By Brian Martin | Graphic/Novels Editor Published: 08/15/2013 1:00 pm EST
Every Wednesday, there is one comic at the top of Graphic/Novels editor Brian Martin’s “pull list.” Whether it’s because the comic is consistently brilliant, it’s the beginning of a new series or run, or it’s purely a whimsical choice, one book must be read before all others. In this weekly column, Brian examines the book he’s anticipating most, why he’s looking forward to it, and, after reading it, whether or not the issue met his expectations. Expect mild spoilers!
The Book:Saga #13 (Image Comics, $2.99)
Why is it at the top? Everyone’s favorite series about hedonistic robots (with televisions for heads—important distinction here), sexy spider bounty hunters, and young parents with horns and wings is back from a hiatus that lasted just a tad too long. And yeah, sure it’s got all of that stuff, but it’s also crammed with pathos, humor, and genuine emotion—all the qualities readers have come to expect from the work of writer Brian K. Vaughan. Saga has, thus far, taken familiar story elements (star-crossed lovers, interplanetary war, bounty hunters, quibbling in-laws) and assembled them in a way that seems far beyond anything we’ve seen before. Each turn of the page brings a surprise with it—sometimes pleasant, sometimes horrifying, but always completely unexpected. Fiona Staples gets a big chunk of this credit, as her art embellishes what must already be an insane script each month (just take a look at that splash page in issue 7 for a good example—you’ll know it when you see it). Issue 12 left us with one hell of a cliffhanger, as it looked like Prince Robot IV had finally cornered his quarry. Leaving us there for four months was both thrilling and infuriating, like all the best cliffhangers.
So how was it? As usual, Vaughan and Staples deliver a funny, endearing, heart-stopping 22 pages in Saga #13. What they don’t do, however, is directly follow up on the suspenseful cliffhanger from the end of last issue. This is by deliberate design, though, and the result isn’t disappointing at all. The story takes some necessary steps backward here, still finding time to catch readers up on the supporting cast members who were absent during issue 12 (i.e., everyone other than Prince Robot IV).
This issue opens in an army hospital, with one of Alana’s former comrades talking about her desertion, and newborn love-child, to anyone who will listen. In this case, “anyone” happens to be two journalists, the last bastion of truth and investigation on Landfall. It’s interesting to see Vaughan examining journalists in this way here, as this is a societal role he’s also currently exploring in his super-indie series The Private Eye. Whether the two new characters he introduces here have more in common with that series’ main protagonist or the paparazzi of that world will remain to be seen, but it will be interesting to see how Vaughan approaches this in Saga.
That Saga is preparing to offer a perspective on journalism is not entirely unexpected, given that the series has frequently commented on the power of the written word. That theme continues in this issue, as Alana and Marko decide to seek out D. Oswald Heist, author of the book that inspired them to desert their respective armies together. Alana is convinced that Heist can set them on the right path; Marko’s mother Klara, on the other hand, thinks the book is complete drivel. It’s all a matter of perspective, of course, but Heist’s appearance at the end of the issue, in a worn bathrobe and soiled underwear, does little to help Alana’s argument. But then, as Hazel (and, ostensibly, Vaughan) observes in her narration, “[N]o one makes worse first impressions than writers.”
The Will, Gwendolyn, and Slave Girl also get some nice quiet time in this issue, largely due to the fact that their ship is out of commission. As The Will sits in quiet contemplation, he sees his former lover, The Stalk, who begs him to settle down with Gwen and the girl and just retire to a good, respectable life in the paradise around them. This, of course, is most likely a manifestation of The Will’s own internal desires, and not the actual spirit of The Stalk, and it reveals quite a bit about the person who might just be Saga’s most multi-layered character. But in a series like this, who knows? Hazel’s nanny is a ghost, after all.
As always, Staples sells every inch of this book with her virtually flawless art. Of particular note is the arrival on Quietus, which is like a Dagobah completely devoid of plantlife—foggy, damp, and teeming with creepy alien creatures. This issue’s spotlighted alien creature is a doozy—microscopic insects that dig into bones and “reanimate marrow or some s***,” as Izabel observes. The scene made my skin crawl as I squirmed in my seat, the first from the creepy, unnatural visuals and the second from Alana’s attack against the skeletons, baby in hand. The entire scene is expertly paced (and hey, now we know why Klara had that bandage on her head last issue).
At this point, I can’t imagine that there are any readers out there who are “on the fence” about this series. You’re either enthralled by it, or you simply aren’t reading it. And if you’re a comic reader and Saga isn’t on your pull list, then you’re doing it wrong. READ THIS COMIC!
Brian L. Martin is an educator, writer, and amateur curmudgeon. An avid fan of novels, movies, and beer, he would much rather spend his time reading comics, a lifelong love since receiving a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man # 242 from Spider-Man himself in 1983. His favorite books include The Grapes of Wrath, Siddhartha, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is heavy enough to be considered the only real defense weapon he has in his home. He currently lives with his wife in Uppsala, Sweden.