The Saga Re-Read: Saga #46, ‘#*$& your mercy in the face’

By Zack Quaintance — One of the qualities I find impressive within Saga is the way the series can both linger with you for the scope of its massive (and defiantly coherent) narrative, while also consistently landing some of the best individual moments in comics. For example, I remember this stretch of issues as the abortion arc, a somber aside that fit into the larger story because it sort of settled the question of whether Marko and Alana would have more kids. Upon losing and subsequently terminating the pregnancy to save the mothers life, they realize they won’t. It’s a vital part of the massive story going on here, if a bit of a side quest, so to speak.

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The Saga Re-Read: Saga #35, in which A LOT happens but still no reunion

By Zack Quaintance — One thing I’ve noticed often during this re-read is that there are almost two distinct types of Saga issues. The first is a surface level rapidfire burst of action and plot. The second is a slower, more emotional sort of issue that uses a lot of metaphors to get at deep truths about love, family, and relationships. This series is so grandiose (look at its title), that it certainly has room for both…

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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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #31 and the DRAMATIC time jump

Saga #31 was first released on 11/25/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Well folks, here we are on the back half of the Saga Re-Read Project, examining an issue that features the series’ second (and so far most recent) DRAMATIC time jump. I’m going to take this as a brief and rare occasion to discuss the current ongoing Saga hiatus. After Saga #54 came out, the creators quickly announced that the book would be going on a one-year minimum break, maybe waiting until we all that fateful comic in our hands so as not to tip a major and devastating plot development.

That book came out on July 25 of last year, meaning we’re a scant 4 and half months plus change from the minimum amount of time before it resumes. Rumors have flown suggesting there would be a time jump (I tend to agree), and that the break might be much longer (I’m not sure and am maybe preparing for that so as to not be disappointed. Anyway, it all makes me think about what we’ve gotten from the book so far, which is in my opinion 54 of the best and most coherent issues of any one comic, ever. It’s a wonderful thing, so let’s enjoy the remaining 20 so weeks of re-reading and savoring and discussing this series!


Saga #31

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #31, which was first released back on November 25, 2015, which seems like only yesterday to me. Hey, waitaminute, what if there was a time jump in my own life and I’m just now figuring it out?! Best not to think about it (because it’s dumb), and move on...

After a dramatic time jump, the three-time Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series finally returns, as Hazel begins the most exciting adventure of her life...kindergarten!

Wow! That’s downright descriptive relative to other Saga preview text, although I guess a good portion of it was spent celebrating the team’s well-earned Eisner Award accolades. We do, however, learn that going into this issue there has been a dramatic time jup and now Hazel is in kindergarten. Wait, didn’t we see all that on the last page of Saga #30? We did! No matter, let’s look at the individual elements in play here.

The Cover: A very cool Saga cover, one that also clues us in on what we can expect from the upcoming plot, which is maybe a little rarer in Saga than it is in most series. I really like the use of perspective in this image, using the high walls as both a means of showing how small and inconsequential the teacher and Hazel really are (juxtaposed as well against a literal map of the galaxy), and letting us know that Hazel’s current situation is that of a prisoner. It’s all quite striking.

The First Page: One of the cuter Saga openings, and it somehow doesn’t even feature Ghus! Joking aside, I really like this four panel grid as a first page, working in an intriguing way to just straight up clue us in on what’s been going on with an aged-forward Hazel. This is all business that could have felt like an information dump (stories always run that risk following a time jump), but it doesn’t. It’s smooth and welcome all around. It also reminds us—as this book is wont to do at all times—that war and violence are always always always horrific.  

The Summary: The story opens with a few pages of Hazel just being a regular kid in a kindergarten…which is monitored by armed guards. We then flashback to the exact logistics of how Hazel was captured and by whom—the same Robot Kingdom guards who were pursuing Marko and IV, turns out. This is convenient, because as Last Revolution fighter Lexis points out, Drones don’t negotiate, so they can’t use Hazel as a bargaining chip, which means her captors don’t understand what she really is.

Klara, Hazel’s paternal grandmother, concocts a story upon capture that they were in a prison camp, and as a result, Hazel, Klara, and Lexis are sent to detention center for non-combatants, run by the coalition, which are—we remember—the side of the wings. Some shenanigans from ghost nanny Izabel means Hazel doesn’t get a proper medical examination, and her captors are none the wiser about her hybrid status. The majority of the issue takes place in the detention center, which is also where we meet Petrichor, who becomes integral to the plot moving forward.

