The Saga Re-Read: Saga #48 is a sweet and simple story that sets the stage for tragedy

By Zack Quaintance — I didn’t really notice this at the time I was first reading these issues, but this arc that starts on the abortion planet actually ends with a pair of atypical Saga issues that focus on fleshing out the backstories and current mind-states of a couple of periphery characters, namely The Will and Squire. 

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The Saga Re-Read: Saga #47 is a fast issue that fills in The Will’s tragic past

By Zack Quaintance — Hey hey, we’re back! Apologies folks, but we’ve missed a couple weeks of recaps, nearly an entire month, as things would have it. There are a few good reasons, though! Namely that the ongoing Saga hiatus looks to extend through at least October now, which takes away any need for urgency, and secondly that I’ve been busy working with contributors to get more perspectives and more content. 

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The Saga Re-Read: Saga #41 is a return to a central Saga theme

By Zack Quaintance — Here we are at the penultimate chapter of The War for Phang, which concludes neatly next week with its sixth part. First, however, there is more fighting and more suspense. Giving into violent urges a theme that is as central to this book as those about family, and we see it here thoroughly unpacked.

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The Saga Re-Read #40: Saga #40 is the darkest issue in some time

By Zack Quaintance — In Saga #40, The War for Phang is raging. Although, the real combat is happening almost entirely off-page. What we see instead is a number of characters making very dark admissions, about a range of topics, from being so worried about being a bad parent that they have come to the brink of suicide, to admitting that violence feels good. This, my friends, is a hard…

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The Saga Re-Read: Saga #32 gives us more Marko and Alana

Saga #32 first debuted on 12/23/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — They’re back! After an issue without the story’s central couple, Saga #32 is almost all Marko and Alana, with a brief Prince Robot IV chaser at the very end. It’s also one of the better issues in terms of capturing the beauty of their dynamic, of being romantic in the way that only stories about long-term relationships can. Oh, plus there’s a heist!

Maybe it’s because we’re now firmly into the stretch of issues that I actively remember reading as they came out, but I find myself thinking of this arc as the one in which Saga as we’ve known it in recent years really hit its stride, really found a comfortable cruising altitude. The relationships are mature, we know our central characters, and Fiona Staples artwork has become nothing short of absolutely phenomenal. It’s a beautiful thing, and for may the hundredth time I’m finding myself really grateful to be undertaking this re-read project. I will also, it should be noted, be sad once it’s over...although I may jump right into Paper Girls at that point.

Anyway, onto the other parts of this feature!

Saga #32

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #32, which was first released back on December 23, 2015, on one of those really fun new comic book days that happen during the height of the holiday shopping season and (hopefully) don’t inconvenience the staff at shops all that much…

Marko and Alana learn something.

Welp, once again we know pretty much nothing. Although, I suppose after an issue of not seeing them at all, we do find out here that we will in fact be getting a storied centered on Marko and Alana, who were reunited in Saga #30...before being separated from Hazel by a DRAMATIC TIME JUMP in Saga #31. Let’s do the thing and take a look at the individual elements.

The Cover: This marks two in a row that I’ve really liked. Again, the composition and colors here are pretty fantastic, as is the casual romance with the even more casual fantasy/sci-fi touches, the wins on Alana and the sword/shield on Marko...it’s all very cool.

The First Page: Hey hey! For the first time in six or seven issues, we get one of (what I consider to be) the trademark sensational Saga opening pages, this one being Alana accosted and choked by a disguised Marko who’s (presumably) pretending to be holding her hostage. As we learn shortly, they’re actually running a scam and working to fool a security guard. It’s a nice way for the book to let us know that during the DRAMATIC TIME JUMP, Marko and Alana have become a cohesive team once again, as cohesive as they were before, anyway.

The Summary: The story opens with Marko and Alana trying to lie there way past a security guard in a building where there is information about where Hazel is being kept, before that goes sideways and they knock him out instead. They’re in the midst of a full-blown heist. As they go about executing it, they hash out what happened between them in a way that almost feels organic and not intended to mostly remind the audience about stuff.

They eventually get caught, and it looks pretty much as bad as it could get for Marko and Alana. That is, until a missile appears in the air. Security flees before we see that the “missile” is actually the family’s spaceship/treehouse. The excitement of it all pulls them into coitus, and they decide afterward that they’re going to need (presumably) Prince Robot IV for the next phase of the plan, which involves a rescue operation on the Wings homeworld of Landfall. The issue ends with Ghus and a surly Prince Robot IV seeing their ship approach.

