Saga 21

saga 21

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Saga 21, originally released July 23rd, 2014.

Shelby: it’s hard to watch something you love fall apart. Even if that something is a work of fiction, it can still break your heart just as fast (if not faster) than real life. I get very invested in the media I consume; anyone who’s watched a movie with me can attest to the fact I am frequently, literally on the edge of my seat at the climax of the movie. That’s how I find myself as we build toward the end of each arc in Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga: on the edge of my seat.

As our various players move into position, I can almost hear a clock ticking down to what is sure to be a tragic end of this arc. Alana’s currently hating her job because she has to shill some crappy breakfast cereal, but she gets over it when her coworkers encourage her to get high beforehand. Hazel is having an awesome playdate with the dance teacher Ginny’s daughter which is thankfully cut short before Marko and Ginny get too cozy by a massive bathroom accident on Hazel’s part. Dengo has murdered his way onto a ship, and is busy shooting dudes in the face and heading straight for Gardenia. Prince Robot is finally brought out of his stupor by Mama Sun’s lawyer, who figured it was time to tell the prince what was going on. His response to the news that his wife was dead and his nearly month-old son was missing was pretty straightforward: blow a hole in Mama Sun’s chest, and gird his loins to go talk to his father, King Robot.

Now more so than in the past, this book feels like a series of vignettes. It makes sense, if you think about it; in previous arcs, it was Alana and Marko’s love that held them together in the face of everything. Now that their relationship is beginning to splinter, so is the rest of the story. Fiona Staples continues to murder these pages, with most of the little vignettes featuring a character splash page, my favorite being Dengo.

dengo unchained


Well, if that’s not the stuff of nightmares, I don’t know what is. This also very quickly escalates Dengo’s threat level. Before, I just thought he was a mad kidnapper/murderer, but this is something else all together. He pulled that man’s spine out of his body! That’s cruel, unnecessary, and sociopathic. He is a far greater threat to the Robot Kingdom than I initially realized.

Vaughan renders Alanna and Marko’s disintegrating marriage with heartbreaking accuracy. Each choice they make seems to make perfect sense in context, but from the outside it’s all too easy to see what these choices will add up to. It’s all the more painful to see that, at least Marko, seems to sense what is happening.

i need you

He knows he’s on the crumbling cliff-edge with Ginny, and is desperately clinging to Alanna to keep from falling over. The problem is, Alanna is either going to be too far gone on fadeaway to notice her husband’s struggle, or she’s going to lash out against his clingyness. Normally, my response to this sort of scene would be communication, but it might already be too late. Any attempt Marko makes to talk about the wedge forming between them is likely to make Alanna angry, then guilty for not being there for her family as much as she wants. That guilt will only feed her anger; her resentment towards the situation will translate to resentment towards Marko, which will make him more frustrated and lonely. My parents divorced a few years ago, so this is a story I know all too well.

Honestly, this issue is so heartbreaking, it’s kind of hard to talk about. Prince Robot’s interrupted dream of his now-broken family is especially sad.

robot family

I love the mix of refined and crass in the Robot family. And look at the Princeling’s little bathing costume! Too cute. Without even knowing his son existed yet, the Prince found solace in him, and now he has to process the fact he may never see him again. The biggest question, though, is how the meeting with his father is going to go. Considering the Prince would rather get poked in the eye with a needle, as Staples so beautifully rendered, my guess is “not well.” Patrick, what were your thoughts on this issue? Is this arc breaking your heart in slow-motion like it is mine? How about that giant fucking walrus?

Patrick: How about that fucking walrus? You know I love that thing. I mean, if only the little sea-otter-man had traveled with them too, I’d be in heaven. Because I’m so partial to the big lug, I can only assume some horrible fate is going to befall him. I mean, Friendo is such a magical little accident, reportedly created by Fiona Staples to fill the space on a page some issues ago. Accident or no, the creature has a weird kind of charisma, both within the narrative and in the real world. I’m jumping to some conclusions here, but I think it’s safe to say that one of the reasons that thing is still around is because fans responded so positively to that big goofy design. In a non-insignificant way, Friendo is our baby in this series.

