Today, Ryan D. and Spencer are discussing Saga 41, originally released January 4th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
And I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary
-Killer Mike, Run the Jewels
Ryan D: With all of the racially charged protests in the US from last year, Martin Luther King’s tenants of nonviolence became a talking point, used to chastise on countless 24/7 news networks and talk radio shows. The tricky thing about the six tenants of Kingian nonviolence is that they call for the understanding that “the Universe is on the side of the just”- a choice which seems to be a bit harder for those less inclined to believe in such a broad, philosophical stance, alongside a very Biblical adherence to turning the other cheek. The philosophy of the universe of Saga, on the other hand, seems more in line with the words of Killer Mike mentioned above, which goes on to say, in an ode to Malcolm X: “Cause when you live on MLK and it gets very scary/ You might have to pull your AK, send one to the cemetery.” This is exactly the position we see Marko in by the end of Saga 41 in an issue revolving around violence, and it is always fascinating to see a pacifist’s descent.
The issue begins with Marko, armed only with a shield, uttering some of his first words, “Whatever’s going on here can be resolved without—” to help diffuse the cliffhanger of last issue: Prince Robot IV, in what was first teased as an assault on Alana, put his blaster-arm against his own “temple” to take his own life. Marko’s attempt to de-escalate the situation is for naught, as he is blasted unconscious against the ship’s wall. His shield – a beautiful symbol of nonviolent protest – protects him only so far against the robot’s bellicose attack. After subduing the drug-addled suicide risk, Alana’s day does not get any easier.
The March, plus one adorable porcine sidekick, have found the family, finally, after killing Izabel, and takes one of the young meerkat creatures as hostage. I liked the nice little touch of irony as The March ambushes the child playing hide-and-seek, saying that they (it?) was not a fan of the game’s variant, sardines, in which those hiding are forced into more and more cramped space. This is a person who has two heads already stuck adjacent to each other; one would imagine that they (it??) have grown fairly comfortable with sharing personal space. While I found The March to be visually interesting, like the bounty hunters from Star Wars, I expected that they (it???) would not be a permanent installment in the series, and I do not mourn their passing. Also, c’mon Fiona Staples, stop drawing so many adorable things. Their pet, Bootstrap, seemed to escape successfully, so that might not be the last we see of it.
I found the scenes between Sophie, Gwen, and the newly returned Will to be particularly effective. Actors and writers both delight in writing moments which are crossroads for characters, and we see two large choices to be made by Sophie and Lying Cat, respectively.
True character, as they say, is not about what people say, but what they do, and crossroads like this – stay here or come with me – allow the audience to really understand where a character is. I really appreciate the visual storytelling here by the incomparable Staples, who gives this decision of L.C. its own panel, illustrating how difficult the decision is and how the tug from both sides felt. This is easily understood by an audience, and no thought bubbles are needed to convey this flawlessly, with the added detail of dropping out the colored sky in the background for a panel to highlight Sophie and Will’s starkly contrasting silhouettes, and how anything superfluous to the crossroad does not matter when faced with a decision.
The digressions here from Phang to that side arc make perfect sense to me, as that scene was both expository, character building, and also moved along the plot, while allowing the issue to showcase different color palettes for different scenes and locations so that all of number forty-one is not a sea of murky grey tones. The man who used to be The Will, still toting his dead sister’s companion Sweet Boy, seems more dangerous and alone than ever, despite looking like he just reverse-Nutty-Professor’d himself. “I’m going through a rebuilding phase,” he says, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time he enters the lives of our leads to play an unpredictable variable for Hazel and her family.
Hazel, for a four year old, certainly has spunk. The narrative voice of Saga, as it seems fair to say, belongs to her, and I thought her words regarding the amount of violence digested by children to be quite perspicacious. Nail Gaiman, as an author, has spoken about writing horror stories for children, acknowledging that a nascent part of childhood is fear. That being said, Hazel, being the child of what is essentially a war crime in a torn galaxy, has seen a bit more than most children, and the showdown between Alana and The March is no different. The physical tension here is heightened by the obvious baby bump of Alana’s:
Despite Alana’s bravado, being pregnant in a fight offers a very intense level of vulnerability which drove the stakes through the roof for this moment — so high, in fact, that there was no choice for Marko to do anything but intercede by breaking his oath and firing that rife to save his family. Hypothetically.
