the convenience store or fade into the back and hope he doesn’t notice them? Would they fight the dragon monsters trying to eat them or listen to the little girl suggesting they should talk? Would they stab the TV-headed terrorist in the neck with the shiv or join his anti-establishment revolution?
Okay, so maybe these aren’t all relatable within the context of our everyday lives (and I’ll go into what I think they mean later), but there is a shared question to them all: would you use violence or try to find another way? This isn’t a novel question within the context of the series. Hell, in some ways this is a war book, meaning would you fight is the question all along, but this issue embraces the episodic format and uses that question to show readers more about each character. This, I must admit, is yet another little bit of craft I didn’t notice my first time through.
Now on to the rest of it...
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #26, which was first released alllllll the way back on March 4, 2015, which means I would have still been living in Austin, Texas and gearing up for South by Southwest, which is that city’s Mardi Gras. Ah, memories....
Gwendolyn's quest takes an interesting turn.
Well, hot damn! After not getting much (or really any, excepting the last issue) of Gwendolyn and The Will in the last arc, this new one is a veritable bonanza of continuing their story. I’m there for it. I like them well-enough and love (as regular readers well know) Lying Cat as a narrative device. Anyway, onward to the individual elements!
The Cover: Another busy cover with a lot going on, and I hadn’t even recovered from the hella busy cover for Saga #25 yet! But yes, this cover is packed. The main thing is, of course, Gwendolyn using a wooden staff to prop open some lizard beast’s mouth as it tries to eat both her and Sophie. I kind of like Lying Cat looming over and side eye-ing the whole deal, but, overall, this isn’t one of the more memorable Saga covers for me.
The First Page: Whoa whoa whoa! Another first page split into panels. Memory is a funny thing, like a boat filled with holes plugged by assumptions. For my part, I guess I’d assumed that the entirety of the series was all one-panel splash pages openers. I certainly think now that the series will get back to it at some point, but can you really trust me after that last confession? Probably not. Anyway, this one is a bit of a trope: Marko shopping in a convenience store in the middle of a robbery—something that happens to a strong majority of fictional characters but never to anyone I’ve ever met in real life. This does that always-interesting Saga thing of directly juxtaposing the fantastical and alien with familiar activities or imagery from real life.
The Surface: Marko goes on to break up that robbery in a fit of violent rage (more on that in foreshadowing). Marko’s not the only one who has to face down a tense situation. Alana, Marko’s mom, and Hazel are all still hostages of Dengo as the Revolution arrives, while Gwendolyn, The Brand, Sophie, and Lying Cat are on the brink of being eaten by a bunch of dragon mares (as they search for a bull dragon to get The Will medicine he needs).
The Subtext: The metaphor here has much to do with the way raising children means you spend time with odd adults you might otherwise never met. It’s not the most subtle point, though, given that Hazel’s own narration basically comes out and says that, as it is often wont to do with this series’ subtext. In a larger ideological sense, the subtext in Saga #26 has to do with perspective. Meaning, from one perspective the Revolution might look like freedom fighters, but from another terrorists. With the media manipulation we’ve dealt with so thoroughly in recent years, this is a topic that should resonate as much (if not more) today than it did when this comic was new almost four (!!) years ago now. There’s also a question raised that I think about a lot, which is does combating powerful opponents justify extreme tactics? Like the best fiction, the book leaves the answer largely to the reader’s interpretation.
There’s other, more prominent, subtext here as well that serves as a double commentary on gender roles, toxic masculinity, and the way violence begets violence. The majority of the male characters in this story have often resorted to violence. Marko does so again to solve his robbery problem, Prince Robot IV is a very violent character tormented by visions of his now-dead wife, who Dengo (yet another male character) is torn with guilt over murdering. Our central female protagonists, meanwhile, solve their problems with diplomacy...eventually. Lending this issue that commentary (although Gwendolyn and Alana were both leaning toward committing violent acts when something else got in the way).
The Art: Like last issue, there aren’t any jaw-dropping splashes or massive holy sh%t visuals, but this is another dense script that asks Staples to often fit in panels that could have been a splash...and she does so seamlessly. Below you can find an example of a couple pages that really tickled the part of my brain reserved for absorbing stories (weird)...
The Foreshadowing: Jeez, forgive me for not being all that careful of a reader, but I hadn’t realized just how many times we saw Marko give in to a fit of uncontrolled violent rage that starts out being maybe a bit justified and then ends with him going way over the line. This issue certainly has some of that, with Marko assuming a pose that almost directly mirrors the one we saw him take in Saga’s most recent issue. He even goes into a bit of a fugue here before we see him put his foot down about no killing (more of that comes later too). Oof. I’m getting busted up all over again...
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.