Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Brandon are discussing Saga 12, originally released August 14th, 2013.
Patrick: At the midnight Saga release party at Meltdown Comics over a year ago, Brian K. Vaughan said that he wanted to tell the story of a normal family stuck in the middle of an interstellar war that they wanted nothing to do with. The series itself bears this idea directly – Marko and Alana are combatants from opposite sides of an endless war that find each other through their shared belief in peace. From a storyteller’s perspective, War is much easier to write than Peace. In war (metaphorical or otherwise), there is an objective: no matter how messy and dark it gets, conditions for victory are clear. Saga 13 finds our characters searching blindly for what they’re ‘supposed’ to do next. It’s a meditation on the hope buried in hopelessness and the origin and influence of values. That’s right – welcome back to motherfucking Saga.
The plant-ship hurtles through space towards the planet Quietus – home of the writer D. Oswald Heist. Marko, Alana, Klara, Isabel and Hazel have been on-the-run for weeks, and the loss of Marko’s father — coupled with the generally aimlessness of the situation — drove Klara to read A Night Time Smoke, y’know: to see what all the fuss was about. She’s… not impressed. And she lets Alana know.
Furthermore, Klara thinks that seeking out the last-known whereabouts of this author is going to be dangerous (she must have read the previous issue). But a) it’s kind of too late and b) with her husband gone, this family is really all Klara has. In her words: “I’ve done more than enough outliving.” Once they touch down on Quietus, their / everyone’s worst fears are realized as the family is attacked by sentient piles of bones. It’s a tough fight – Klara loses an ear to a chompy-chomp skull, and they’re only rescued when a drunken, slovenly Heist blows the bone-pile away with a laser gun.
I love the way this reveal plays out. Heist is playing the role of ‘hero you didn’t even know was there’ – like Obiwan Kenobi when he scares the Sand People away from Luke and the droids in Star Wars. But instead of being the Wise Old Man, or the Battle-Hardened Anything, Heist is a mess – literally and metaphorically. He’s wearing a robe and some piss-stained tighty-whiteys, but the few words he speaks betrays an even bigger dysfunction: he assumes they’re there from the publisher to take back his advance for a book he didn’t finish. And he calls them ‘cunts.’ He’s clearly a dude well past the point of negotiating for more time (word to the wise, you’re pretty much done doing business with someone the second you call them cunts… especially if the group is 80% female).
Heist is the clearest example we get of someone absolutely at the end of their rope in this issue. He obviously cleans himself up before the events of issue 12, but outside of that scene — which takes place after this issue — we don’t have any context for who this guy is. Whatever twists and turns, whatever relationships he built, cultivated and destroyed to get to this moment in his life are a mystery to us. All we know is that this guy is out of options, and this pathetic display is all he can muster to keep from having his livelihood taken away.
Heist is a primer for the rest of the our characters. Everyone’s functioning on a kind of “okay, what now?” agenda. Alana and Klara address this pretty specifically – Klara even goes so far as to say: “Marko has no idea what he thinks at the moment. He is… unwell.”
This issue even finds The Will contemplating what move to make next. Stranded on a planet overnight while waiting for the repair guys to show (he should have sprung for whatever the outer space version of AAA is called), The Will has to confront what really matters to him. At first blush, his goals seem obvious – he can still catch Marko and Alana, claiming the reward and making Gwen happy; and he can still avenge The Stalk’s death by offing Prince Robot IV. Just when his course of action should be clear, The Will is visited by a vision of The Stalk. (…or something – who knows what’s actually going on in that scene?) She says that pursuing Prince Robot will kill him – so why not stay here and form a family with Gwen and the Slave Girl? A Slave Girl that, The Stalk points out, doesn’t even have a name yet. It’s unclear exactly how much of that advice The Will is entertaining, but the issue does end with full-page splash of him naming the slave girl “Sophie.”