The Subtext: I don’t know if this counts as subtext or not, but I found this to be a very romantic issue, at least as it pertains to the conversation between Marko and Alana as they perpetrate the heist. Brian K. Vaughan’s writing here does a wonderful job of teasing out the dynamic between them, showing how complementary they are to each other, and, ultimately, why their love really truly works. We see Marko being his overzealous self when it comes to making a mense about throwing a bag of groceries at Alana, and we see her admitting her own culpability in the frayed relations between them. We see Marko’s peacefulness and practicality paying off as Alana’s spontaneous risky thinking teases him out of his uptight shell. It’s all really sweet, and one of the best recent examples in any fiction of what it feels like to be in a happy marriage (which I maintain is part of the reason this book works so well, because it so often perfectly captures both the very good and the sometimes bad of marriage, or long-term romantic entanglements).

The Art: There wasn’t all that much of a unifying thread to be found in the artwork this week, so instead I just pulled together some of my favorite segments and panels. Gallery is below...

The Foreshadowing: There are maybe a handful of minor and inconsequential instances of foreshadowing dotted here and there in this issue, but I think far and away the most interesting is when Prince Robot IV correctly tells Ghus that everyone who gets tangled up with Marko and Alana finds themselves dead eventually, essentially predicting part of his own storyline as well as that of many of the other side characters, too. It’s also funny in how Ghus very lightly sticks up for them.

Join us next week as we get within striking distance of the 20-issues-to-go mark!

Saga #32
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 #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. Things...do 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 #29: Saga #29, the rigors of sacrifice

Saga #29 was first released on 6/10/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Welcome back to The Saga Re-Read, where eagle-eyed readers may notice we’ve made a minor tweak...we’ve changed the surface level category to be a straight up summary. This is great, because it allows us to unpack more in the subtext section, while also turning these pieces into minor reference guides for myself and anyone else who might come in search of a literal plot summary of the major things (and some of the little ones too) that take place in each issue.

So, where are we at now in terms of this story arc? This is the penultimate issue. Next week will see the finale of this first arc in which the family at the story’s center has been separated by its plot. This has been a tougher arc to read, which is something I didn’t get during my first time through but definitely feel now. I just want them all to face these things together, damn it. Though suffering in stories will ultimately make the good times better, just like in life, amiright?

On to the individual elements!

Saga #29

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #29, which was first released back on June 10, 2015. You know what that means? The Saga Re-Read project here is on the cusp of turning 30. We can only hope and pray that it has less anxiety about that than I do about turning 30 in my own life. Anyway!...

The Last Revolution makes their move.

Hey now! That’s an enticing summary, and—dare I say it?—even a bit revealing, at least by Saga teaser standards. The Last Revolution has essentially been coiled and ready to strike since the start of this arc, and now all signs point to that strike coming. Which brings us to the first of our individual elements, the cover. Onward!

The Cover: This cover, in all its neon orange glory, puts the Last Revolution front and center, which connects nicely to the issue’s solicit. Front and center there we have the scantily glad fish-woman character, who reads to me like a riff on an era of superhero art that was maybe in its death throes when this issue was published: an era of butt floss and stripper gear and just overall general objectifying of female characters. It’s not just the scantily-clad fish woman character though, the entire team plays like a parody to me, a send-up of the type of revolutionaries that are often glorified and made lead characters in galactic war stories like this one. Just a reminder that Saga aspires often to be capital S, Subversive.

The First Page: See above, at least to some extent. This first page is all business, reminding us that while The Last Revolution might look like early Image characters (like early early...back when they were under Malibu), they are ruthless zealots who only care about their own causes, so much so that they’d sell a literal child to a military industrial complex who is being pretty clear that it’s goal is to kill said child. Not the most visually scandalous Saga front page, but pretty appalling from a morality standpoint.

The Summary: The issue opens with The Last Revolution trying to negotiate a trade of Hazel to Wreath High Command in order to further its own fight. Talks, however, break down when the murderous android kidnapper Dengo is spotted. Even though he literally murdered Robot Kingdom royalty, the woman from Wreath is clear that she will not under any circumstances negotiate with “one of those death machines.” Just a nice little insight into how deeply-entrenched the war is at this point. The Last Revolution immediately throws Dengo under the bus to make the talks tenable again, thereby completing Dengo’s now-intense disillusionment with them. In the brig, Alana tries a desperate negotiation of her own, aimed at saving Hazel’s life. That’s not necessary, as Klara and Dengo save the day, however violently.

