By Zack Quaintance — I’ll get into this more below, but this arc to me feels like a less concentrated set of chapters than those that came before. This is, I assume, partially by design, what with Marko separated from Alana/Hazel for the first time. Saga is at its core a story of a little family, and now that family is separated. As a result, the story starts to feel less streamlined than it has in the past. It doesn’t, however, lose much of its momentum or any of the continued thematic interests it’s determined to explore.
Saga #28, for its part, uses the separation to get at some questions about the roles of men and women in war, and whether the obvious line of thinking—that men are more likely to be killed and killers, so it is therefore harder on them—is the right one. In this story, we get Marko and Robot IV fighting for something, while Alana, Hazel, and Marko’s mom struggle to escape captivity. The politics that has laced the arc since the extremists showed up takes a backseat to individual circumstance (as it took a backseat to Marko’s anger issues last time), and that’s just fine.
Let’s check it all out!
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #28, which was first released back on May 13, 2015. Time is really flying now, eh? On to the preview text, which I’m sure will be detailed and ample…
What a surprise. It...wasn’t. Although I suppose that tells us a lot, given that the last time we saw Alana she was being held quisi hostage by a radical group of potentially murderous terrorists, or at least terrorists who were holding her captor in high esteem for having murdered a woman tending to her child. Let’s look at the individual elements of this issue.
The Cover: It’s certainly concerning, with Hazel tumbling in the fetal position while her mother, Alana, lunges toward her with a look of panic on her face. It stands alone in the regard that you can probably look at it without knowing anything about this story and surmise that this is a mother trying desperately (and maybe failing) to protect her child, which is also what’s happening inside the book.
The First Page: This opening page (see below) tells a quick, three-panel story that shows a group of our characters sleeping and camped before culminating with The Brand presumably finishing a lengthy explanation to Sophie about what abortion is. Saga is filled with oblique references to concepts like this—a small child being frankly told what abortion is—that shouldn’t be faux pas but maybe are to certain folks in certain parts of the country. To me, first pages like this one (and, indeed, many of the others) seem to simultaneously want to know, Are you scandalized by this?! and, Why?
The Surface: This isn’t the neatest issue of Saga, and I’d actually put it among the slowest of the series so far. That’s not to say that what’s happening on the page isn’t interesting or consequential, it’s just far more scattered. In fact, this entire arc has lacked the breakneck urgency of the previous two, or the intriguing world-building and character development of the earliest chapters. What it essentially comes down to is that this is a book about a family, and it loses its fastball when it starts to keep the members of that family apart. That said, there are some really memorable visuals in this one (more on that soon), including the ending panel, which I feel like should be a meme on Comics Twitter, or at least something trotted out every April the 20th.
Also, there’s a fantastic line in here where The Brand tells Sophie she hasn’t killed all that many people, and Sophie replies with, You want me to wake my cat? (I am nothing if not an utter shill for Lying Cat.)
The Subtext: The book comes right out and makes Hazel’s narration directly about this, but there’s a real division of the genders thing going on here, presumably to illustrate how a similar situation affects each. We have Marko and Prince Robot IV in one contingent, and Alana, Hazel, and her grandmother in another, while Hazel describes how war affects women. The subtext for it all ends up being—perhaps unsurprisingly—that war is no good for anybody, which is, of course, the overarching subtext of the entire series, too.
The Art: I say this week in and week out, but as good of a writer as Brian K. Vaughan is, the all-time great work being done in this comic is that of Fiona Staples. This issue is so plot heavy that it feels almost procedural, and still Staples manages to steal the show left and right with the most basic of comics storytelling ingredients: the emotive facial expression. Below is a quick gallery of four of my favorites from this issue.
The Foreshadowing: Eh, not all that much of it this week. Which is fine. Last week’s Saga #27 was essentially a roadmap for Marko’s story arc in later issues, at least for re-readers it felt that way.
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.