By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art)
The Story: Will this tree hold together long enough to escape a mini black hole?
The Review: I don’t think there will ever be an outright bad issue of Saga; the caliber of both the writer and artist is just too strong for that. But I think within the title’s spectrum of excellence, the issues that fall within the lower range will be those that, once you get past the entertainment value of the words themselves, don’t quite advance the plot very much or short-change a part of the story that can use more development.
That said, we always have to keep in mind that Vaughan prefers the piecemeal method of storytelling on this series. There’ll be times when he’ll hold back or cut short what seems to you the natural progression of a scene so he can deliver it later, at a more opportune time. Such is the way he’s dealing with these flashbacks of Alana and Marko’s early relationship days. We basically went from the painful initial meeting directly to the first kiss, without ever seeing the fairly important steps between. While I’m sure Vaughan has a clear timeline for when he wants us to see those scenes, it can be a little annoying to experience them out of order like that.
Or it could very well be that we’ll never see those scenes at all. Piecemeal these flashbacks have been coming to us, but always moving forward—never back. Here we skip way ahead to Hazel’s conception (most likely). It’s a graphic scene, short of being pornographic, on both a visual and conversational (“I came like a dump truck, Marko.”) level, but not without purpose. Alana frets that a pregnancy at this stage would be untimely (“A child isn’t a symbol, it’s a child! It needs applesauce and, and, and playpens and an ass-load of other things we can’t provide while we’re on the goddamn lam!”), while Marko seems oblivious or purposely ignorant of such concerns, displaying the core differences and opposing attraction between the couple.
It’s an effective scene, but it doesn’t quite fit into the larger narrative of the issue at hand (much like the island flashbacks on Arrow, I dare to say). Hazel’s narration doesn’t quite manage to link the two periods together, but you get pretty caught up in the present action once it starts, anyway. Action on this series is always brief, but intense for as long as it lasts,* like Will’s space-jump to rescue Lying Cat, and the escape from the Time-Suck. For Vaughan, action is something that gets him to a story development, not a destination in itself.
In this case, the action gets us to seeing the noblest sides of Marko’s parents. We’ve seen his mom (whose name remains unrevealed—I think) act like the overbearing matriarch since she appeared, but her act of pure selflessness here redeems that quite a bit. Not entirely, though; notice that she begs him to save himself and his daughter, without a mention of what will happen to his wife.
But it’s Barr who really takes center focus in this issue. Vaughan has made it very easy to like Marko’s easygoing old man, especially in comparison to Barr’s domineering wife. That makes his—spoiler alert—subsequent death after keeping the rocketship tree intact for their escape that much stronger, but I seriously question whether Vaughan made the right choice of timing here. Technically, Marko’s parents only just arrived a few hours earlier, and Barr revealed his secret illness to Alana in even less time than that. As touching as Barr’s death is, as well as Marko’s reaction afterward, it kind of renders the importance of his secret a little pointless. Besides, Hazel had mentioned in #6 that her “grandparents” had come to “live” with them. Talk about false advertising.
If any artist can draw a bald-faced sex scene in a comic and still give it dignity and a measure of class, Staples is one of them. But I don’t want to fixate on the graphic portions of the issue. Staples delivers the most visually stunning work on the scene where Barr uses his stitching magic to hold their ship together. It’s breathtaking, and with the warm, honey colors Staples puts into it, the scene looks like the climax of a Studio Ghibli film.
Conclusion: A few questionable storytelling choices, but they are just that—questionable, neither damaging nor unreasonable.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Not unlike a certain couple’s orgasm on the opening page of the issue. I’m sorry; it just had to be said.
– What do you think of Barr’s last words? “But then…the clouds…race the…” Dying gibberish or reference to something more significant?