Today, Shelby and Spencer are discussing Saga 35, originally released March 30th, 2016.
Shelby: One of the changes I’ve been trying to make for myself these last few years is in improving my communication. So many problems in both the real world and in fiction can be solved with just some simple communication. Every time two big-name superheroes meet for the first time, there’s always an issue devoted to them punching each other; if they just took two seconds to communicate a bit first, we’d be spared those boringly inevitable stories. The real problem, though, comes in when characters cannot communicate and have to act anyway. Characters who choose to act first, I got no sympathy for; it’s the ones that couldn’t even if they wanted to that I find the most intriguing and the most sympathetic. If you’re at all familiar with Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga, you’ll understand this sentiment completely.
This issue is all about moving the players on the board. Marko and Alana have teamed up with their old frenemy Robot IV and are heading to Landfall to get Klara and Hazel out of the clink. The Will, now traveling with Sweet Boy and a Heroine-induced hallucination of The Stalk, is holding Upsher and Doff hostage to help him find Robot IV’s hidey-hole. Noreen is trying to convince Klara to let her smuggle Hazel out of their detention camp and move her to safety and (presumably) freedom. That can be the most frustrating part of this series at this point in the story; communication lines between the characters have become fractured at best, and with this many moving parts it can be really hard to be outside the story, wondering if maybe they’ll catch a break this time, or if everything will fall apart. That uncomfortable, exquisite tension is, in my opinion, where Vaughan thrives. It’s rare for me to be both so uncomfortable and so eager for that discomfort to continue.
It’s very easy for the “moving pieces” issues in arcs to be boring and uneventful; we’re talking about a chunk of story that merely exists to get characters ready for a different chunk of story, right? Vaughan eliminates that concern by giving us a series of little character moments, tiny little examples of growth and development that serve to distract us from the logistics of getting everyone in place for the big finale. The moment that made me actually react out loud was between Robot IV and Alana, after Marko teleports himself down to Landfall.
I must be having some sort of fever dream, because that is a far more plausible explanation than Robot IV identifying with ANYONE not of the royal family, let alone one of the people (very indirectly) responsible for all the terrible shit that’s happened to him lately. It was only a couple pages ago he called Alana and Marko savages, and now he and Alana are having an actual, real moment together. Is it possible fatherhood has really changed him that much, that despite hating these people and what they’ve done he can sympathize, nay, ROOT for their success? For two panels, Robot IV dropped his ego, his bitterness, his sense of entitlement, his pain, and was just a parent speaking to another parent. I really wish I could see where the rest of that conversation goes, but alas, we have to go to The Will threatening a child.
I am so intrigued by The Will’s transformation, and I’m not talking about his weight gain. Remember a few years back, when he rescued Sophie, née Slave Girl only because he knew it was beyond wrong for a child to be treated that way? Just like Lying Cat, he knew there existed a basic set of morals to follow, certain lines that could not be crossed. It appears now the only thing driving him is his Heroine-induced girlfriend. I wonder what would happen if he did manage to kill Robot IV; what would he have then? He would be just as alone, just as much of an addict, but he would no longer have anything to propel him forward. Considering we’re talking about a man so broken inside he takes a parasitic hallucinogen for recreational purposes, maybe we should hope we never find out what he would do without his vendetta.
The biggest question of this issue, for me, is what is Klara going to do? She has absolutely zero reason to believe Alana and Marko are coming for her and Hazel, but can she trust Noreen? Klara makes the very understandable argument that it isn’t safe outside the walls of the detention center, and Petrichor rightly points out it isn’t really all that safe inside the walls. Now, normally I don’t look to the cover art for clues to the story, but Fiona Staples has really got me thinking with this one.
First of all, I love that badass Granny Klara is now covered in prison tattoos. Of course she is, it’s perfect. But it’s the spinning wheel she’s getting inked that caught my eye, and got me thinking about Sleeping Beauty. When Princess Aurora was a baby, her parents were told by Maleficent their daughter would prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a deep sleep. Her parents took the rather extreme precaution of burning every spinning wheel in the land and hiding their daughter in the woods. Upon Aurora’s return to the castle as she neared marriage-time, Maleficent tricked her into pricking her finger on what has to be the only spinning wheel left anywhere, and despite all the king and queen’s precautions their daughter still fell victim to the curse. I can’t help but wonder if that’s happening here as well; Klara thinks Hazel is safe and sound locked away from all the spinning wheels, when there’s one hiding somewhere in the detention center waiting to prick its innocent victim. Maybe Noreen can’t be trusted after all. Maybe Petrichor can’t. Maybe there’s someone else who knows and we don’t even know it yet. Klara is suddenly remembering that just because they’ve felt safer than they probably have in years, they are not safe at all. Maybe they never can be.