The major plot point in this issue involves Hazel revealing to her kindergarten teacher that she’s a daughter of the two sides of the conflict...which then causes the teacher to fall and hit her head (quite honestly, I don’t recall whether she was fine, although I think we see more of her).

The Subtext: There’s quite a bit of subtext in this issue about identity, mostly bore out in the scenes of Hazel revealing her wings and Petrichor, a trans-woman, taking a shower, which results in Hazel asking questions about identity. Maybe I’m projecting, but I think the underlying subtext of it all is that antiquated feelings about individual identity are something that can be manipulated to further the goals of power structures. In our society, that often results in political pandering and polarization, and that’s what it seems to do on the page. Case in point, the scene where the Wings guard insinuates that Klara and Hazel are not human because of their species identities and again later when in a nearly symmetrical scene, Petrichor points out that some of her own species didn’t see her as human and she was expelled from the army.

The Art: Saga #31 is less visually-dense than the preceding issue, which had a whole lot of plot. There are three full-page splashes in this one, one of violence and the other two of nude or semi-nude bodies. I haven’t identified any sort of clear trend to which issues have more splash pages or why. I do, however, think all three of those in this issue work well.

The Foreshadowing: It’s pretty spare in this issue, which mostly works to fill us in on some things we’ve missed during the time jump. Hazel does note briefly that Lexis becomes protective of her over the years, but it’s unclear whether that means during the space we missed out on due to the time jump, or in later plot to come. My hunch (and vague recollection) is that Lexis does not end up being all that important of a figure moving forward.

Join us next week as we DRAMATIC time jump an entire month to look at Saga #32!

Saga #31
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
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.

The Saga Re-Read #30: Saga #30 is an action-packed story arc finale

Saga #30 was first released on 7/8/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — The end of the most recent story arc is upon us, and so is the shift into what I’ve come to think of as the more recent issues of Saga, those essentially published after the book went from big-time comics hit to somewhere closer to broader cultural touchstone (although it still needs the inevitable TV/film adaptation to go all the way), and this finale is a good one.

I’ve written about this elsewhere during our Saga Re-Read project, but I’ve found this arc to be more unpleasant than those that came before it. This is, presumably, by design. The book was maybe running the risk of turning into a series of madcap adventures that the core family continues to escape mostly unscathed. This arc changes that, using temporary separations in a way that emphasizes the stakes for those are basically as high as they would be when dealing with injury or death. Just...different. Anyway, what we get with this finale is a packed adventure story with tons of consequences. It is, in a word, good.

Let’s take a look!

Saga #30

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #30, which was first released back on July 8, 2015. This issue has a special significance for me, because it was after this one that I decided to make the crazy jump from Saga trade waiter to Saga monthly reader, which then opened to door to buying a whole slew of creator-owned comics monthly and ultimately starting this website. Ah, the follies of financial irresponsibility. Onward!...

Sooner or later, everything dies.

Sigh. A preview that is both mysterious and terrifying, meaning that the only way to figure out even part of what it’s talking about is to read the damn comic. In other words, I supposed this morbid vaguery has done its job…

The Cover: This is without question my favorite cover from this arc, featuring as it does a clearly alien flower atop an ample splattering of blood. It gets to two of my favorite facets of Saga—the imagination and the backdrop of shattering relatable tragedy. I also think the color choices on the leaves provide a nice (if subtle) contrast to the deep crimson of the blood splayed over the ground. Great stuff.

The First Page: Yet another divided first page, this one used well to show us Marko and his current plight (with a dash of foreshadowing...but more on that in the foreshadowing section). The shot start on the planet where Marko has crashed, zooms in, and then zooms in again to show him splayed and wounded in the snow. It’s as intriguing a set of images as an establishing first page for a long-running story can offer, and it’s made even more powerful by Hazel’s narration, which suggests her father might be hurt worse than we think.

The Summary: Marko, Prince Robot IV, and Ghus crash land, with Ghus staying to tend to an injured IV while Marko storms off to find his family. Speaking of his family, Alana, Klara, and conflicted murderous kidnapper Dengo (who gets humanized here) fight their way free from the Last Revolution. not go well for the Last Revolution, but the survivors of manage to abscond with Klara, Hazel, and a spaceship without much fuel. Once they do, Alana turns to kill Dengo and is stopped by Marko. The reunion, of course, is quite satisfying.  

