By Zack Quaintance — Saga #45 put us directly into the heart of a story arc in which Marko and Alana must go to a wild west planet in search of a discrete medical procedure to help her with the baby she lost in the last story arc. This sounds silly for me to say, but as I re-read it, this story arc is proving to be much darker than I remember. I think that has to do with reading it with weekly breaks, rather than with months.
The chapters just hit harder, building on each other in my mind more directly and leaving me feeling the characters in clearer ways. I’ll get into this more below, but there’s a scene in this issue that hit me harder than any other in Saga, with the possible exception of what went down in Saga #54. Although, I suppose we’ll see when we get there in a few weeks. But that really all speaks to how emotionally complex, and by extension, rewarding this story is. It’s impressive work.
Let’s take a look at a somber issue of Saga...
Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #45, which was first released just under two years ago on July 26, 2017. I’m just going to go ahead and assume that that the day was as mercilessly hot as this one, because, you know, that’s the new normal now. Any-who…
As Hazel and her family venture into the Badlands, their newest companion is left to hold down the fort on her own.
This one is actually specific to the issue of Saga it’s previewing! What do you know, could this be a new dawn for our (relatively pointless) preview text discussion segment every week? We’ll find out. But now let’s get on to the individual elements, if we may.
The Cover: A fairly straightforward piece, one that is dark and ominous. It puts Petrichor in the foreground while (presumably) leaving our threatening mob of anti-abortion vigilantes shadowed as they come at her with torches. In this way, it’s one of the sporadic Saga covers that speaks directly to something happening in this chapter.
The First Page: The cover and the first page function really well together, with the story jumping right to Petrichor. It’s not really a shocker or a big visual, the way some of these pages are. No, this is one that throws us right into the plot, opening in media res, as it were.
The Summary: This one starts with Petrichor, who is lying in bed with one of D. Oswald Heist, III’s novels splayed over her eyes. She wakes to the vigilantes demanding she get outside, to which Petrichor mutters, “Bother.” She is already over it. Petrichor comes up with her hands up, bidding the trio to take whatever they want provided they don’t hurt her home. This is a feint, and soon she has pulled a blade on them. Battle ensues, the trio subdues Petrichor, and it turns out they’re robbing her, aspiring to also rob her unseen (by them) companions.
Next we return to Marko and Alana on the train, waking up to find their...son. They are, for obvious reasons, shocked. The boy says he is Kurti. Marko explains that Alana is using a powerful project spell, one that the horns’ high clerics use to simulate long-term outcomes before going into battle. She’s broadcasting a possible future, one that she notes can never come to be because they lost their baby. Kurti and Hazel begin to play together. Marko explains that keeping this enchantment going is putting her at risk for a heart attack. That’s right, manifesting a possible future in which her lost child lives is breaking Alana’s heart. It is unbearably sad.
Meanwhile, Petrichor is being tormented by the vigilantes and bidden to give up her friends. Petrichor tells a fake story about begin knocked up, coming here with her boyfriend, and then not being able to go through with it. The viglanets tell her that was the right move, because in this area, they simply slaughter whole families, rather than perform abortions. This ups the stakes, of course, as we cut back to Marko, Alana, and Hazel. As the projection continues, Marko and Alana watch their living daughter and imagined son play, running toward a nearby spooky house.
Kurti is an idealized version of a child, adorable and precocious and only having fun, not demanding anything of his parents or sister. Hazel even loves his farting (which, weird). The bubble is popped a bit when the strain of the spell causes Alana to pass out, subsequently causing Kurti to fade away.
Elsewhere, Petrichor’s captors have her strung up, as if to hang her...until one of them gets too close and Petrichor bites off her nose. This causes the other to pull on the rope, which lifts her by the neck. She is saved at the last moment by Prince Robot IV, who is also all gussied up for our western theme. In our last scene, Alana is lying on the ground with a stopped heart as Marko tells Hazel that only she can cast a lightning spell capable of starting her mother’s heart again without harming her. Hazel does it, and our final splash page is presumably the monster that kills all who wander into this area in search of help.
The Subtext: There’s certainly quite a bit of high-minded subtext here about how difficult it is to lose a child, about how it haunts those like Alana who have to get an aborition for medical reasons, their child lost but a major threat remaining to their bodies. It’s played out, of course, in the scenes with Kurti, as absolutely heartrending as any comic has been in some time, but that’s part of Saga’s DNA at this point.
The Art: This whole arc, with its serious and challenging subject matter, has called for less giant sci-fi visuals and more grounded scenery, albeit with a tinge of the old west. In Saga #45, Fiona Staples once again pulls it off flawlessly.
The Foreshadowing: The main bit of foreshadowing comes here when Marko and Alana discuss all the people Hazel has known who have been lost. Marko starts to argue that tragic loss at Hazel’s age can make her resilient. Well, if he only knew...
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
The Saga Re-Read is going to need a long somber walk to get past this chapter.
Check out previous installments of the 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.