Spence! I thought this was a nice entry to the series, and I’m interested in what happens next as Phang edges closer to the TimeSuck and Marko’s actions force him to reevaluate himself, in light of his actions. I have been feeling a little exhausted by the “shocker endings!” of the past few issues though. How do you feel the issue did fulfilling its tagline, “Alana and Marko go to WAR!”, and do you think this was the right kind of rising action for this arc’s crescendo?
Spencer: I think Marko being the one to dispatch The March is an unexpected, but fascinating turn. Back when we discussed Saga 39, Drew correctly identified Alana’s rifle as a Chekhov’s gun, but incorrectly predicted that she‘d be the one to fire it. I’ll admit, even within this issue itself, when we reached that page of The March being blown to pieces I assumed it was Petrichor taking advantage of Hazel’s distraction to launch an attack; I never expected it to be Marko. That twist works on two levels, the first being the fact that we just saw him knocked unconscious a few pages back, and the second being that he’s an avowed pacifist.
I’m glad that Ryan pointed out that bit of dialogue about “resolving things without violence” that introduces Marko this month; not only is it an effective way to remind the audience of Marko’s principals, but it also shows their limits — he can’t even protect Alana from Prince Robot. I’m curious as to whether that played a part in his decision to kill The March — did his confrontation with Prince Robot disillusion him in some way, or was he simply acting out of desperate instinct to save his family’s life? The distinction between whether Marko has renounced pacifism or simply broken his vow is small, but important, because each option will likely lead to a far different reaction from Marko.
As much as I loathe violence as a “solution” to problems, I still admit that I think Marko did the right thing here. Whether Marko will think so is another question entirely; even that look of grim resignation Staples fixes on Marko’s face could be interpreted several different ways. Hazel’s narration, though, paints his actions in a bit of a negative light, forecasting that, because of it, violence will eventually consume and overcome Marko. Again, this could have several different meanings — will Marko be consumed by guilt because of his violent actions, or perhaps now embrace violence instead, losing himself in it? — but none of those outcomes are ideal.
One interesting thing this conflict does, though, is paint “The War For Phang” as more of a psychological battle. Yes, the fight against The March required some actual physical combat, but it was also a battle of wits, a showdown between several different parties where one wrong move could mean their end. The outcome is clearly leading to some sort of internal battle for Marko over his actions. Even the looming, dire fate of Phang isn’t quite the “war” we expected it to be. Nobody’s coming to blow Phang up or kill all its residents or anything like that; the comet’s simply been directed towards what appears to be some sort of black hole (which, of course, is a giant space fetus, because this is Saga).
Marko, Alana, and their family might end up feeling like they’ve fought a war once they’ve (presumably) escaped Phang, but trying to find a way to get their family and their ship off that doomed comet is still more of an intellectual exercise, and that’s assuming they can convince everyone to evacuate. In this regard, I can’t help but to think of an exchange between Petrichor and Jabarah.
While I don’t exactly think Marko and Alana were planning on bringing Jabarah’s family with them prior to this point, now I can’t imagine them leaving them behind to meet a grim fate. Will she want to leave, though, or will she once again rest her fate in god’s hand? If Jabarah doesn’t leave, how distraught will Hazel be about leaving Kurti behind? Will she try to get her family to stay, not understanding the gravity of the situation? I obviously have no clue how this will play out, but I can’t help but notice that this is yet another conflict that springs from motives and beliefs, another battle that’s more psychological than physical.
Really, this even carries over to The Will’s scene. Sophie feels like she owes a great debt to The Will and would likely even, on some level, love to rejoin him, but she’s also found a cause that’s more important, more fulfilling to her. Sophie’s won her psychological war and has more than likely made the right (and far more moral) choice, yet for all her humanitarian talk, there’s still traces of xenophobia and racism in her speech. That got me thinking: all of Saga‘s battles, be they physical or physical in nature, stem from the conflict between the Moonies and the Wings, between two cultures that turned their differences into an excuse to hate, kill, and extort, a conflict that will never end because neither side would ever be willing to lose that much face or money. Let’s hope our protagonists are able to find healthier resolutions to their current conflicts.
I want to end this by posing a question to our readers. There’s a bit of symmetry to this issue — it opens with a splash page of Petrichor facing the camera, and ends with a splash of Marko facing the camera, positioned very similarly on the page. Do you guys think there’s some meaning behind this choice, or is it just an interesting coincidence/aesthetic choice? I’d love to hear any theories in the comments.
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?