Today, Ryan M. and Ryan D. are discussing Saga 37, originally released August 31, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan M: When something bad happens, my first instinct is to go back in my mind and try to find all of the places where I could have seen it coming. Did I miss a moment of insight, overlook a bit of non-verbal communication or flat out ignore glaring signs? Then, I start looking at all of my life under that same lens. There is a sense that if I can see the bad things coming, they will hurt less when they hit. After all of the shock and heartache that Saga has offered, I may be hypersensitive because I saw potential for future pain everywhere.
A sense of foreboding colors nearly every page of Saga 37. By now, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have prepared us to expect a level of danger and conflict at every turn. In terms of plot advancement, little happens beyond Hazel & Co. stopping on the fuel-rich but war-torn Phang in order to gas up. Instead, scene after scene seems to set up the dominoes of future heartbreak and danger. Marko and Alana refer to the potential for miscarriage or birth defect with her pregnancy, while standing over a sleeping Hazel. Little Sophie is now ten and ready to train to be a Freelancer, a job that can dehumanize. Meanwhile, Sir Robot can’t even masturbate without intrusive thoughts.
We can start with that scene, and the sequence of panels that begin it. By Patrick’s request, we need to really dissect that penis.
The potential for genital metaphor when it comes to a spaceship is fairly well-trod territory, but Staples is able to give the vessel that carries Hazel’s family and their riff-raff, both the impression of a womb and a vagina. With that kind of thing in mind, the close up of a penis might not seem out of place. I read this issue for the first time in “Guided View” and it was a bit jarring. By starting with a ship alone in space, Robot’s erect penis is given a solitary sadness. There it stands, jutting out into the lonely air, while he taunts himself. Vaughan and Staples start the scene with Robot’s disassociation from his sex organ and end the scene with him experiencing a similar disassociation from his own fantasies. Robot doesn’t have the ability to control himself or his wants. He’s seen too much, as evidenced by the Stalk’s cameo one his screen. He is unable to use faceless porn images; they morph into real people, namely Alana.
While Gwendolyn is more explicit about the looming threats to Phang, there are smaller moments that seem to be signalling future strife. For example, Petrichor’s fear of being endangered due to being trans is treated as a small moment and something for Izabel to reassure her about. But there is one panel that feels moves away from the banter between a grump and a teen.
When Petrichor warns Izabel, “You have no idea” it works as both a moment of honesty from the usually shielded woman, but also a heads up to the audience. For a moment, Petrichor drops her usual squinted scowl and casts her eyes away. We’ve seen how lack of understanding and empathy leads directly to hate and atrocity in the world of Saga. Petrichor’s fear is another element of the issue’s overall suspense.
Even the rodents on Phang don’t read as harmless, even with their wide eyes and sweet furry faces. As Kurti reveals his large family, coming out of the rubble, his pleas for food don’t seem quite as innocent. Is this all a con so that he and his family can commit a crime, or was it a simple bait and switch in order to glean as much generosity as possible from Alana and Marko. Either way, the animals’ dark eyes and resting bitch faces make for a more disquieting scene.
There are moments in this issue that, while overtly humorous, add to my anxiety about the safety of these characters. When Hazel comes to the garden to warn Izabel and Petrichor about the fuel issue, the smile on her face runs squarely contradictory to her words.
Hazel has lived her short life in nearly constant danger and with several bouts of turmoil. Her excitement over the danger on her ship demonstrates a warping of her young mind and the implications of a child whose life is less than stable. This moment is not likely to pay off in the course of this arc, but it shows the reader something that will be inescapable for the rest of Hazel’s life. Her childhood is definitely not normal.
Ryan, what did you think of the issue? Am I being too sensitive to potential danger in an otherwise innocuous issue? Outside of the sense of foreboding I went on about, how well do you think Vaughan and Staples tied the disparate scenes together thematically? One of these scenes is a brief history of Phang. How effective did you find the pairing of images of war with Hazel’s sparse narration? Plus, we see Sophie, Gwendolyn and Lying Cat. What do you make of their evolved dynamics? Of course, if you have any more analysis on the Sir Robot’s Boner panel, I’d also love to read that.
