By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art)

The Story: No better time for a literary discussion than during a hostage situation.

The Review: Ever since #12, when Vaughan revealed that Marko, Alana, and Co. had arrived at Heist’s lighthouse a week before Prince Robot, we’ve been eagerly waiting for the story to catch up to the highly tense confrontation between the soldier and the writer.  With nearly all of Saga’s forces converging on the same place at once, you know that no matter which way the encounter turns, everything will change when it’s over.

And so it goes. Spoiler alert—the death of Heist, all things considering, was probably to be expected.  Surprising as it is to see his romance with Klara nipped just before it had a chance to bloom, Heist was the only truly expendable character at the lighthouse.  Not that Vaughan is the type of writer who’d be squeamish about killing off a principal character relatively early on in the series (Barr did die within several issues of being introduced), but the time just isn’t right for anyone else to die yet—not until their story arc reaches some resolution, at least.

Although Heist’s demise removes a major source of wisdom from Saga, he completes his fictional purpose by passing on two of the series’ major themes.  Alana and Marko have already embraced the first: it’s the quiet mundaneness of life that makes it worth living.  Unbeknownst to them, they’ve also absorbed Heist’s second lesson, which Prince Robot articulates in this issue.  After Heist continues to deny that peace is the opposite of war, derisively calling it merely “a lull in the action,” Robot realizes war’s true opposite “…is fucking.”

Well!  Let’s discuss that one, shall we?  The humorous bluntness of the statement aside, its ideas aren’t exactly new.  Vaughan essentially bastardizes the familiar maxim of “Make love, not war,” a phrase that goes quite a few decades back.  This isn’t a revelatory piece of knowledge for us, but it is for Robot, and that is where Heist’s lesson takes on its importance.  We’ve seen signs of Robot’s disquiet over the war before, and here he all but confirms it.  In describing his near-death vision of sexual orgy, he muses, “For the first time in my life, everything was…as it should be.”  Of course, before he can act on this discovery, things get rather hectic, but the end of the issue leaves us on his “Restarting” face-screen, making you wonder how much of his memory (and what he’s recently learned) will be retained when he comes to.

So Heist has definitely left his mark before he goes.  Can we say the same of the Will, the other seemingly doomed figure in the issue?  If this is truly his end—and it does seem very, very bleak when we last see him—it’s rather unsatisfying, no?  Some last words to Sophie about tax conversions and bleeding out on the floor?  It’s not as if his presence will be unfelt if he does pass on; Sophie’s existence and Gwendolyn’s acquired skills and equipment remain as part of his legacy, if you can call it that.  But fictionally speaking, Will dying while his desires are still unmet makes the whole thing feel pretty anticlimactic.

Death may be the most emotionally potent of fictional devices, but it’s ultimately a limiting one.  Once a character dies, that pretty much ends their ability to contribute to a story’s health (unless a writer pulls out the dreaded “message from the beyond” trick).  It’s the act of living and adapting (or not adapting) to the forces of life that produces the most sustaining interest.  How much of their boldness and idealism will Alana and Marko have to curb “[b]ecause we have a family to think about now”?  How important is the truth to Upsher and Doff if their very lives are endangered by publishing it?  How will Klara’s fondness for Gwendolyn change after her would-be daughter-in-law kills her new flame?

There’s a good bit of action in this issue, but true to the confined setting, it’s brief and impulsive, its only elegance derived from Staples’ beautifully supple lines.  It’s really the expressions that make the issue, as it’s mostly a talky issue.  Marko and Alana discussing what will happen should they have to confront Robot has tension you can cut with a scissor blade, with Alana looking outright horrified for the first time and Marko vacillating between determination, denial, and despair.  And this only one two-page sequence.  Staples captures the emotional interior of every character in almost every panel with pitch-perfect precision, never going too big or small for the tone of the scene.

Conclusion: A momentous issue indeed, with almost every moment sold by Vaughan’s foresighted scripting and Staples’ visual dramatics.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Robot claims, “I share a deep bond with all my fellow troops, but my feelings were never romantic, certainly not for the males.”  Perhaps he’s a closeted man in denial, but this does seem to directly answer anyone speculating on his sexual preferences after the infamous screencaps in #12.