On that uplifting note, Spencer, what did you think of this issue? Did it have you thinking about character growth, plot machinations, and fairy tales, or were you too busy being in awe of how hardcore adorable Ghüs has become?
Spencer: Shelby, it’s a pretty smart guess that, at just about any given moment, I’m secretly thinking about Ghüs.
Look at his little whiskers! I’ll admit that it’s hard to take Ghüs seriously as a threat (It just makes me think of Bubbles’ attempts to be hardcore), but that’s part of what makes this an such an effective cliffhanger. I’m pumped to see if Ghüs can surprise us with some killer moves, but I’m also worrying my head off over the little guy’s safety, and I’m not sure which is the more appropriate response — is his confidence founded?
It’s hard to tell, ultimately because we know so little about Ghüs. That’s okay — he’s a fan-favorite character almost solely because of his adorable appearance, and it’s a testament to Fiona Staples’ skill as an artist that this goofy little background character has become a regular presence almost entirely due to Staples’ design alone. It probably goes without saying, but Staples is on fire throughout Saga 35. Expressions, character designs and world building, layouts — Staples excels at it all, and this month she wowed me from the very first page.
There’s a lot I like about this page, but what immediately jumps out at me is the coloring. For most of the page Staples sticks to a cooler palette of similar colors (purples and blues), but then you’ve got that golden sand absolutely lighting up the page. This choice provides a gorgeous contrast, but it also helps to tell the story and expand upon the scene as well. The golden nature of the sand helps establish this man’s (Zlota’s) wealth, its special glow establishes that it’s magic, and the masks Zlota’s servants wear implies that there’s something dangerous about the sand itself (it’s drugs — magic drugs, confirmed a few pages later when it snorts itself into Zlota’s nose).
Really, Staples and Vaughan provide this whole segment with enough personality and detail to make it a joy to read no matter how repugnant Zlota may be as a character. I think nearly every single panel in this scene made me chuckle in one way or another.
I mean, just look at the story Staples and Vaughan tell in the background here! First you’ve got Zlota’s Lying Cat listening in on his conversation like some sort of eager eavesdropper, then you’ve got Cat begging for pizza in the very next panel! There’s humor in the juxtaposition of human and animal behaviors, and there’s humor in the ridiculous outfit Staples puts Lying Cat in. None of this is necessary to convey the information Vaughan needs to convey in this scene, but it sure makes the scene a lot more fun to read.
(I’ve also got to give big kudos to another detail here: Zlota’s servant girl chowing down on some pizza in that third panel. The poor woman’s got a degrading job, but Staples and Vaughan not only allow her to her to get in on the fun here, but to have a bit of personality as well. That’s far more attention and agency than these kind of stock “sexy” characters ever usually get, and it just goes to show how Staples and Vaughan treat even their most minor of characters with respect.)
Anyway, Shelby, you refer to this as a “moving pieces” issue, and while you’re not wrong, I’ve honestly started to consider Saga to be a moving pieces series. The cast is constantly on the move, splitting up into new formations and zipping back and forth across the universe. This scope certainly lives up to the title Saga, and the cast’s consistently evolving goals and motivations with each new arc provides much of the series’ tension, which only ramps up each time their paths cross, knowingly or otherwise. Saga 35 revels in this tension, and there’s one scene in particular that sums up the power of Saga‘s current jet-setting status quo.
I want to focus on the first page’s final panel and the next page’s first; the two shots of spaceships. This is literally two ships passing in the night — just in case the audience wasn’t aware enough of this from the context of the story, Staples highlights the same constellation in the background of both panels just to drive things home. Each party is completely unaware of the other, yet their fates are inextricably intertwined — how’s that for tension?
Also, notice how Marko and Alana’s ship is traveling to the right, in the same direction you read a comic in — it’s literally progressing forward with the story. That’s because most of Saga‘s cast, no matter what their goals may be in any given arc, are simply moving forward, just trying to survive and protect the people they care about no matter what the universe throws in their path. That’s why you can’t get angry about Klara and Hazel or Marko and Alana’s interfering plans — each party is just doing the best they can. I just wanna see em succeed.
The Will, though, isn’t moving forward anymore. He’s mired in the past (literally, thanks to Heroine), heading to a planet his quarry’s already abandoned; his ship is even literally traveling backwards through the comic, in contract to Marko and Alana’s. It seems significant that all the characters who still have the strength to move forward are doing so for their children, while the Will’s young charge is nowhere to be found. We still don’t know the Will’s full story, but it seems pretty obvious that the absence of Gwendolyn, Lying Cat, and Sophie in particular no doubt plays a vital role in his current quest for vengeance. What went down between the Will and his friends? Man, this is Saga — nothing I can guess will be even close to the truth, nor even half as exciting.
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?