As they struggle over whether to hurt a now-vulnerable Dengo, Prince Robot IV shows up and wastes him immediately as recourse for Dengo did to his own wife, quickly turning to enjoy his own reunion with his son. Elsewhere, Sophie, Gwendylon, and Lying Cat sneak The Will from a hospital (off page), and administer the antidote to him, waking him from a years-long incapacitation. The Will is devastated to learn that his sister died in the service of waking him. Finally, this arc ends with a shot of Hazel presumably interned in some kind of jail/kindergarten. Intriguing.

The Subtext: This is one of those issues where the plot mostly crowds out any potential subtext. What room there is for reading between lines is also mostly devoted to foreshadowing events to come. Still, there is the continued beating of the all violence is bad drum that has in many ways been the foundation of the commentary in this series. Any sort of broader familial subtext here is lacking.

The Art: There are a lot of panels in this issue of Saga, at least relative to some of the other recent issues. I didn’t expressly count, but it’s quite possible the only splash page in the entire issue is the final cliffhanger. As such, Fiona Staples is asked to pack a lot of intricate action into several busy pages...and she unsurprisingly pulls it off with ease. See below...

The Foreshadowing: There’s a good deal of foreshadowing in this comic, from the first page hinting that Hazel will lose Marko, to Hazel telling us later that she would spend a great deal of time separated from her own family. As noted in the subtext section, Hazel’s narration also hints that problems have always and will continue to stem from Marko and Alana struggling to limit their own use of force, as does her narration when The Will awakes from his coma: Nobody knew exactly what kind of nightmare had been awakened that evening...but in time, my parents would find out.

All in all, this is a pretty telling issue, at least in retrospect upon re-read. The first time through, the action made it hard to focus on anything past what happens next! It should also be noted that IV wasting Dengo for killing his lover as Dengo begs for mercy is an eerie parallel to something that happens to IV much later...

Join us next time for the start of a brand-new arc, the one that began after Fiona Staples went off and helped Mark Waid re-launch that new Archie line, which as far as I know are the only other comic interiors she’s drawn since starting Saga...

Saga #30
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #28, boys and girls

Saga #28 was first released on 5/13/2015.

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!

Saga #28

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…

Alana acts.

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?   

A story in three panels.

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.

Saga #28
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #26, to fight or not to fight?

Saga #26 was originally released 3/4/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Saga #26 is almost—but not quite—one of those comics that seemed bent on making its readers mentally decide what they would do in a given situation...would they accost the man robbing the convenience store or fade into the back and hope he doesn’t notice them? Would they fight the dragon monsters trying to eat them or listen to the little girl suggesting they should talk? Would they stab the TV-headed terrorist in the neck with the shiv or join his anti-establishment revolution?

Okay, so maybe these aren’t all relatable within the context of our everyday lives (and I’ll go into what I think they mean later), but there is a shared question to them all: would you use violence or try to find another way? This isn’t a novel question within the context of the series. Hell, in some ways this is a war book, meaning would you fight is the question all along, but this issue embraces the episodic format and uses that question to show readers more about each character. This, I must admit, is yet another little bit of craft I didn’t notice my first time through.

Now on to the rest of it...

Saga #26

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #26, which was first released alllllll the way back on March 4, 2015, which means I would have still been living in Austin, Texas and gearing up for South by Southwest, which is that city’s Mardi Gras. Ah, memories....

Gwendolyn's quest takes an interesting turn.

Well, hot damn! After not getting much (or really any, excepting the last issue) of Gwendolyn and The Will in the last arc, this new one is a veritable bonanza of continuing their story. I’m there for it. I like them well-enough and love (as regular readers well know) Lying Cat as a narrative device. Anyway, onward to the individual elements!

The Cover: Another busy cover with a lot going on, and I hadn’t even recovered from the hella busy cover for Saga #25 yet! But yes, this cover is packed. The main thing is, of course, Gwendolyn using a wooden staff to prop open some lizard beast’s mouth as it tries to eat both her and Sophie. I kind of like Lying Cat looming over and side eye-ing the whole deal, but, overall, this isn’t one of the more memorable Saga covers for me.

The First Page: Whoa whoa whoa! Another first page split into panels. Memory is a funny thing, like a boat filled with holes plugged by assumptions. For my part, I guess I’d assumed that the entirety of the series was all one-panel splash pages openers. I certainly think now that the series will get back to it at some point, but can you really trust me after that last confession? Probably not. Anyway, this one is a bit of a trope: Marko shopping in a convenience store in the middle of a robbery—something that happens to a strong majority of fictional characters but never to anyone I’ve ever met in real life. This does that always-interesting Saga thing of directly juxtaposing the fantastical and alien with familiar activities or imagery from real life.