Sophie, The Brand, Lying Cat, and Gwendolyn, meanwhile, continue their quest to get the alien dragon semen (I think) that they need to save the life of The Will...and we get one of Saga’s trademark scandalous visuals, the alien dragon having some...fun...with himself across two pages. They get the sample, but at a pretty steep cost. RIP, The Brand.

As this unfolds, Marko, Prince Robot IV, and Ghus find themselves in a space battle. They take a big risk and retreat...right into an ice storm. That goes about as well as it sounds (much like Rick Moody’s classic suburban ennui novel, The Ice Storm, but I digress…)

The Subtext: This is another issue in which Hazel’s future self narrates the subtext into pretty much being regular text. She notes throughout that parents often make sacrifices for their children, as we watch the three separate storylines all require sacrifices to save the day: The Brand distracting as Sophie gets the dragon semen, Dengo killing again to save Hazel, and Marko and Prince Robot IV realizing that Yuma made the ultimate sacrifice for them last issue. I don’t know if there’s really any deeper meaning here than that. There’s certainly something to be said about glorifying revolutionaries and the disillusionment one often suffers as a result, once they show themselves to be either too extreme, too selfish, or a combination of both as we see here, but it takes a significant backseat to the more latent (sub)text about familial sacrifice, especially as it applies to children.

The Art: Whereas for Saga #28 we saw the finest work being done in facial expressions, this time around Staples talent manifests most clearly in a pair of action sequences, detailed in the full pages we’ve clipped below:

The Foreshadowing: I suppose one could read all of Hazel’s narration about sacrifice as foreshadowing for the events of the most recent issue, Saga #54, but it’s a bit of a reach. The events in that issue continue to strike me as more of a commentary on the end results of aggression and war, than any sort of statement on what we all give up to have families. Still, it’s there if you want to make that connection.

Join us next time for the conclusion of this arc as well as the inevitable existential crisis that’s likely to come before, during, or right after our little re-read project’s 30th birthday!

Saga #29
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 #8

By Zack Quaintance & Cory Webber — As I’ve likely mentioned, Saga is one of my favorite things in comics, but I don’t know the series to the point that I can easily recall what happened in which issue and when (I’m bad at that kind of precise recollection anyway). This is all a means of saying that the cover of Saga #8 is one of my favorite from the entire series, and that I’d entirely forgotten it showed up this early in the book. So, what a nice surprise that was.

Anyway, this week Cory and move further into the second arc. This is the point where any book of this scope must establish itself as built for the long-term, and Saga certainly does that, building out its world quite effectively. It also continues to rely on some of the tricks that made it so relatable in the first place, lines like Hazel narrating I sometimes forget, but mom and dad had lives long before I ever came into the picture. Balancing interests is, yet again, the recipe for another strong Saga issue, plus also another killer memorable whole page splash.

Let’s take a look!

Saga #8

Here’s the official preview text from way back when for Saga #8:

Former soldier and new mom Alana has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies and alien monstrosities, but now she faces her greatest challenge yet: the in-laws.

As solicit copy goes, former soldier and new mom...is a great opener. It goes a little heavy on the in-laws trope in the description, even though to my mind the real appeal of this individual issue is pretty obviously learning more about how Marko and Alana improbably fell in love.

A Re-Reader’s Perspective by Zack: Everything I said about Saga #7 is applicable again here. What made Saga so compelling to me from its start was how each subsequent issue was better than the last, building suspense by throwing a long line of obstacles at the characters, both in terms of avoiding their inter-galactic hunters and in the increasingly fraught family dynamics they are made to maneuver. We get a little more mother-son time here, too, which does wonders to show us Marko’s character and why he is how he is (and who he’s attracted to).

The Marko and Alana ‘meet-cute’ from Saga #8.

A New Reader’s Perspective by Cory Webber: The harlequin novel makes a return, and it’s kind of good. Like, I kind of want to read it. Also, the splash page with Hazel’s reference to her parent’s meet-cute might be my favorite of the series. It’s funny that she likens their story to a romantic comedy while her mom is bashing her dad’s face in with an assault rifle. But I halfway suspect this is what Saga is all about...taking genre tropes and putting a unique twist on them. By far the best part of this series, however, in my opinion is the way Vaughn writes relationships. And, the relationship forming between Alana and her father-in-law is sweet, heartfelt, and genuine. As for Marko and his mother, you can tell he gets his softer persuasions from his father. Overall, I am loving the exploration of these relationships, and I can’t wait to see more pieces added to this beautifully complex, yet familiar, puzzle. Especially given who the surprise character is that Vaughan introduced us to on the final page — hoo boy!!

