By Zack Quaintance — We’re roughly at the midway point of the War for Phang storyline, and, as is in keeping with the rest of Saga, we really haven’t seen all that much warring. Instead, our central characters have remained at the margins of any actual fighting. The war is still a threat to them, but none of our main cast are all that invested in how it’s going or who wins. They just want to be rid of it, which I think is pretty clearly the point.
This is somewhat of a stepback issue following a big dramatic moment at the end of last issue. It’s a useful one nonetheless, which—as I’ll describe later—is likely seeding some things for both the immediate and distant futures.
Let’s check it out!
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #39, which was first released back on October 26, 2016. It’s basically INSERT GENERIC WAR SENTENCE HERE, which is just fine and gets the job done...
"THE WAR FOR PHANG," Part Three...New allies join the battle, but so do deadly new enemies.
Sigh. I don’t know about you all, but I’m still a little raw from our loss in last week’s re-read issue, Saga #38. That’s the downside of a comic that really makes you love its well-drawn characters—total devastation when you lose one. Let’s move on now to the individual elements.
The Cover: It’s a total shift from last issue, both in terms of color pallette and in the tone of the imagery. Last issue was a (bitter)sweet depiction of Hazel and her life-long babysitter we didn’t know she was about to use yet. This issue is relatively new cast member Petrichor casting a spell with a look on her face that says battle Battle BATTLE. It’s a great image, one in keeping with the world of Saga, and it also represents a nice shift from the piece that came immediately before. Personally, I enjoy covers that give the extended cast of this story a little play. See past pieces with Gwendolyn, Upsher and Doff, and any of the robots.
The First Page: Mildly shocking dialogue? Check. En media res threat? Oh yeah. Absolutely adorable character who seems as likely to become a plush toy as he is really muff up the plot? You know it. Another classic Saga first page, really.
The Summary: This issue opens with some of the adorable Porg-like creatures’ kids playing with a weapon. The gun goes off, nearly hitting Alana, who gives them a lecture and takes it away. That scene is interrupted once Hazel becomes alarmed at not being able to feel Izabel’s presence. Robot soon reveals he sent Izabel to look for the fuel cells. Petrichor volunteers to go search for her.
Meanwhile, The Will is in some kind of hookah lounge/strip club when he gets a call from his agent, or the guy who books him on his violent bounty hunting gigs. The Will is subsequently fired for not having taken a new job in months and also failing a recent drug test. The Will gets in a fight with a bouncer or something as he’s being fired, and he learns his deadly lance weapon has been decommissioned and he’s not longer legally allowed to kill. Also, his agent calls him Billy.
In sweeter developments, Izabel missing causes Hazel to have a crisis in faith related to the stories she’s been fed by adults. She shares this with her childhood friend Kurti, and after a quick discussion, the two share a little kiss. This gives way to a final scene of pure horror. There has been a slaughter at the Robot Kingdom Embassy on Phang, and that one freelancer with two heads (whose name escapes me) has come upon it. As the freelancer asks the dying ambassador who did it, the ambassador suggests the two warring factions are on the same side before he dies.
The Subtext: The kids playing with guns in the opener is pretty terrifying when you put it in a real world context, given how many children are killed every year toying with fire arms at home. The gun also found their way to them as a result of combat, which makes it all the more disturbing. Just more reminders of the forever war that has given shape to this entire story.
The Art: There are a ton of excellent splash pages in here. I also recently had a conversation with a comics artist on one of DC Comics new young adult OGNs, and he was telling me how the mandate on that was to use simple panel layouts that could be understood by people who don’t often read comics. At this point in its run, I think Saga is at least aware that a lot of its own audience falls into that category as well. Fiona Staples artwork, however, is just so damn good, I hadn’t noticed the relatively simple page layouts until this far into a re-read of the run. In addition to some of those aforementioned impressive splash pages this week, I’ve also included a nine-panel grid of just faces talking, to show how good she is at that as well...
The Foreshadowing: Not too much of it here. I did think the Robot Kingdom Ambassador insinuating that the two warring factions are possibly all part of the same grand conspiracy is something that will come up quite a bit as we get past Saga #54 and into the back half of this story. I just blew right by it my first time reading, and it’s not all that surprising. Still, it’s not something I’ve been regularly thinking of when I contemplate what all is happening in Saga, which strikes me as a mistake. This is also maybe the issue where The Will’s steep downward fall begins in honest.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Join us next week for the Saga Re-Read’s 40th birthday, during which it pretends like its just another week but then silently considers its life basically over.
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.