Ryan D: I love the points you made with the cock panel, Ry, but the part of this bit which grabbed me most is the page of IV’s search for an appropriate fantasy. Keeping in mind that the first time we met Prince Robot IV back in Saga 1, he was in flagrante delicto with his wife… or, rather, failing to do so. He blamed this on jetlag, not the PTSD from which he almost certainly suffers, but the audience’s only knowledge that IV’s reproductive parts have worked in the past is from the fact that he has a son; otherwise, every attempt at sexual intimacy with himself or others in the past thirty-six issues has been dysfunctional. This moment is no exception:
How much fun must it be to write and draw a character who literally wears his libido on his “face?” Reminiscent of a page from Sex Criminals (which got a cheeky shout-out in this issue!) of Suzie masturbating, I love how much patience and space the team gave this moment, utilizing the full page with simple, uniform panels to offer a real cadence to the reading. I could feel the struggle in the gutter between every panel as IV tried to get himself going. I, for one, found the final moment to be heartbreaking. Accomplishing one of art’s most important roles — to show what takes place behind closed doors, making the private public. This moment is not only a wonderful use of the character and the character device built in with its design (face TV), but also another example of worrisome harbingers of complications to come. While different schools of psychology will argue about the importance of unconscious erotic desires, I find Prince Robot’s potential budding attraction to Alana as one of the most dangerous developments in the issue.
This danger looming in almost every beat of this issue is real, and a very good thing for this arc, which has largely been a prelude for whatever devastating events Vaughan has planned for us. But Vaughan and Staples have shown us, from the word “go”, that this is a universe of danger and loss. Phang shines as an example of this. The team tells the simple version of this comet’s bellicose history over three pages of images, assisted with some narration.
While this new location will make a great set-piece for some stellar upcoming events, I found this part of the comic to be a bit more “on the nose” than I expect from this team. Don’t get me wrong: this arena will make a great backdrop and allow for new characters like the new… are those meerkats? …as seen at the end of the issue, I just wish we were shown a bit more of the history instead of being told it. Vaughan and Staples have used images reminiscent of our real-world past to give an easy means of identifying with various parts of the war before, but I found that the Landfall/Wreath story was told more evocatively, and felt less like they were plopping down a thinly-veiled allegory of the Middle East on my plate, drilling platforms and burning oil fields included. That being said, I am concerned and interested in what danger Miss Gwendolyn warned Sophie about at the end of their exchange.
This exchange also fascinated me quite a bit. With the resurgence of popularity which Pokemon is undergoing, I’ve been thinking about various Bildungsroman journey stories — particularly ones wherein the main character begins at such a young age. It seems odd to me, from the culture in which I grew up, that an eight or ten year old would be afforded the opportunity to accept such incredible responsibility and enter theatres of such danger, but that is exactly what Sophie plans to do, somewhat reminiscent of Greek journeymen tales. Also wonderful about this scene is the highlighting of the differences developing between Hazel and Sophie. Their stories share some very interesting parallels: escaping tragedy in a warring and prejudiced universe, being torn from loved-ones, and having parental figures or role models who are constantly forced to commit acts of violence. Despite these similarities, the two are certainly growing with distinctly disparate world views. I look forward to these two progressing even further into foils for each other; there’s some serious meat-and-potatoes to dig into there.
Saga 37 told readers that they can not be complacent while reading this title, or else the robot penis will catch you like a Sam Raimi jump-scare. It also lets us know that you are right on the money, Ry: there’s some real pain coming, which should make the recent slow-burn storytelling quite vindicating. With every plot thread being drenched in menace, all we can do is brace ourselves and read on. This is going to hurt.
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