Cory’s New Reader Predictions: Gwendolyn will become a favorite of mine. I don’t exactly trust everything Vaughn leads me to believe here.

Cory Webber is a work-from-home entrepreneur who also reads and reviews comics for fun. Find him on Twitter at @CeeEssWebber. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife and three sons.

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 #2, People Like This Book

Saga #2 introduces us to one of Fiona Staples many excellent alien designs: The Stalk.

By Zack Quaintance & Cory Webber — We went live with our Saga re-read project last week (in which we’re reading one issue of Saga every week during the book’s hiatus), and, lo and behold, it turns out that people really like Saga! And I mean, like like. Not a shocker; this is a popular comic (to no one’s surprise).

Anyway, our hope from the start was that many people out there would come along with myself (a re-reader of Saga) and Cory Webber (a first-timer), as we embarked on this project, using some space here on Friday’s for a brief discussion and our thoughts about a single issue. It turns out our hopes seem likely to be validated! So that’s cool. We even have a great take that came to us from a friend via Twitter…

Andres Garcia says

That Tarantino observation is a really great addition, given some of the ways the book approaches sex and violence (and even the revenge and family dynamics). The only thing we’d add is that if you’re going to discuss how Saga translates to the world of family, you would do well to also reference Guillermo del Toro, because Fiona Staples’ monster designs are that good.

Read our take on Saga #1.

Saga #2

The cover of Saga #2, which is way scarier after you read it.

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #2:

The ongoing epic continues!  After deserting their galactic armies, former soldiers Marko and Alana must now protect their newborn girl from the lethal killers dispatched to destroy their family.

That’s a pretty vague description, but it does get at what this issue is about: our young family is being hunted by increasingly dangerous threats. We get our first glimpse of The Stalk here, which kind of backs up what I was saying earlier about the Guillermo del Toro aesthetic. Also, at the issues very end, we get our first look at the much-feared Horrors. More on them next issue, though.

Ultimately, this is a nice follow-up to the first issue. I can’t see anyone who liked the debut jumping off after #2. It continues to introduce us to the nature of our heroes, while throwing more obstacles into their way so that we can later see how they respond, and, therefore, what they’re made of. It also gives us more of Staples’ incredible character designs. As mentioned, this time it’s The Stalk, whose design mixes ethereal beauty with body horror grotesquery. Really impressive stuff.

A Re-Reader’s Perspective by Zack: The Star Wars qualities that one assumes were vital to the book’s pitch and its early marketing are evident here: the fun space monsters, the glimpses at the realities of the freelancer market, and even a rare look at one of the military bases the war is being waged from. I suppose this stands out to me on re-read, because by #54 the book has so many of its own unique qualities that Star Wars couldn’t be further from my mind. Basically, Saga is its own massive thing now, but back then, you can see that it was still taking form.

A New Reader’s Perspective by Cory Webber: This is only the second issue, but it feels like Vaughn and Staples have been doing this for much longer. I like the comparison to Star Wars and Romeo + Juliet by Tarantino and Del Toro, but allow me to add that I’m getting a Coen Brothers vibe too, what with the eccentric characters and hilarious-yet-mundane sense of humor. For example, Alana’s secret that she likes the taste of her own breast milk, or how the prison guard tells Prince Robot IV about the harlequin-type books Alana was reading. I found it interesting that she refers to them as books housewives buy at the supermarket. It gave me the notion that this very well could be another solar system in our galaxy, not too different from our own. Something, I assume, was intentional in order to make us feel that Vaughan has something socially-relevant to discuss. I already gushed about Vaughn and Staples, so let me just take a second to praise Fonografiks’ lettering and design. I particularly like the font and placement of Hazel’s narrations. Last but not least, WHAT THE HELL IS THE STALK AND WHY IS IT AFRAID OF THE HORRORS?!

Cory’s New Reader Prediction: My prediction is last week’s prediction was either A). correct and I should stop while I’m ahead or, B). there’s NO WAY Marko is dead and The Horrors are actually decent folks that help non-warring types, and they will resuscitate him because there’s NO WAY Vaughan is that heartless <rant over>. 

Thanks for joining us, and be sure to check back next Friday for a discussion of Saga #3! Tweet us @BatmansBookcase with your own thoughts, and we may run them here next week...

Cory Webber is a work-from-home entrepreneur who also reads and reviews comics for fun. Find him on Twitter at @CeeEssWebber. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife and three sons.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

The great character development continues throughout this issue.