The Saga Re-Read: Saga #33 is an Upsher and Doff journalism procedural

Saga #33 first debuted on Jan. 27, 2016.

By Zack Quaintance — Hey hey, friends! Here we are back again with the Saga Re-Read, which if I’m being honest is one of my favorite features on the site, albeit not one of the more popular. And I get it! Following this takes a lot of time and also a lot of tolerance for my personal reaction to this comic. Still! I’ve had so much fun doing it, that once we wrap up Saga in 20 weeks or so, we’re going to start another comic!

And I’ve already taken to Twitter a couple times to solicit suggestions for what that comic should be. No final decisions have been made as of yet, but I should not that it is very likely to be another creator-owned Image Comics title from roughly the same era. Books like Wicked + Divine or East of West have been bandied about, and I will say that I find both of those to be very intriguing suggestions. I just haven’t finalized my pick as of yet.

But enough talk of other comics! Let’s get on to Saga, specifically to issue #33...

Saga #33

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #33, which was first released back on January 27, cold a day in this world as there ever was (I don’t really remember, to be honest, and I was living in Austin then which meant less than 50 degrees would quality). Let’s get right to it…

Upsher and Doff are back on the case.

Hey! My guys are back. I’ve made no secret in these pieces that I really really like these characters. I went to journalism school, spent several years doing real news writing for newspapers, and still work as a staff writer for a trade journal today—I have a soft spot for the chase the story at all costs journalists type of character, even if I’m skeptical about any continuing to exist in the real world today.  

The Cover: This cover is a simple one, which is a trend I’ve noticed in this most recent arc, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. My favorite Saga covers are generally those that start with a simple, relatable concept and extrapolate it just a bit to the point it finds a new space that’s both poignant and weird. This one is basically just two reporters going to work, hand in hand...except underwater. It doesn’t quite hit the rarefied satirical air that some of the later media commentary covers in this series do, but it’s nice to look at and a great glimpse into this chapter’s story all the same.

The First Page: This is a solid first page on a broader story level, reminding us in one fast and good-looking stroke of who Upsher and Doff are and what their function is within this story. I should note, however, that having worked in a number of newsrooms, I found a photographer staring at a developing photo and saying out loud Goddamn did I luck into a golden triangle be absolutely absurd. I like that Vaughan was going that extra mile to show that he has a nuanced understanding of how photography and photojournalism works, but it’s like having a chef say, Holy hell did I salt this brisket to the ideal taste level...if someone said complimented themselves on the basics of their job aloud like this in real life, you might wonder if they were having a stroke. Nit-picky esoteric professional qualms aside though, I think this is a solid starter for the reasons I mentioned at the start.

The Summary: The story opens with Upsher rushing into the dark room and disrupting Doff, so as to break the news that The Brand—who dosed them with something that would kill them if they ever broke the Marko-Alana story—was dead, thereby freeing them from their professional constriction. After some really well-done office hi-jinx about meal reimbursement and frequent flyer miles, our intrepid duo is off in search of the galaxy’s biggest story again. They pick up right where they left off, following a (valid) lead that Alana is working on the Open Circuit...I’d say this lead is years old by now, but chances are this is all happening during the time jump.

We learn that Upsher has not stopped investigating this story, to the point that he found a lovelorn classified ad that Ginny (remember Hazel’s dance instructor?) had placed in a paper for Marko to find. As with all things Ginny-Marko, it’s unclear whether she’s interested in him or simply concerned about the well-being of him and Hazel. They go to Ginny’s house, where they find her surprisingly gruff and brawny husband, and this hilarious line when they cold call her at the door, Oh, you must be here about the trampoline. Ginny doles out a bunch of almost-truths, and the journalists are off to chase them.

The trail takes them to an icy meteorite on which they find—The Will! Who has packed on quite a few pounds since the last time we’ve seen him. The Will wounds Doff in the shoulder, reveals that he knows who they are and all about his sister’s past interactions with them, and ultimately takes the pair prisoner.  

The Subtext: This issue is absolutely loaded with media, to the point it’s almost a paean to print media. The golden triangle line aside, there are some great subtle touches in here...including the way Upsher has done his work, the editor pouring coffee and grumbling about reimbursement for travel, all the way down to how Ginny sought to find out about Marko with a paper classified ad. I know newspapers are a going concern of Vaughan’s (see Paper Girls, which would have launched a few months before the release of this issue), and it’s nice to see him play out that interest here in a future setting, seemingly making an argument that society (even a sci-fi one set among the extended cosmos) is always better with newspapers.

There’s even a bit of philosophical banter about the well-being of one’s subjects versus the way the larger world would be served by breaking a story, which in my experience is a conversation at the heart of every last decision made in journalism (or at least it should be). I also particularly enjoyed the confrontation late in the issue between The Will and Upsher and Doff, in which they get ennobled about their profession and he cops to being out only for himself and his own motives. It’s a nice way to get at something I also firmly believe about the profession: the overwhelming and vast majority of reporters (especially in today’s diminished market) are mostly doing this damn job because they think it’ll make a difference (and if they get a little money or some validation along the way, even better).

The Art: This story is essentially a journalism procedural, which let’s face it, is a pretty boring sort of narrative (I know, I’ve lived it), but Fiona Staples does a great job finding interesting visual touches to include between scenes of slow investigation. All of that leads up to a little bit of a scuffle at the end and a really interesting (and telling) reveal about The Will’s physical state.

The Foreshadowing: There really isn’t too much here, although I suppose you can make the case that because the entire issue is centered on Upsher and Doff, the creators are tipping their hand a bit that these two are going to be a continued and important part of the story moving forward.

Join us next week as we officially hit the only 20 issues to go mark—ahhhhhh!

Saga #33
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out previous 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.