The Saga Re-Read: Saga #51 is the start of the horror

Saga #51 was first released on 4/25/2018.

By Zack Quaintance — This is the real start of the deep deep troubles that unfold throughout the rest of this arc. This is very much an issue with a surprise at the end. I remember thinking upon my first read that it was time to lose a character, and that I was sad that it had to be someone as charismatic as Doff. If I only knew…

Anyway, this issue is a bright one based on its setting — a closed amusement park on a beach. It moves quickly and really packs in the plot developments. This entire arc of Saga is a great one, Saga #51 included, and this is the issue where it really starts moving fast. It’s interesting returning to this with more room to think and feel, because the first time I went through, I very much had my thoughts dominated by oh no what’s going to happen next?! 

Let’s check out the individual elements. 

Saga #51 

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #51, which first hit comic shops back on April 25, 2018. Have I mentioned it’s nuts to me this comic held onto its $2.99 price point this deep into 2018? Oh, I did last time? Anyway...

Tabloid reporters Upsher and Doff have uncovered the scoop of the century, but what will it cost Hazel and her family?

Wow wow wow! One of the most descriptive summaries we’ve had yet. Maybe the promotional folks for this comic got a little comfortable with the sense of peace from last issue. Maybe that’s just what Vaughan and Staples wanted...

The Cover: I can’t recall if Upsher and Doff have previously gotten a cover all to themselves (hey, maybe this re-read needs a re-read?), but this is a decent enough showcase for our story’s intrepid truth-seekers. I like Doff with his camera over his face. As for Upsher? I’m not entirely sure what’s going on there, but hey.

The First Page: We open on a crayon drawing, a monstrous interpretation of The Will with fangs saying, Your daddy is a BAD man. Which we will soon come to find out is being broadcast on Squire’s face as he sleeps, making it a nightmare.

The Summary: Open on Squire waking from that nightmare and screaming in bed as his father, Prince Robot IV, comes into his room to soothe him (how big is this spaceship tree house anyway?). Robot quickly establishes this nightmare is not an isolated incident, which makes sense to us because we know from recent issues that Squire has been struggling with violence and his father’s role in the war. Squire tells his father that once they’ve been given the new bodies (witness protection by way of magic spell) from Upsher and Doff, he’d like to go place a flower on his mother’s tomb.

This is impossible, and leads to Squire telling his dad that The Will told him his father is a bad man who murdered a woman. Prince Robot’s screen turns red and he demands to know, So bloody what? Ouch. They argue about The Will being a ruthless mercenary, and about Prince Robot IV being justified in murdering The Stalk. The argument turns violent when Squire asks to see his memory of the moment he did it, and Prince Robot says it’s unseemly to ask that of a veteran, moving to choke his boy.

When the father realizes what he’s doing to his son, he stops, apologizes, and swears it’s only because he’s so eager to start a new life together (text book abusive stuff). What’s so heartbreaking about this exchange is that it’s basically powered by Squire’s naive grappling with a world that demands violence of him, played against Prince Robot IV’s scars and regret from a world demanding (and receiving) violence of him. There’s a cyclical bit of heartbreak here that’s just devastating.

Cut to Hazel swimming and yelling for help in the beaches outside the busted up amusement park as Ghüs lies in the sun, lazily warning her to not cry wolf. We get one of my favorite bits of future Hazel narration here, apropos to nothing in the story really...WIthout anticipation, life can be comfortable, but it’ll never be thrilling. Instant gratification is for boring assholes. Okay, maybe liking that a lot is akin to writing motivational platitudes on sticky-notes on your desk, but I don’t care, I like it.

Ghüs tells Hazel she’s fine because Doff is in the water right beneath her, to which Doff — toweling off in the sand nearby — points out he got out a while ago. Ghüs is panicked, but it turns out Hazel really was crying wolf. Or, was able to swim and didn’t quite realize it. Turns out it’s all part of Doff gently and creatively teaching her to swim. Tomorrow we work on finally getting those horns wet...a rainbow stingray alien thing soars out of the water nearby, as Ghüs digs in a picnic basket for sandwiches. Doff runs off to try and get a picture of the creature, something he notes he’s been trying to do since he was a child.

Elsewhere at a busted-up diner within the park, Marko has smart guy glasses on and is trying to be a writer, complete with a manuscript and a typewriter and all. Alana finds that he has written a secret book. Alana reads and offers some playful criticisms, which I can tell you as a writer who often turns to my wife for advice, is a perfectly-executed scene. Alana continues to read and starts to enjoy it as Marko self-consciously interjects things like, I don’t want to publish this, it just came out, and I haven’t written fiction since grade school. Perfect. We get a splash page of Alana reading behind a bunch of red demons, which I guess are the demons Marko says he’s writing about.

Meanwhile, Upsher is smoking a cigarette in another part of the park when Petrichor comes upon him. He’s sitting near a phone, waiting for a call from his editors. Upsher and Petrichor discuss changing identities. Petrichor doesn’t think it will happen, because as a former soldier, she says she has often seen the media misrepresenting the truth because they’ve all picked a side. Upsher says his world belives in a free press, earnest as all get out, but it seems to do little sway Petrichor. Upsher gets his call — Prince Robot’s story is going upfront next week. Ingredients to magically transform Robot, Petrichor, and Squire are on the way.

Back to Doff hunting the rare animal. Doff is ambushed by Ianthe, who still has The Will in bondage. Ianthe says she knows Doff from The Will’s memories. The Will starts to warn Doff when Ianthe shocks (literally) to silence. Ianthe demands to know the family’s whereabouts, The Will says Ianthe will kill him no matter what he does, and Doff vows to go down fighting, lunging at Ianthe (Doff is one of the more admirable characters in this story, it should be noted). They struggle, and Ianthe shoots Doff in the gut. In the struggle, Doff got the remote that controls The Will’s restraints, and he freed him. We close on a shot of Ianthe looking very small beneath a defunct slide, muttering, Oh no.

The Subtext: This another one of those chapters without so much plot that the subtext is a little harder to find. There are some great character dynamics at work here, specifically between Robot and his son. There’s also an idea in play about the malleable nature of who we root for. When Ianthe comes across Doff, The Will is very much a sympathetic fellow, and, indeed, he has been for a while now. But we’ll soon see how quickly that can change...

The Art: Staples does some incredible work here with the colorful settings that Vaughan’s script has gifted her, juxtaposing it with the high drama that is just now starting to unfold within the story.

The Foreshadowing: I mean, I guess Squire’s vision is a hint of the future, even if it is drawn from the past. Things just happen so quickly in this arc that there’s not all that much need for foreshadowing, unless things are being hinted at for what comes after, which is entirely a possibility based on how this story has functioned so far. 

Saga #51
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

The Saga Re-Read doesn’t want it to be over! At least, not without a date for when this comic will return, anyway.

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 Comics Bookcase.