What would you do?

The Surface: Marko goes on to break up that robbery in a fit of violent rage (more on that in foreshadowing). Marko’s not the only one who has to face down a tense situation. Alana, Marko’s mom, and Hazel are all still hostages of Dengo as the Revolution arrives, while Gwendolyn, The Brand, Sophie, and Lying Cat are on the brink of being eaten by a bunch of dragon mares (as they search for a bull dragon to get The Will medicine he needs).

The Subtext: The metaphor here has much to do with the way raising children means you spend time with odd adults you might otherwise never met. It’s not the most subtle point, though, given that Hazel’s own narration basically comes out and says that, as it is often wont to do with this series’ subtext. In a larger ideological sense, the subtext in Saga #26 has to do with perspective. Meaning, from one perspective the Revolution might look like freedom fighters, but from another terrorists. With the media manipulation we’ve dealt with so thoroughly in recent years, this is a topic that should resonate as much (if not more) today than it did when this comic was new almost four (!!) years ago now. There’s also a question raised that I think about a lot, which is does combating powerful opponents justify extreme tactics? Like the best fiction, the book leaves the answer largely to the reader’s interpretation.

There’s other, more prominent, subtext here as well that serves as a double commentary on gender roles, toxic masculinity, and the way violence begets violence. The majority of the male characters in this story have often resorted to violence. Marko does so again to solve his robbery problem, Prince Robot IV is a very violent character tormented by visions of his now-dead wife, who Dengo (yet another male character) is torn with guilt over murdering. Our central female protagonists, meanwhile, solve their problems with diplomacy...eventually. Lending this issue that commentary (although Gwendolyn and Alana were both leaning toward committing violent acts when something else got in the way).

The Art: Like last issue, there aren’t any jaw-dropping splashes or massive holy sh%t visuals, but this is another dense script that asks Staples to often fit in panels that could have been a splash...and she does so seamlessly. Below you can find an example of a couple pages that really tickled the part of my brain reserved for absorbing stories (weird)...

This whole sequence had enough action for multiple splash pages.

The Foreshadowing: Jeez, forgive me for not being all that careful of a reader, but I hadn’t realized just how many times we saw Marko give in to a fit of uncontrolled violent rage that starts out being maybe a bit justified and then ends with him going way over the line. This issue certainly has some of that, with Marko assuming a pose that almost directly mirrors the one we saw him take in Saga’s most recent issue. He even goes into a bit of a fugue here before we see him put his foot down about no killing (more of that comes later too). Oof. I’m getting busted up all over again...

Saga #26
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #24 is a different type of finale

Saga #24 was first released 10/29/2014.

By Zack Quaintance — Here we are at the end of another Saga story arc, the fourth story arc, to be exact. This has been one of the more uncomfortable arcs, even as the characters involved face down less danger, at least physically. This story was very much rooted in the emotional strain of starting a new family in a stressful world, looking at what happens after the initial rush of having the baby, escaping two sides in a galaxy-spanning forever war, and settling into the everyday realities of married life. That old canard.

And, really, we mostly got our emotional finale last issue, with Marko heading home to make peace with his strained family and finding they’d gone, likely being put into danger. It was powerful stuff. This issue, meanwhile, catches us up with a group of characters we’ve been wondering about since the conclusion of the third arc: The Will, Gwendolyn, Sophie, and Lying Cat. It’s a different but not unwelcome way to structure a narrative arc.

Let’s take a look at the individual elements...

Saga #24

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #24, first released all the way back on Oct. 29, 2014...a spooky pre-Halloween issue for a less scary time...

Hey, it's The Brand and Sweet Boy!

This is a more specific teaser than we’re used to, albeit one with just as few words. It, however, doesn’t really clarify all that much, at least not for me, a guy who is on his second full read of this story and doesn’t know who either The Brand or Sweet Boy are off the top of his head. Although, context clues suggest to me that it is perhaps the two characters on this cover...

The Cover: Well, this is certainly a sinister cover. As I noted above, I don’t off the top of my head know who The Brand or Sweet Boy are, but context clues suggest to me that they are indeed these two characters on the cover. I recognize the humanoid as maybe the shadowy figure who’s been pulling some strings trying to get our family taken out, a CIA type who I think hired the freelancers to go after them in the first place. This cover doesn’t stand all that well on its own, as many of my favorite Saga covers do, but it’s effective in terms of conveying something ominous to come for the climax of this fourth arc. Now, let us move on and see if this first page is just as sinister...

