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

The Story: It’s the typical Open Circuit story—sex, drugs, and money.

The Review: I’m sure I wasn’t the only one disheartened by last issue’s pronouncement that Alana and Marko are due to split up at some point—though #15 indicated they’ll still be involved in Hazel’s life together, no matter what—but what depressed me even further was the idea their parting would be due to something as cliché as work-family balance and a potential fling between Marko and a clearly flirty dance instructor he met in a park.

It’s possible, given Vaughan’s gift for the unexpected, that he could take this particular plotline in a different direction than you’re expecting, but I’m actually not holding out that much hope. The whole point of Saga is to maintain the normality of Alana and Marko’s relationship even against the backdrop of an intra-galactic war, and there is nothing more normal in a relationship than the imprudent affair that sends it astray. Hence Vaughan makes no effort to disguise the burgeoning chemistry between Marko and Ginny, as the dance teacher calls herself. She even goes so far as to mention, quite needlessly (but very purposefully, methinks), that her husband “is on the road most of the year.”

The situation is rather obvious, but there is something interesting in how Vaughan plays up the classic meet-cute tropes in the scene—Ginny laughingly persuading a reluctant Marko to dance with her, their bond over a shared bromide*–in sharp contrast to Marko and Alana’s unconventional romance. And it’d be just like the romantic, peace-loving, homemaking Marko to be drawn towards a truly conventional life, even if it’s only the illusion of one.

And Marko does have it rough, as all stay-at-home parents do. Once Izabel fades for the day, it’s up to him to deal with Hazel’s lively, screeching spirit, and given the family’s need to stay incognito, he doesn’t even get to enjoy civilian life much. Meanwhile, Alana’s working at her dream job, even if future Hazel tries to undermine it by remarking a “dream job is still a job.” This would be enough to drive a wedge between her and Marko without adding drugs to it.

But again, this just cycles back to another theme Vaughan’s hit on before in Saga, which is the power and effect of fiction. Yuma, unlike her ex-paramour Heist, doesn’t see the worlds-changing power of stories, but views them strictly as narcotic, at best a way to render people harmless by sheer stupor. Yet this whole thing started with a novel. So which is it? Were Marko and Alana truly changed by Heist’s writing, or did it merely jazz them up to take some wild and crazy risks, and is now losing its potency?

We get arguments for both sides from the respective arcs of Prince Robot and Dengo, a Robot janitor working in Princess Robot’s estate. Prince Robot is in a kind of “blissed out” state himself on Sextillion, running his tab dry on an endless sex parade, proving that if he remembers anything post-reboot, it’s Heist’s lesson, embodied in his novels, that the opposite of war “…is fucking.” But Dengo sees fiction as serving a far greater purpose. Even though he gains significant power by seizing Robot’s newborn son, Dengo can’t fully leverage that power for his own ends without something more: “…an audience.” And for that, he’ll need fiction. After all, more people tuned in to watch I Love Lucy than to see their president get inaugurated.

Staples isn’t a comical artist per se, but she is a master storyteller, which means the power of timing is second-nature to her and timing is at the heart of comedy. That, combined with the subtle, almost deadpan expressions of her characters creates some pretty hilarious moments in the issue, like Alana’s glazed face an instant after ingesting Fadeaway, only the changing backgrounds behind her indicating the high she’s experiencing until it all culminates in a splash page of her in a fetal position, biting her thumb, and spinning amidst the bubbling, balloonish phrase, “Fuck yes.” Gorgeous and hilarious—a winning combination.

Conclusion: Vaughan goes over some familiar material here, which is surprising for him, but he and Staples execute so well that you can almost overlook it.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Or maybe she’s an agent sent to track down Marko and Alana. Not much less predictable than the imprudent fling scenario, but more interesting, for sure.

– Dengo talks about his son drinking from a stream. But how do the Robots eat and drink, now that the brings it up?