Today, Shelby and Spencer are discussing Saga 17, originally released December 18th, 2013.
Shelby: There’s a little snippet of folk lore that always gets tossed around when things are looking grim: the darkest hour is just before dawn. Meteorologically, I can’t speak to the accuracy of that statement, but anecdotally it means that things always look their worst just before they begin to get better. It’s meant to inspire hope; life may be dark now, but it just means that soon the sun will come up and things will be better. In the penultimate chapter of Saga’s latest arc, I would say things are definitely at their darkest hour, but since we’re reading a Brian K. Vaughan story, the old saying should probably read, “the point at which everything goes to hell in a hand-basket just before the arc is resolved, but probably someone will die.”
Meet The Brand.
She’s the freelancer hired to “take care of” Upsher and Doff. Instead of killing them, though, she has her awesome St. Bernard poison them with magic; if either try to say anything about Alana and Marko to anyone else, they both die. On Quietus, Heist is actually getting through to IV. After seeing copies of Heist’s latest manuscript on the desk, the Prince demands to know what the opposeit of war is, and only after confessing to his orgiatic near death vision does he figure it out.
It’s at this point everything goes wrong; Klara bursts in, and is shot but not badly injured by IV. Heist shoots IV, and takes him out. Gwen bursts in, and when Heist points his gun at her in alarm, she gives him her retractable sword square through his one eye. Meanwhile, The Will may have just died on his ship, and IV is quietly rebooting, while Marko is preparing to kill Hazel if necessary to keep her out of the Prince’s robotic hands.
Let’s talk for a second about the opposite of death. Not sex, not making love, but fucking. I love Vaughan’s very specific use of the word. Making love is about romance, sex is merely the description of the physical act, but fucking is crass and dirty, raw and base. I mean all of that as a positive, by the way. It’s an instinctual drive to both create life and celebrate being alive; Vaughan is right, it flies in the face of death and dying. Fiona Staples takes advantage of the royal family’s tendency to show their thoughts on their faces by pairing IV’s revelation not with a lightbulb but with an orchid. What better representation of fucking and life than a flower which historically has symbolized beauty, affection, and fertility. This book has been laced with birth and death, fucking and war since page one, issue one. I’ve said before that Gwen, The Will, even IV are not villains in this book, that the war is really the villain here. I think that makes fucking the hero of the story, and that is a hero I can get behind (no weird sex pun intended).
With all this talk of sex and life, we should probably talk about the potential death(s) we’re seeing here. We know Marko has some mad healing skills, but we’ve got two potentially dead men on our hands. Short of threatening his family, I don’t see how Gwen is going to convince him to save the life of the freelancer hired to kill him, especially not when he could instead save Heist, the man responsible for bringing Marko and Alana together in the first place. I feel really conflicted about it, because I don’t want either to die; I love crusty, curmudgeonly Heist just as much as I love pseudo new dad The Will. I even find myself feeling relieved that IV is rebooting; I definitely don’t want him to die, not with the baby on the way and this grand revelation in front of him.
There’s just so much to unpack in this issue: the racism IV demonstrates towards the “moony,” The Will’s weird final message about taxes, The Brand understanding completely that Alana and Marko’s story is dangerous because it doesn’t fit the narrative the warring factions have created. If I don’t stop now, Spencer won’t have a thing to talk about. So, Spencer, the most important question of all: are you both excited for and more than a little anxious about how this arc is going to wrap up next issue?
Spencer: Absolutely — excited because it should be amazing, and anxious because somebody is almost definitely going to die, it could be anybody (besides Hazel), and I just don’t want any of these guys to go. Shelby, you’re 100% correct that war is the true villain of this book, and while both The Will and Prince Robot are out to kill our protagonists, both are compelling characters whom I will miss if we never see them again.
Besides the simple killing off of characters, though, Vaughan also spends some time in this issue talking about the killing off of ideas:
This seems like a strange place to bring up the idea of killing your darlings, as the only real connection it has to the scene at hand is the fact that Heist is an author, or perhaps the more literal killing of Heist himself in that panel. I have to wonder what Vaughan is trying to say here. Does he agree with Heist that authors should kill everything except their darlings, and is killing off Heist because he’s the least essential character out of the cast? Or does Vaughn disagree, and is killing off Heist because he’s one of his favorites? Either way, Heist’s death feels much more permanent to me than the others, perhaps because of the way Hazel’s narration accompanies it, or perhaps because it was quite possibly foreshadowed earlier in the issue:
Still, the idea of somebody dying is such a strong presence in this issue that it makes me wonder if it could be a red herring, if nobody is really dying at all. After all, if there’s one thing I expect more from a Vaughan book than tragic deaths, it’s the fact that he’ll absolutely surprise me with a last minute swerve. Returning to the idea of Hazel’s narration, has Vaughan reached the point where only his darlings remain, and nobody else is going to die? Somehow I doubt it, yet stranger things have happened.
Or perhaps Vaughan will have his cake and eat it too; this is cheating a bit, but the letters column implies that the afterlife (or lack of one) will be coming into play within the story soon, perhaps allowing a dead character to remain in play for a while?
I dunno, despite some pretty convincing-looking deaths, things are still up in the air. Anything could happen, and it’s gonna be tough to wait until January 29th to see how things turn out. In the meantime, do any of y’all in the comments have any thoughts on the “kill your darlings” passage I might have missed? It seems like it has to play a vital role, yet could also be interpreted in enough different ways to make that role muddy at best. What do you guys think?
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?