What an adorable little fellow…

What an adorable little fellow…

The First Page:’s not. It’s absolutely 100 percent super cute, sporting as it goes the little fuzzy walrus man, Ghus, dopey half-smile on his innocent face as he asks, Are you lady folk? Not the most stunning or salacious or brutal Saga first pages, but we’ve got our share of those (and will get more in the future), so I’m willing to just enjoy the adorable simplicity of this one. Plus, it’s Ghus. Who doesn’t just love Ghus?

The Surface: We finally start to get some closure on what’s up with The Will, Gwendolyn, Sophie, and Lying Cat! I like the way this arc was structured, withholding this subplot until the very end of it so as to put more focus on the strain placed on the relationship between Alana and Marko. Works well for all involved, although I’m not sure I felt the same way when reading this monthly. In the time since we’ve last seen them, Sophie has grown and Gwendolyn has become a much better fighter, presumably by necessity. Anyway, this issue focuses mostly on them, strongly implying they’ve been engaged in a long-term quest to study and procure a remedy for The Will’s condition. We do, however, ultimately shift back to our little family, doing so in a way that incorporates Ghus into the plot longer-term (yes!) and also gives us a fantastic last page cliffhanger that sees Marko and Prince Robot IV teaming up as desperate dad bros on a mission, hell bent on doing whatever it takes to find and free their families. It’s self-serious paternal responsibility at its most badass, folks.

The Subtext: There’s a little bit of commentary about broken for-profit medical practices—Healthcare Syndicate has been paying these trolls to keep it off the market…—but that’s all pretty overt. The more rewarding subtext to me was to see how happy and healthy Sophie seemed now that she has love and support around her. Once known as Slave Girl and kept inside a brothel, she’s now thriving, even stopping short of using profanity against The Brand and instead calling her an evil B-word! It kept making me recall the panel where she suggests she’s irreparably damaged inside and Lying Cat tells her, Lying. Sweet stuff, all things considered.  

The Art: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the very graphic love-making flashback scene between The Will and The Stalk, and I’m actually a bit surprised the panel of him on top of her wasn’t trotted out for a shock value first page. All told though, I think the reappearance of Lying Cat is better Fiona Staples artwork. The creators here know they have a fan-favorite, series mascot emerging here, and Staples gives Lying Cat’s entrance the gravitas it deserves.

Lying Cat, arguably the best new comics character in the last decade, makes a triumphant return to our story.

The Foreshadowing: There’s really not all that much of it to be found here, although I suppose the last page (double dads doing their duty!) lets us know a little bit about what to expect from the next arc. This was, so far, one of the less consequential story arc finales, in that it mostly concerned itself with catching us up on Gwendolyn, The Will, Sophie et. al. rather than giving us a major payoff. Which is fine. This uncomfortable arc was rooted more heavily in emotions than action. One of my favorite qualities throughout Saga is the way this story is expertly built to make room for both.

Saga #24
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #22 is all anger, drugs, and disloyalty

Saga #22  was originally released on 8/27/2014.

Saga #22 was originally released on 8/27/2014.

By Zack Quaintance — The holidays are over, which means many of us spent (and survived) time with our family. I know I spent quite a bit of time with my parents, who have been divorced for years but came together to spend time with me in the same room because I rarely make it from California home to Chicago. And you know what? It wasn’t all bad!

I’ll spare you the details of our own familial complications, noting only that what’s happening here in Saga right now—with Marko and Alana buckling under the pressure of raising a young child in a challenging world—feels familiar to me, as I’m sure it does to a good many readers. Reflecting on my own childhood while doing this re-read really impressed upon me the universality of this book, the way that as a married adult now I can see myself in both the parents and the child. I know I know I know...I’m a broken record heaping praise upon Saga (see our Best Comics of 2018!), but I really do like it that much.   

And now, our usually weekly deep dive into the twists, turns, and bliss that is this individual issue!

Saga #22

Here is the official preview text for Saga #22, which was first released back on Aug. 27, 2014. Ah, what a time that was, amiright? Anyway, below you will as always find the bygone solicit text for the issue...

The family is tested.

Really, you all? This could essentially be the preview text for literally every last issue of this series. That said, upon re-read it certainly seems like this is the arc in which the family is most tested. At least, until the arc that concluded last summer, anyway. But I digress. Let’s keep the focus on this issue! Vamos haber...

