Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Saga 12, originally released April 10th, 2013.
Patrick: Robots and aliens and monsters and ghosts and magic spells — Saga has never had a difficult time of establishing itself as a piece of science fiction / fantasy literature. The well-defined characters at the heart of the story — the young family of Marko, Alana and Hazel — go a long way toward grounding the series. In recent issues, that same humanity has been extended to peripheral characters, like The Will. This issue leaves all of those comfortable characters behind, and fills in the gaps in the surprisingly nuanced character of Prince Robot IV. When we finally meet D. Oswald Heist, it’s no surprise that he’s a fully formed person with hopes, fears and secrets. Despite itself, I’m beginning to believe that every corner of this world is fully realized.
Prince Robot IV ‘s whole life has kinda been dictated by this war. He can’t sleep at night because he has nightmare flashbacks to combat, and he’s kept away from his pregnant wife by his hunt for Alana and Marko. After getting a threatening phone call from his pal in the President’s office, Robot chases the only lead he’s got: Alana’s copy of A Nighttime Smoke. That leads him to the author, D. Oswald Heist’s, home planet. After a brief interaction with THE CUTEST THING FIONA STAPLES HAS EVER DRAWN…
…Prince Robot IV has a chat with Heist — one that starts as a friendly chat, and gradually morphs as both parties see the other for what they really are: ideologues at opposite ends of an unending war. IV cuts the bullshit and blasts Heist in the leg with his Mega-Man-style arm cannon and then gets comfy as he threatens to wait for Alana and Marko to show up at their philosophical mentor. Little does the Robot Prince know, the young family is already hiding upstairs, like they’re Anne Frank or something.
That’s a heart-in-your-throat reveal at the end of the issue, and it’s such a gut punch that we have to wait until Vaughan and Staples return from their months-long hiatus to see how our heroes found themselves in this situation. But I can’t help but zero in on the slowly coiling scene that serves as this issue’s climax: the excruciatingly tense conversation between Prince Robot and Heist. It’s a marvelous little piece of writing — akin to the opening scene from Inglourious Basterds. In Saga, the terms of the meeting and the ultimate motivations of each party are mysterious throughout, and the stakes of their conversational game of chicken isn’t clear until the very last page. Staples uses a ton of round shapes to emphasize the circles these two men keep bullshitting around — the shape of the room, the shape of the carpet, the pattern on IV’s face when he gets aggressive. It’s like they’re in a wrestling ring. Vaughan gets in on the fun too — notice how Heist says he “just wrote [himself] in circles until [he] hit an acceptable wordcount.” Even the fact that Heist is a cyclops and his middle initial is “O” all keep pointing back to this singular image of a circle.
Heist also has a lot to say about finding meaning in art and literature — a theme I’m obviously partial to. When he’s feigning ignorance about the pacifist message of A Nighttime Smoke, he attributes IV’s reading to subjectivity on the reader’s part. In what feels like Vaughan thanking his fans for reading closely, Heist raises a glass to us:
It’s like the perfect sister image to that panel from issue 10 where Alana accuses Marko of reading too deeply into A Nighttime Smoke. I’m personally thrilled that the author of the book not only intended to include those messages in his otherwise-trashy literature, he lives and dies by the philosophy espoused within. This series may be about parenting, but it is also about creation in a more general sense — Heist is responsible for the work he puts out into the world, just as Alana and Marko are responsible for the safety and well-being of their daughter.
Vaughan and Staples also continue to be the undisputed champions of awesome details that don’t matter at all. The world of Saga is so rich that it’s often hard to pick out how remarkable these mundane little details are. The now-infamous bukkake scene is just something that Prince Robot’s face displays when he’s wounded — and therefore malfunctioning. It’s like the robot-version of screaming out obscenities in pain. There’s also the fact that IV is clued in to his caller’s location when he hears the “Royal Anthem” being played in the background of the phone call. Of course there’s a Robot Royal Anthem. But my absolutely favorite weirdo detail in buried in this exchange:
That’s the Third Amendment to the US Constitution Heist is citing there, but it’s not one of the obvious ones. The third amendment is a weird relic specific to US history. It suggests the values of this universe are oddly similar to our own, even in ways that are so specific as to seem outdated to us.
Shelby, how do you feel about taking a few months off from this series? After the stomach-grinding tension generator of this issue, it’s agonizing to go out on a cliff-hanger like this. Plus, now I know that Saga has adorable little sea otter people in it, how I am supposed to live my life without seeing one everyday?
Shelby: All I know is I want a big, round, plushie of that little guy because I just want to SQUEEZE HIM. Staples is incredible; her range goes from seal pup in waders to horrifying triclops genitalia, with The Stalk right in the middle as both sexy and terrifying. As badly as I want to know what happens next, I’m satisfied waiting a few months for my next installment. If that’s the price of entry for a story consistently and magnificently drawn by one artist, so be it. I actually had a slightly different interpretation of the porn on His Highness’ screen when he was wounded; when men are executed, it’s not uncommon for them to get an erection. Death by hanging was the most common cause, but Wikipedia tells me that damage to a major blood vessel can have the same effect. When I read the scene, I assumed that showing pornography on their faces is the robot version of a death erection.
But enough genitalia talk, I want to focus on this fully realized world Vaughan and Staples have created. There is so much care put into each one of these characters. Even the medic, who is in Prince Robot’s flashback for all of three pages has a story; she’s tough and flirty, joined the war effort while getting her degree. Vaughan has given us just enough information about this nameless character that my brain has filled in the blanks, creating a whole backstory for her; as I was writing her summary just now, I had to edit out bits that I realized I had created myself. That is smart storytelling. There’s also a great sense of time in this title, particularly this issue.
What the hell happened to Marko’s mom? She’s missing an ear! This page really drives home the fact that these guys have been here for a week; time has passed since Marko’s dad passed. This crew has been through some shit to get here. Will we find out what happened to them? Maybe. Do we have to know? No, that’s the beauty of the universe Vaughan and Staples have created. I would love a flashback to show us what crazy dangerous adventure lost Klara an ear, but I don’t need it. I know enough about these characters and their situation to be satisfied with the fact that [blank] happened, and Klara was wounded but they all got away alive. A story that can leave out big chunks of story and still have me feeling satisfied is truly something special; getting chapter thirteen in my hands will be like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. 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?