Saga 20

saga 20Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Saga 20, originally released June 25th, 2014.

Shelby: I have a friend who always flips to last page of a comic book first before he reads it. I know, I can hear your millions of voices crying out in terror at the thought, but he says knowing the ending means he looks forward to it while he’s reading. I’ll always give him shit for it, but in a way I can see where he’s coming from. There’s a certain appeal to the anticipation that comes from knowing where the story will end up. Brian K. Vaughan gave us that in last month’s issue of Saga, and now we’re stuck with this building anticipation for an ending we don’t actually want. In case you were hoping last month’s, “This is the story about how my parents split up,” was a mean trick on Vaughan’s part (Suzanne, I think you might have been hoping that), this issue will definitely crush that hope, and I mean that in the best way I possibly can.

We’ve found Prince Robot IV! He’s on Sextillion demanding more service, because three ladies at once just isn’t enough. Meanwhile, things are going from bad to more bad (we’re not quite at “worse” yet) in the Alana/Marko household. Alana’s at work before dawn, and an exhausted Marko decides to risk taking Hazel to dance class at Ginny’s to get her tuckered out enough to sleep all night. Alana discovers that most of her coworkers use some drug called fadeaway; she used to take it some as a kid, and is dying to hop back aboard the fadeaway train. Meanwhile, Princess Robot is nursing her son when creepy robot janitor Dengo just strolls in. He tells a terribly sad story about his own son dying when he was only four from lack of clean drinking water in their village. He tells her this story, stabs her in the face, and takes the prince, promising him the chance to “help every last child in the Robot Kingdom, regardless of bloodline.”

So, we’ve barely seen anything of Princess Robot, but I have to say that I feel seriously sad about her death. I shouldn’t be surprised; Vaughan and Fiona Staples were able to tug at my heartstrings with the death of a field medic we knew for all of a couple of pages, of course this tragedy is going to break my heart.

princess robotI’ve always kind of pitied Prince Robot; all he was trying to do was be a good husband and father and prince to his people, and that got him a psychotic break, a son he’s never seen, and a wife he’ll never see again. And the poor princess, dying without even knowing if her husband is still alive. Again, Vaughan is exploring the connection between sex and death with the prince. He always had visions of sex in life-threatening situations, and now all he wants is sex; it’s like he remembers that connection between sex and his desire to be alive, and he’s trying to find that feeling again by having as much sex with as many women as possible. While he’s trying to feel alive again through sex, his wife is killed while nursing her child; she dies while nourishing another life. It’s a fascinating connection that I could explore for hundreds of words more, if it wasn’t so gosh-darned sad.

I want to talk a little bit about the direction Alana is heading in. First of all, I need to commend Staples for one of the most beautiful and accurate visualizations I’ve seen of the feeling of getting high.

fuck yessSeriously, how gorgeous is this? Staples so beautifully captures that moment when drugs melt your mind, then completely expand it. I love the way the panels multiply, breaking Alana down into smaller pieces until she’s floating in space. I honestly didn’t even notice the bubbles she’s floating in spelled out “fuck yess” until I cut this image to paste here, and that’s after a couple read-throughs. It’s so pretty to look at, you can almost forget Vaughan is addressing the very taboo idea of a mom excited to spend some time away from her child so she can get high.

Now, I’m not going to assign any judgement here; obviously, allowing drugs to endanger your child is absolutely not okay, and it’s also obvious to me that Alana has no intention of doing that. That could change, of course; I have no idea what this drug  is (my guess is a combination of acid and mushrooms) or how it will affect her behavior in the long run, but for now I trust her to keep this life separate from her mom life. That point right there is what makes this idea so taboo: the idea that any parent, but especially a mom, would want to escape from motherhood for a while to just enjoy herself. There’s still an unfair amount of pressure on both parents for moms to be the caregivers of the family, and a lot of stigma in admitting you’d want a break from that incredibly difficult job every once in a while. Both Alana and Marko are engaging in these “illicit” activities in order to find the release from the stresses of family life and fugitive life, release they can no longer find with each other. I think it’s perfectly healthy for two people in a relationship to maintain activities that are just for them, but only when they both know about it. Once it becomes a matter of sneaking around, of not telling your partner what you’re doing, that’s when we’ve got a problem, and I think we’re at that point here.

I need to stop before I write a small book about this single issue. Patrick, what did you think? Were you as intimidated as I was at the prospect of writing about this issue?

Patrick: I don’t know if “intimidated” is quite how I’d describe it. I was intimidated by Brother Lono because Brian Azzarello writes with such a sophisticated intelligence and Eduardo Risso draws with a brutal fearlessness. It took considerable mental and emotional work to parse out the meaning of that series, and issue after issue, I was intimidated by the Wednesdays that saw its release.

Saga is much more accessible in its exploration of devastating ideas because those ideas are heartbreakingly relatable. This issue is about what happens when your priorities change: for my money, the most telling line in the issue comes from Hazel’s voice over.