The Cover: This cover isn’t one of the most visually-stunning, but I do like it in concept. Featuring Marko’s mother seated with Izabel and that big alien walrus thing to each side, I suppose the intention behind this one is to show just how odd their little family unit has become. Perhaps odd is the wrong word. Maybe unlikely is better. Either way, I like that notion, even if this cover isn’t as illustrative of the ongoing quiet family conflict as the arc maybe demands.

The First Page: Okay, so maybe I’m in a bad mood today, but I also really don’t like this first page. Which is maybe the point? This page shows a homely-faced character in pastels and a mini-skirted rollerskating outfit having a cosmic digestive issue and remarking, Oopsie, I made a universe! This character is actually Izabel pretending for Hazel. Which is why I’m supposing part of the aim here is to be in annoyingly poor taste. I suspect either Vaughan and Staples had been watching some bad kids TV with their own kids at the time of yeah, mission accomplished, in that it re-enforces the idea that pandering to kids all the time becomes a difficult environment for adults to totally lose themselves in. Showing this annoying joke at home re-enforces (to me, anyway) why both Marko and Alana are elsewhere looking for escape.    

The Surface: Marko and Alana get wind of each other’s mutual escaping from the mundanity of the routines they’ve settled into, doing what must be done for the sake of their young child, Hazel. This gives rise the heated conflict that has been building between them for several issues, tears and yelling and regret. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but done tastefully in a way that stands to show us what our characters (and more importantly, their marriage) are really made of. Meanwhile, Robot IV’s plotline progresses in two place: with him visiting his father at home and with Dengo (the kidnapper) showing up at Open Circuit, looking for access to mass media. This all ends in one hell of a cliffhanger, with Alana’s friend/co-worker/drug dealer (whose name escapes me) offering her up as a bargaining chip, a recurring plot point throughout this story.

The Subtext: There is an idea laid out pretty blatantly in this issue that has floated under the surface throughout the entire story. Agent Gale tells a disgruntled Robot IV that The whole point of having enemies abroad is getting to ignore the ones back home, as the duo stand on a palatial balcony overlooking an obvious slum, in which the homes are built atop one another. It’s a bit heavy-handed, straining the definition of subtext, but it does tease out some past subtext. This is becoming an increasingly difficult section to write, as the subtext (so much an emphasis in early orienting issues) fades into the background in favor of rapid plot points. I’m not complaining.

The Art: The headlining art in this issue is the visage of King Robot, which, to my mind, is one of the most memorable designs in the entire series. It’s a pretty risky one, extrapolating the concept of a kingdom of cyborg’s with TV heads to an extreme that could have looked really silly. Staples, however, transcends that and pulls it off, which in my opinion is yet another testament to the vast contributions she makes to the book every damn issue.

The Foreshadowing: A little bit of foreshadowing in Alana’s storyline, with Upsher and Doff noticing her use of a line from one of Heist’s novels. That will certainly come back to be relevant later. Perhaps more interesting (and subtle) is the return of Marko’s volatile rage. He pelts Alana with a bag of groceries here before immediately regretting and apologizing. We’ve seen Marko erupt before, but we’ve never seen him look so despicable doing it. The creative team is seeding his rage well, which stands out upon re-read, knowing what we do now about where this plot is headed.

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.

Top Comics of 2018, #1 - #5

By Zack Quaintance —  A difficult thing about a strong year for comics (like this one) is doing a retrospective Best Of list. Now, to be sure, no one mandates websites do rankings. That would be a clear violation of civil liberties. There is, however, a part of the pop culture blogger brain that goes wild for it, whispering all year long...where does this one rank...and if you don’t satisfy that beast—well, bad things happen.

So, here we our with ours, freshly formulated for 2018 by our committee of one. Before we dive into the third and final and (let’s face it) best part, which features in descending order selections #5 to #1 (Top Comics of 2018, #16 - #25 and Top Comics #6 - #15 are also up now, btw), let’s rehash our ground rules:

  • No trades or OGNs: Building out our OGN coverage is a priority for 2019. We’re just not there yet. So, while I absolutely loved work like Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Box Brown’s Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, and Ryan Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki’s Eternal, you won’t find them here. Ideally, next year’s we’ll have an entire post dedicated to OGNs.

  • No webcomics, manga, or newspaper strips: Again, our site is a bit deficient covering these (if you are into these things, we’d love to chat about you writing for us!). I should, of course, mention that in 2018 someone under the pen name Olivia James took over the long-running Nancy strip and did amazing things with it (Sluggo is lit), but, again, you won’t find it on our list.