Brandon, I was trying to figure out where that leaves The Will for future issues of Saga. Vaughan is a little bit too cruel of an author to offer this character a peaceful, happy ending. But this would also be a perfectly poetic way for the freelancer to bow-out of the action and honor The Stalk’s wishes for him. What if this is the last we see of The Will? Between Heist and these two tabloid reporters we meet on page 4, there are enough new actors in play as it is, right?
Brandon: If there’s one thing Brian K. Vaughan comics have in abundance, it’s compelling characters. If we were to never check in with The Will, Gwendolyn, and Slave Girl again, there are indeed plenty of characters to keep us busy and engaged elsewhere. But not only do I think that won’t be necessary, but I think it’d be profoundly disappointing. You mentioned Vaughan’s desire to tell a story about a normal family who want nothing to do with a massive space war, and he’s doing that well with Marko and Alana. But he’s telling a related, similar story with The Will, Gwen, and Slave Girl/Sophie – the story of how this war creates a family.
The Will’s story so far has put him in a position where, whether he wants it or not, he is basically living in a rough nuclear family. Each issue thus far has demonstrated stronger, vaguely familial bonds between The Will’s party, and this issue lays it on thick. Gwen’s maternal promise to Sophie to find a spell to fix her hearing, the blatant road-trip-gone-wrong vibe emanating from their situation (stuck on the side of road with “Dad” on the phone arguing with the towing company? Come on, we’ve all been there) – it’s hard not to see how much these people have come to resemble a family.
You say that it’s a bit unclear how much The Will is entertaining the possibility of accepting this makeshift family, but I’d argue that it’s very clear that he desperately wants to do so. In this issue, we see The Stalk reappearing, goading him to stop the pointless and dangerous hunt for Robot IV and Marko and Co. It’s a bit unclear, but I’d argue that this appearance of The Stalk is just a manifestation of his own fantasy, the same one we visited back in issue #9 (the one that saw The Stalk assisting in breaking Sophie out of Sextillion). In that fantasy, The Will manages to rescue Sophie, reunite with The Stalk, and form a makeshift family (The Stalk even briefly acts somewhat maternal!). That’s the same thing that this ghost Stalk is telling him to do here; it’s clearly something that The Will wants, but has been refusing to let himself have. The question, then, is why he’s denying himself that object of his desire.
I think the reason for this lies in something that you pointed out: he’s got clear targets remaining. He can satisfy Gwendolyn by catching Marko and Alana, and he can avenge The Stalk by killing Robot IV. This presents an interesting conflict for The Will, because The Stalk (or at least the voice of reason in his head that is manifesting as The Stalk) is telling him to drop the targets and just start the family now, yet he clearly has issues with the lack of closure in his relationship with The Stalk. Will killing Robot IV close the book on his past with The Stalk and allow him to move on, or is it just further bloodshed and danger for a kinda-family that’s seen more than their fair share of it? Could he even convince Gwendolyn to stop her pursuit of Marko, even as it seems that they’ve reached an obstacle that leaves them out of options (it was quite fortunate for Marko and Co. that destroying the rings severed the connection that was allowing Sophie to track them)?
These are questions that the issue leaves wide open. I find The Will’s story most compelling at this point, because he’s the only one with significant doubts about his direction. That’s rare for a Vaughan story, as most of his characters (and, indeed, most every Saga character so far) are rather – dare I say it – willful and secure with regard to their direction in life. To drop him now would be disappointing – we need to see his inner doubt through to the end!
I think you mostly covered the Marko and Alana side of things, which – though I definitely enjoyed – I found a lot less exciting than The Will’s story, though that’s likely just a result of already knowing where their story goes, and wanting to see the end of that conflict. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of the kind of reveal we got in issue #12, though that reveal was more than worth it. That said, the first page where Hazel begins to narrate (immediately after we got the glimpse of the reporters) is a wonderful showcase for Vaughan and Staples’ excellent and effortless worldbuilding.
Clockwork Stars? Hexagonal grids covering stars both bright and dim?
Hot damn, Saga is back.
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?