Today, Shelby and guest writer Suzanne are discussing Saga 11, originally released March 20th, 2013.
Shelby: How am I supposed to speak intelligently about this title? In all my write-ups, I strive to find that deeper meaning, that thread of something more that runs through the book. That’s what we do here, and we do it because we believe whole-heartedly that comic books are a form of literature and deserve to be treated as such. But then I get a title like Saga, and I don’t know what to say. Brian K. Vaughn is masterfully juggling broad themes like family, love, and sacrifice, tying it all together with strongly-developed characters and moments of emotional nuance. Fiona Staples work is beyond compare; she animates the men and women (and cats) Vaughn has already breathed life into. To be frank, sometimes this book just leaves me kind of speechless it’s so good.
The issue opens with Hazel’s conception; a good time was had by all. Alana is concerned about catching preggers: where Marko sees a child as a symbol of peace, Alana has more practical worries like “how do you take care of a baby when you’re a fugitive?” Speaking of babies, back in the present everyone is having some trouble dealing with the newborn Timesuck. The Will executes a SPECATULARLY BAD-ASS space rescue of Lying Cat, Gwen patches the ship with magic, and they boogie. The rocket tree, meanwhile, doesn’t have the juice to escape the Timesuck’s…uh, suck. Marko uses the magic helmets as fuel, which gives them too much power; the ship begins to come apart at the seams. His father uses some magic thread to hold everything together until they are clear, but it’s too much for him. His heart gives out, and he dies.
First of all, thank the maker Lying Cat is alive! I was really going to miss out on saying “LYING” to Patrick anytime he says something I don’t like. I wasn’t kidding about the bad-ass nature of the rescue.
I think I have seriously underestimated what The Will is capable of. He just jumped out into space, and came back! Not only does this daring feat show us The Will is even more formidable than we realized, it also serves as another example of his fierce loyalty. We saw it already in his response to the death of The Stalk and refusal to give up on Slave Girl, but this selfless leap into the void very clearly demonstrates just how far he’s willing to go for those on his side. It makes me extra worried for everyone who’s not on his side: Alana, Marko, even Robot Prince.
While I am exceptionally happy to see Lying Cat alive and well, albeit grumpy, I am extremely sad to see Barr, Marko’s father, pass away. Vaughn does what he does best by shocking us with the full event, but really moving us with the small moment. When Alana rushes to Barr’s side, he catches sight of Hazel and says, “God. Will you look at those peepers.” I read that, and in my head I heard my grandpa saying it, and my heart broke a little bit. Vaughn has tapped into the personal experiences we’ve all had with death, making this moment very real for everyone. Staples is able to do the same as she brilliantly captures Marko’s reaction to his father’s death. In that moment, Marko remembers a time from his childhood that is immediately recognizable.
Despite the fact that we’re looking at a giant grasshopper and the entire sequence is in a different language, Marko is obviously learning to ride a bike. He fell off and scraped his knee, and it’s the bike’s fault and he doesn’t want to do it anymore, but his dad convinces him to try again. With that little bit of encouragement, he does it. Staples’ art is so expressive in this sequence, I almost feel like I can read the text; I have such a clear idea of what is happening. Plus, between the flying grasshopper bike and the awesome fluffy dogs, I think we should relocate the imaginary Retcon Punch offices to Wreath. All awesome magic aside, it’s a touching, bittersweet memory that seems to rise unbidden in Marko’s mind. It serves as the memorial service for Barr, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful or appropriate one.
I could gush about this title approximately forever, so I’m going to turn things over to our guest writer. What do you think, Suzanne? Are you able to grasp the larger themes running through this issue, or are you also too wow’d by how great it is? Were you, like me, on some form of public transit when you were reading it? I have to say, I was not prepared for that super sexy first page, and had to flip past that while on the train.
Suzanne: I love how Shelby talks about deeper themes like family and loyalty, while the two I pluck out of the sky are sex and death. They don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and bananas, but Brian K. Vaughan deftly uses them to highlight certain elements throughout the series. Really, think about it. How many issues have told you more about the characters through a sex scene (Prince Robot IV, The Stalk and The Will, Sextillion)? How many issues have either resulted in a death or faked out the readers with a near-miss death like Lying Cat in the last issue?
First we’ll tackle the fun stuff — sexy time with Alana and Marko. Thankfully, I opened up Saga 11 in the privacy of my home and not on the tram packed with primary school students on the way back from the comic book store. I happened to read this and Justice League of America 2 back-to-back and it got me thinking about sex in comic books. Go with me here. As a fangirl, I’m used to rolling my eyes at a large amount of cheesecake poses and over-the-top dialogue from female characters. Catwoman’s cleavage problems in Justice League of America 2 inspired me to ponder the similarities and differences between the sex scene in Catwoman 1 and Saga 11. Batman and Catwoman and Alana and Marko are drawn having sex in essentially the same position. That’s where the similarities end — it’s like Catwoman 1 is the Bizarro to Saga’s Superman.
Fiona Staples renders Sexy Alana (as she calls herself) gorgeously, but also as a woman who is realistically proportioned. Alana (clearly) enjoys herself and is a confident woman sexually. It reinforces for me why Alana chose to keep her Heartbreaker gun in Saga 1 and her assertive nature in and out of the bedroom. The conversation she has with Marko afterward sounds like it could actually happen between lovers in real life.
In contrast, Batman and Catwoman doing the deed was almost vomit-inducing and indecent. Guillem March broke Catwoman’s back in so many places leading up to that scene, I’m surprised she could walk afterward. Catwoman also had the BEST piece of dialogue about sex in a comic, “Still… it doesn’t take long…” WHAT??? Okay, I’m just going to walk away from Catwoman 1 now, shaking my fist in rage. Sex is often used for shock value in comic books, but I insist it can be done in a way that stays true to the characters and the greater story the writer is telling. As publishers increasingly direct more of their comics to a mature audience, many writers can learn a few things from Vaughan about how to write a proper sex scene.
Moving on to the death, I’m so glad Shelby chose to include that image of Marko as a child with Barr. The flashback scene was so touching, I didn’t even need to understand the dialogue. Vaughan is incredibly nuanced with handling Barr’s death, especially with Izabel’s line “Right now, he just needs to be with his people” as Marko runs to comfort his mother. No one is safe from death in this series. Comic book readers often take death for granted with the Big Two publishers, because dead characters will inevitably be brought back to life at some point. In Saga, Vaughan mirrors this feeling through Barr’s last interaction with Marko. Barr tries to tell Marko something and Marko dismisses him with “Later, Pop,” completely assuming that Barr will be there when he returns. Vaughan is gently reminding the readers that we, like Marko with his dad, shouldn’t be taking these characters for granted in his series.
Suzanne is an American living in Melbourne, Australia. Her gateway drug to serious comics readership was Gotham Central. If you don’t like that series, then you don’t like kittens, rainbows or ice cream
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?