  • Longevity matters: New this year, you will find what I consider a key stat—how many issues were published this year. Late debut series like Die, Electric Warriors, and Bitter Root have tons of promise. They just haven’t been around enough to be a definitive comic of 2018. Ditto for comics that ended in April or earlier.

There you have it: guiding principles of our Top Comics of 2018. Now, without further adieu, let’s finish this bad hombre!

Top Comics of 2018

The Immortal Hulk by Alex Ross.

5. Immortal Hulk
Al Ewing
Artists: Joe Bennett
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Issues in 2018: 10

The first of the Big 2 titles to make my Top 5 Comics of 2018 is the Al Ewing and Joe Bennett-driven Immortal Hulk, a startlingly-blunt take on a long-time hero that reads more like a creator-owned book than a shared universe corporate story. We’re late in the superhero trajectory, with comics having constructed, deconstructed, and exported the concept to other mediums plenty. Our best modern stories are those that get closest to capturing a character’s core, and rarely has a title done this as well as Immortal Hulk.

At the same time, this book has found a darker place that was always there, taking existing elements and extrapolating them so thoroughly they feel novel. It’s found ground not possible for the sensibilities of the 1960s, Hulk’s heyday. Both artwork and audience have evolved, becoming more sophisticated and thereby allowing Ewing, Bennett, and others to push Hulk further into monster territory while at the same time making Banner the emotional blank slate he was perhaps always meant to be. In this book, Banner is backgrounded, standing in for humanity at large as darker base impulses drag him places no one wants to go (ahem, hell). The Hulk is not the hero—that honor goes to anyone who can live a contented and peaceful life.

On the surface, this comic has also benefited from consistent artwork from Bennett who has needed few guest replacements, plus early chapters that provide satisfying narratives independent of what came before or will come after. This is a bit of a lost art, but still very much welcome, and it’s something that Immortal Hulk did expertly.

This gem by Ryan Sook and Brad Anderson from Action Comics #1006 is quite possibly the comic book page of the year.

4. Action Comics / Man of Steel / Superman
Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette, Ryan Sook, Ivan Reis, w/Doc Shaner, Steve Rude, Jay Fabok, Kevin Maguire, & Adam Hughes
Inkers: Wade Von Grawbadger, Joe Prado, & Oclair Albert
Colorists: Alejandro Sanchez, Nathan Fairbairn, Brad Anderson
Letterers: Josh Reed
Issues in 2018: 5 / 6 / 6

In 2017, Brian Michael Bendis—a leading voice at Marvel Comics for almost 20 years—announced a jump to the distinguished competition, leaving fans with questions that ranged from whether Bendis could thrive there to which titles he would take over. Some suggested this would spark a creative rejuvenation for Bendis, a chance to recapture energy from bygone days. Here’s the thing, though: Bendis had quietly been doing some of his best work at Marvel. Following the stumble that was Civil War II, his Infamous Iron Man, Jessica Jones, and Defenders titles were all excellent.

This is my way of saying I predicted Bendis at DC would be successful. He’s generally praised most for early work on Daredevil, as well as for creating Jessica Jones and Miles Morales (who’s having a moment with new film Into the Spider-Verse). What gets lost is that Bendis is likely the most prolific comic writer of a generation, consistently producing three to five monthly titles and rarely (if ever) suffering delays. As I’ve written, part of what I love about comics is the deadline-driven schedules force creators to just do the damn work, to put forth ideas without belaboring them as one must in film or prose writing. When it comes to embracing child-like excitement, love of comics history, and just doing the damn thing—Bendis is the best.

Still, even I didn’t predict what he’s doing with DC’s Superman titles. Flanked by the best artists to work on the character in decades, Bendis is telling a story that breaks this hero and his mythos down to its core before (seemingly) building it back up with slight tweaks for 2018. His Action Comics, Superman, and Man of Steel miniseries have all felt both classic and progressive as he revels in iconic stature while viscerally having a blast using the DC Universe that’s been off limits for so long. The end result is that both Action and Superman continue to rise, as satisfying as they are epic.

From Monstress #18. Artwork by Sana Takeda.