Hazel sez - Dream job is still a job

“A dream job is still a job.” Ouch. If that doesn’t encapsulate losing one’s passion, I don’t know what does. No matter how fulfilled Alana and Marko feel they should be by their relationship, their family, their jobs, there’s always going to be something they long for. They’d previously made the decision to let their love be the thing that replaced all other priorities in their life, trumping even their lifetimes of service in the army. In short, loving each other and caring for Hazel was also their “dream job” but the problem is that it’s still work.

That idea of “work” comes up a few times in the issue actually. Weirdly, even the scene they’re filming for The Circuit is set in an office, so even the show-within-a-show has its mind set on work. The last bit of Hazel voice over brings up work one more time:

Admit it, you’re probably a very different person at work that you are at home. Everyone needs to be someone else sometimes.

It’s an odd piece of writing, and comes during a transition between scene where no one is working. Well, not working in the strictest sense: Marko is taking care of Hazel, doing his best to wear her out. More than anything, she’s giving him permission to do something he wouldn’t otherwise do. In this case, it’s dance with another woman, but people are much more permissive elsewhere in the galaxy.

Mama Sun knows the score

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Mama Sun, a manager of the awful sex-slave world Sextillion, is capable of spitting out that vile aphorism. “Nothing drives a man to new pussy faster than seeing a kid come out the old one.” She might not have diagnosed this situation 100% correct — Prince Robot is on the fritz, right? — but her words are uncomfortably applicable to Marko and Alana.

Those are some powerfully depressing ideas, but if there’s been one constant through Saga its that the series is in a constant state of change. The settings change, the goals change, even the characters that we’re focusing on change (remember those reporter dudes? or The Will?). What made us so confident that this tiny family was the one thing that would never change?

Shelby, I can’t find a nice way to segue into this, but can we just talk about Staples’ art again? She’s so good at delivering on the big moments (like the two images you posted) but she’s also absurdly good at capturing the small moments too. I loved this scene of Hazel waking up in the morning and crying her obnoxious “REHHHH!” cry. Staples draws Hazel defiantly standing at the foot of the bed, as though almost willfully annoying.

Hazel is annoying

Look how comfy and wonder Marko’s bed looks, lit softly by those glowing  mushrooms! And then it’s all interrupted by the thing he’s supposed to love most in the universe.

I’m totally digging this wholly domestic drama, but it seems that things won’t even be that simple for long. Robot-janitor Denjo has just claimed his prize of the young Princeling Robot, and has his eyes set on The Circuit as a means to use the royal baby most effectively. That means he’s headed to Alana and Marko’s world — directly into Alana’s place of work — and you’d better believe that the fully might of the Robot family will follow them. The war Marko and Alana worked so hard to escape will be right on their doorstep, and this time, they will have lost the connection that got them through the first time.

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?

7 comments on “Saga 20

  1. Somehow this series keeps getting better. I hate to make this comparison, but the combination of passion, violence, love and war reminds me of how I felt reading Game of Thrones the first time. It keeps exposing more and more and keeps rubbing on these nerves that get more and more raw and you wonder how it all keeps going – you drift away from characters for a chapter or an entire arc and get back to them and they’re the same character but changed in a way that makes them totally new, like being stabbed in the face.

    I was shocked by that scene. I don’t know how that affected me like it did, but it shocked me.

    On another note, our pull lists compliment each other this week. I actually bought nine of the eleven titles you’re writing about. (I did buy a complete shit-ton of comics this week – I’m actually a little embarrassed by my comic consumption right now).

      • Yes, it’s on my list. I’m not sure how Kirkman can keep it up, but everything he puts out right now turns to gold. The only two on your list that I didn’t read were Flash and Guardians of the Galaxy.

    • The pacing of that last scene is excellent. Neither Vaughan or Staples tip their hands at all here — there’s a ton of violence that we see after the fact, and the gateway to seeing it is Dengo killing Princess Robot. Brutal shit.

  2. I think the reason this issue was so intimidating to me was a combination of the dicey subjects Vaughan was touching on, and how well they were written. Seriously, I can’t talk about the slow decline of a young marriage with any sort of eloquence or intelligence.

  3. So Alana’s drug trip basically sends her back to the womb, right? Look at her, essentially floating in a womb, near fetal, position sucking her thumb.

    Is this a typical response to the drug, or one specific to Alana? Does she just have babies on the brain, or is she perhaps tired of caring for a child and wants someone to take care of HER? Is it another sign — much like her taking the drugs at all — that she’s trying to recapture her youth?

    • Well there is that old saying that new parents learn how to take care of themselves by learning how to take care of an infant. Maybe this is the opposite of that – Alana rejecting her parental responsibility by becoming a baby herself.

      Also, what if she’s pregnant? I hadn’t considered this until this exact moment, but there’s nothing stopping them from having another kid?

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