I don’t know how exactly we fight for Friendo, but it is nice to finally see Prince Robot roused from his sexslumber to fight for his child. It’s interesting that just as Alanna and Marko retreat into sex, Prince Robot finds himself escaping from it. Where Prince Robot’s experience is so different is that both the sex and the child he experiences are simulated in one way or another. It’s a little unclear whether the Prince is in some kind of simulation, or a drug-induced stupor, or just a pleasant dream while napping, but whatever’s happening is all in his head. Similarly, all of his fucking has been bought and paid for. He’s not dealing with any of the same emotional vocabulary that Alanna and Marko are, who actually live their relationship with their daughter and with each other. The second Prince Robot has to confront those honest emotions — of both joy and loss simultaneously — he flips out, and murders Mama Sun. By comparison, Alanna and Marko are handling the overwhelming emotional reality with an unnerving steadiness.

Occasionally, this series gets saddled with the “slow” label. It’s true that some of these middle issues slacken their pace to explore the characters or setting in exacting detail, but I’m an insufferable apologist for such things. Vaughan has such a gift for consistency of character and really fleshing out worlds, so it’s like having an opportunity to watch a master craftsman at work. This was one of the first issues that actually felt uneasily slow to me, as both Alanna and Marko’s stories circled identical beats as in the previous issue. Ultimately, I think that’s a strength for the issue, which is quietly and non-dramatically insisting on Hazel’s parents’ problem. Instead of flying off the deep end and blowing a hole in someone’s chest, Alanna and Marko relentlessly grind away at each other. That steadiness makes it all the more excruciating.

Luckily, Staples is able to populate the pages with enough intriguing detail to keep any of this from feeling too dour. For starters, the images displayed on Dengo’s screen during his rampage are weird as hell. While he’s mid-kill, the screen shows a roaring tiger, which: fair enough. But when he’s moving swiftly and terrifying through his murderama?

dengo and the dickface clown


Just like in the spread Shelby posted, I think that’s a dick with a face drawn on it. What the hell? Another pointless detail that I loved: when Sextillion’s lawyer is frightened, his tail falls off. That’s a defense mechanism called autotomy, whereby an animal self-amputates a limb to escape danger. Frequently cited examples are geckos and salamanders. It’s not an important detail, but it’s one more piece of information fleshing out Staples and Vaughan’s amazing universe.

You know, I wonder if we’re supposed to draw a connection between pacifism and the way Marko and Alanna aren’t fighting for their marriage. Even though she thinks it’s horseshit, Marko’s mother keeps reading Heist’s book. She says its to honor the man, but perhaps its also to keep his message of non-violence fresh in our minds. Alanna and Marko refused to keep fighting their wars, and ran from them instead. That’s a totally noble and justifiable position to take, but it’s a much less defensible tactic when it comes to the life they’re letting slip through their fingers. Love and war, right?

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?

11 comments on “Saga 21

  1. I also really like that Staples and Vaughan use this issue to remind us of both Alanna and Marko’s physiology by showing us their naked (or nearly-naked) bodies from the back. Specifically, Marko’s ridge of hair along his spine and Alanna’s wings. Those physical characteristics are a huge part of who they are, even as they’re trying to escape the differences those characteristics imply. In fact, Marko’s fear that his daughter’s stumpy little wings will be discovered after her accident is like the only source of tension in his story.

  2. I thought it was cute that Dengo was using his monitor to keep the baby distracted, UNTIL Patrick pointed out what those images on the screen actually were. What a creeper.

    I agree with Patrick that some of this issue was slow, but I think it’s purposefully so. Alanna and Marko are caught up in a normal slow, dull routine for the first time in their relationship and it’s threatening to tear them apart (not to mention it’s soon to be explosively ended).

      • I just thought they were weird images until I read this. Then, looking at the splash page, I realized while he was doing all this killing, he was putting on funny faces to entertain the baby, so they wouldn’t be scared.

        Now you tell me they are dicks with faces. In 5 minutes, I’ve seen three different things. I’m going with “Funny faces to pacify the baby”.

        Dick faces. Bah.

  3. On the other hand.

    This was one boring ass issue. It reminded me of Batwoman issues 6-10 when they did six concurrent stories, each one only 3 or 4 pages long. They did this for six months. I almost dropped the book, even though it was fantastically done. It was too hard to get invested in a story after a 28 day absence to have the story end in 3 minutes.