3. Monstress
Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

This was the year of Monstress, with Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s expansive creator-owned fantasy hitting big at the Eisner’s and (presumably) finding a much larger audience. For fans of the book from the start, it was incredibly rewarding to see this story get its due. Liu’s world-building is phenomenal, drawing loosely from traditions while first and foremost exploring original elements. Takeda’s artwork, meanwhile, is second to no artist keeping as regular a release schedule (save for possibly the great Fiona Staples), with an intricate manga-influenced look that makes every panel of Monstress feel like the product of months of design work.

This year saw Monstress play out its third arc, a grandiose story heavy with confidence. The world-building continues, but it’s not as noticeable as it was in earlier arcs (both of which were also phenomenal, btw). The real focus of the story now is the journey of the main character. Given this is a fantasy comic (the fantasy comic of the decade), we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What started as a revenge story in 2015, has grown into a powerful young woman reckoning with a range of life: her relationship with her history, with her mother, with the mysterious power inside her, with the most responsible way to use it, and with the repercussions for noble actions that grew out of a simple desire to escape oppression and survive.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Quantum Age, Doctor Star, and Chtu-Louise.

2. Black Hammer
Black Hammer: Age of Doom / Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows /  Quantum Age: From the World of Black Hammer / Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise
Jeff Lemire
Artists: Dean Ormston, Rich Tommaso, Max Fiumara, Wilfredo Torres, Emi Lenox
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Issues in 2018: 7 / 4 / 5 / 1

This past year also saw the establishing of a new superhero universe: Black Hammer. Technically, this homage-heavy universe was created back in 2016 with the advent of Black Hammer #1 from writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dean Ormston. That issue was the start of a specific story. The wider universe grew later, doing so with an adjacent miniseries that broadened the plot in 2016 (Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil from Lemire and artist extraordinaire David Rubin).

In 2018, however, we got an even broader expansion. This past year, the Black Hammer universe continued with its main title, while adding two more miniseries and a one-shot. Add to that all kinds of rumors about what’s coming in 2019—from Lemire himself writing/drawing a 12-issue series, to a crossover between Black Hammer and DC Comics—and all signs point to this universe being here to stay. I had a chance to interview Jeff Lemire at San Diego Comic Con, and he agreed, saying as much.

I point this out as a way to note Black Hammer is so well-done that it has found a strong foothold in a market over-saturated by superhero concepts since basically 1970 (if not sooner). This is Lemire in all his brilliant Lemire-ness, following his deepest ideas and tragic lonesome sensibilities. He’s created a tone that allows him to write a few pages of funny before lapsing into full-blown meditations on the nature of generational comic book stories. Shared superhero universes function best with a strong guiding voice or perspective (see Marvel in the ‘60s). Black Hammer is doing just that, and I for one feel lucky to experience it in real time.

Saga #50 (cover by Fiona Staples) finds the family in happier times.

1. Saga
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 6

I’ve written about this often, but it’s easy to take long-running creator-owned comics for granted, forgetting what a rare thing it is to have talented writers and artists string together wholly original stories with only their keyboards and pencils. For many of us, our lifetimes have been marked with a mainstream comic selection dictated by corporations and distributors, plus whatever experimental work was on the fringes. In recent years, this has changed, and, leading that change, has been Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ familial sci-fi epic, Saga.

This year, however, was one in which we were all but forced to stop taking Saga for granted. The first reason for this was Saga’s latest story arc (which ran in issues #49 - #54, and wrapped up in July) was obscenely consequential. I don’t want to give anything away, but $@#% goes down and it’s bad, so bad I wrote about why it hurts, partially to make sense of why I was so devastated. It’s a testament to this story that it can hit such intense emotional beats so far into its run.

Second, the book announced it would be going on a year-long (minimum) hiatus. Obviously, you can’t take something for granted once it leaves you. Kind of bummer (we’re compensating with a year-long Saga re-read), made all the more bumming (is that a word? ah well) by how good the comic got before the announcement. There really is, quite simply, nothing else like Saga, not in terms of the scope of the story, the artful thematic explorations undertaken within, or the industry-best action and design graphics generated a whopping six times a year (or more!) by the massive talent that is Fiona Staples.

This site is dedicated to discussing comic books in thoughtful and analytical ways as the medium enjoys a new golden age. To us, Saga remains the leader of an ongoing renaissance, and a big part of the reason we think it’s so important to volunteer time to cover the artform. It is an absolute honor to give the book and its devastating 2018 story (kind of fitting, in sooooo many ways) our Top Comic of 2018 honor.

Check out Best Comics of 2018, #16 - #25 and Best Comics of 2018, #6 - #15! And check back later in the week for more year-end lists, including our Best Single Issues and our Top Creators of 2018!

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.