    This issue (to me (and my girlfriend)) struggled with this a lot. You can’t have a vignette of boring and sad only to go to another vignette of something boring and sad, especially when they basically are the same boring and sad as last issue. It ends up not being artsy or interesting, it’s just boring and sad. A relationship quietly breaking up three pages at a time over the course of months isn’t that fun to read.

    Now, the scene of Dengo was pretty badass, but even that struggled with us not having a relationship with who he was killing. They weren’t cute or adorable, it was just people getting blown away who really didn’t want to die.

    The art was fantastic. It might be my favorite book to look at. However, this book suffered from too short of scenes with not enough new happening from previous weeks to make it a pretty weak comic. I didn’t much care for this at all. I was pretty disappointed that we end up about the same place as last week. Some things need to coalesce pretty quickly to get to a more cohesive story.

    The only good thing that came out of this was that my girlfriend and I decided if we ever were to dress up like comic characters, she’d be Hazel and I’d be Prince Robot. She jumps up and down with glee yelling “SMASH” anyway and I’m always ready to pull out a blaster and incinerate anyone who is not doing exactly what they should and ends up inconveniencing me. And spending all my money at Sextillion.

    • I’ve seen some truly awesome Prince Robot cosplays over the past few years — it’s mostly an old general’s costume with a space-age tv screen for a head.

      On a related note, did anyone enjoy the detail that the robots refer to Dengo as a “knobber” (presumably because he has knobs)? It’s a weird little window into the race relations of the Robot Kingdom.

      • One of the parts that I didn’t mention in any written analysis of this: I LOVED the racial slurs. There was another where he called him a “colorless piece of shit.” It’s probably not a great idea to have the quote, “I loved the racial slurs,” online under an ID that I use for a lot of things, but I think they have added a level of depth to some of the hatred we’ve seen.

        There’s a lot of racism in this book. Admittedly it’s wartime, but there is a lot of hatred through slurs.

  4. Contrary to virtually everyone’s assessment of this issue, I actually didn’t see this as retreading anything. For one, the quantity and quality of Alana and Marko’s problems are changing.

    Alana makes the joke about being at the start of a cautionary tale, but like: that’s exactly what’s happening. She’s not just doing drugs for fun, but to numb herself to the world. That she’s still high when she gets home/too high to notice something is wrong with Marko is, for me anyway, a big change from what we saw last month.

    For Marko, while we all may have seen romantic intimations with Ginny from the start, this is the first time we’ve seen it affect him. I don’t think he jumps Alana’s bones to reassert the strength of their relationship — if that were the case, he’d maybe have paid enough attention to her to notice that she’s high. No, I think Ginny made him horny (PUNS), and he’s acting on it in the least destructive way possible.

    Only, intimacy where the partners aren’t in tune with one another’s wants and needs is destructive, in a way that is much more insidious than the fighting we saw in issue 19. Hazel’s v.o. about lovers being “worlds apart” may be a little on-the-nose, but it’s also totally heartbreaking. Alana and Marko are ships passing in the night — their time and space may overlap, but their each fighting their own battles in total secrecy.

    Point is, I think this isn’t just a repeat or a small escalation of the problems we saw last month — shit just got a whole lot worse.

    • It could be that to me a comic based on, “intimacy where the partners aren’t in tune with one another’s wants and needs is destructive, in a way that is much more insidious,” isn’t a comic that I want to read, even if it’s in a super cool space alien way.

      I do think that I’ve learned from you guys that I definitely read comics at a more visceral level than you portray here. (I don’t want to say too much about how you guys read because you are definitely smart dudes and ladies that have all sorts of comprehension capabilities and by nature of starting a blog like this are going to many times emphasize a more careful and well thought out analysis than what I do when I read). To me, these last three comics have been a startling leap from the pacing and tone of the first 18 issues. I read comics for conflicts that have a more primal spark than two people in love, raising a kid, and not sensing each others’ needs (while on the run from galactic bounty hunters). I need more bounty hunter, less big eared temptress while watching the kid.

      Again, that’s me. A little of that adult stuff goes a long way. I’m not dropping this or anything crazy. I just am ready for some action from the protagonists and not in a dropping pants making love (but oh so sad not connecting) way.

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