Sunday, May 26, 2024

Dualities unveil in Saga

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So here we are, at the start of a new narrative. Though we can’t quite call it a fresh one; the experiences from past issues still remain as a coating on the memory, like dried blood. This issue, we’ll be starting on Hazel’s first formative years as she sees and understands the world around her. In Saga, this will always involve a great deal of uncomfortable truths about war and prejudice, as well as some daring steps out of a comfort zone that changes like the wind. As mum and dad are not around, the presence of responsible adults is key to help her as best they can. In this galaxy and ours, this often involves the presence of a loving, responsible teacher.

Issue #31
“Oh, fart”

War and childhood make a bitter mix. No matter how you look at it, the resulting picture is always some form of wound. And the constant re-opening of such a wound by the act of memory is what some call history, built, among other things, upon childhood trauma and loss. That is the topic for today’s show-and-tell in the classroom. Some students drew a deceased relative, a destroyed home, or a limb snatched away in the crossfire. The crayon drawings all surround the topic of things that make them sad. All but Hazel, who drew a picture of a farting foot, as you do. After the laughter dies down, Hazel claims she drew ‘Tooty Stinkfoot’ because nothing actually makes her sad.

We know she’s had no shortage of rough experiences, and Miss Noreen, her teacher, isn’t convinced by her constant humourous foil to the other children’s sadness either. Contrasting to the rest of her classmates, Hazel’s life hasn’t been quite so marred by death and destruction as it was constantly turned around by hope and distress like a disoriented compass. The cherry on top of the cake is, of course, being taken from her parents.

The teacher reassures Hazel she’ll be there for her if she wants to talk. These words are golden considering the fact that the school is under the eye of the Landfall Coalition forces, which sort of makes prisoners-of-war out of these kids. When Noreen gives Hazel a children’s book as a gift, Hazel breaks into tears – for the first time in several years, according to her own retrospective narration. This hints at her constant lewd, though joyous, humour actually being a repression of her trauma. Once more, I’m no psychologist but Saga nevertheless manages to get you thinking like one. Now that the mood is fitting to the overall circumstances, it’s time for a flashback. The moment after the Last Revolution’s craft took off, leading Hazel astray from her parents. The last moment she wept.

Chaos reigns aboard SS Assholes as Hazel sees the planet, with her parents in it, drawing further and further away. Being this far out of range from Alana’s translation jewel-apparatus sets a language barrier between Klara and non-Wreath parties. While this may hinder sensible communication, it’s really the least of their problems at the moment. The ship runs into the Robot Kingdom’s Royal Guard on their pursuit of the rogue Prince Robot IV. At being so vastly outgunned, Klara suggests surrendering, but Lexis knows the Robots don’t negotiate. Zizz’s idea is to just throw all the artillery they have is preemptively snuffed out by the Robots’ disabling beam. Boarding of the psycho-screen-heads is imminent. But Klara is free to exact some comeuppance before that happens.

Of all the Last Revolution’s goons, Lexis proved to be the least dick-ish. So it should come as less of a surprise that in time, Hazel would know her as “Auntie” Lexis. Nice foreshadowing of redemption there. Her attempt to protect Hazel from seeing the nasty inevitable is well-meant, but ultimately useless. Little Hazel saw it all. Her grandma, Klara, exacting righteous comeuppance upon Zizz, the more immediate menace to their well-being. This would make the first time Hazel would see the nastier side of death. It certainly won’t be the last, but I digress.

In face of the coming adversity, Hazel, Klara and Lexis don’t really paint a nice picture in general. It’s almost like the worst possible scenario come to fruition. ‘A rebel, a vet from the wrong army and an abomination in the eyes of two worlds walk into a bar…’ The punchline is probably ‘everybody dies forever and happiness is no more’. In order to avoid the variety of horrendous outcomes, Klara comes up with a plan: come up with a plausible alibi. In this instance, the fact that the Last Revolution’s ship is a discontinued model from Landfall helps matters some. From this point on, these three are officially civilians who had been forced into slavery. And the worst possible outcome to follow? Ending up in a detainee centre for enemy non-combatants. They have no freedom to speak of, but they live.

Still, this may not shield them from abuse at the hands of the Landfall Coalition forces, as we soon discover. Soldiers can be real pigs sometimes. However, a literal pig doctor is actually the first party to vouch for their rights. Oftentimes, the role of a physician is relatively neutral as they tend to swear greater allegiance to medicine. But there is more to Doctor Blaize than good instincts and a body rich in protein. After the asshole Landfall soldier leaves them with the doctor, he reveals to actually be a false image. Joy and relief galore, as everybody’s favourite ghost babysitter makes her return. Izabel is once more able to appear as they are no longer in a place where daytime lasts a lifetime. After Lexis’ initial spook, the new member to the party brings up an important issue.

The most important issue actually. What will they do about Hazel? It’s only a matter of time til the Landfall pricks realise she’s half wings, half horns. Safe to assume, they did come up with something. But even the best of disguises can crumble when you least expect it.

Fast forward to the current day. Noreen meets up with Hazel for a very special purpose, away from the rest of the kids (they call them Blossoms in this narrative, which is cute as fuck). It’s Hazel’s fourth birthday. The teacher gives Hazel a little cake and some good news. If she stays the summer, she will be welcome in her class again. Sticking with a dear teacher for more than one term is a beautiful thing and it’s worthy of celebration. Cue the final scene from Freedom Writers (MTV Movies’ only good movie, next to Orange County). Hazel goes looking for her grandma to tell her the good news.

On the way, she runs into a pack of intimidating-looking inmates (Blue is the New Black, or New Orange?). For the slightest moment, it seems like there’s reason to worry about the child’s safety. They don’t give Hazel any trouble though, instead just pointing her to the showers. This goes to show that nobody messes with kids, and probably that Klara has earned a lot of respect in this prison. Back on track, Hazel runs to the showers, but she doesn’t find her grandma – instead she meets a new acquaintance and friend. Petrichor is an outstanding warrior, but her career in the army came to an end for an unorthodox reason. She has an ‘outtie’, as Hazel innocently puts it. So we meet our first trans character in Saga, as Petrichor possesses both female breasts and a penis.

As one may expect, her physical features quickly become the main point of discussion for this character’s debut. From Hazel’s point of view, this duality is merely a curiosity. In fact, it’s similar to Hazel’s own dual origin as offspring of opposing species. But here is where ignorance and hatred rear their ugly heads back into the colourful picture of the Sagaverse. Petrichor, Hazel, the homosexual population in the shameful case of the planet Jetsam, all suffer prejudice and persecution from old paradigms. In Petrichor’s case, this goes as far as her fellow Wreath folk, who see her as a ‘freak of a man’, unfortunately including Klara (sporting new prison tattoos) who doesn’t seem to agree with Hazel meeting Petrichor. Klara is speaking her native tongue but her body language says enough on the matter.

Let’s not assume that aliens would be any more enlightened than us meat popsicles.

I can see some controversy on this character’s introduction as a means of representation, to be frank. Nonetheless, we’ll be seeing plenty of Petrichor on future issues. As another note on the character, she speaks with something of a ‘broken English’. This is a contrast to the way the other characters speak as they have received education on the ‘official language’ spoken by Landfall. Dominance sinks in with language. Petrichor doesn’t speak with such proficiency just yet, which highlights her status (and possibly that of others) as alien to Landfall’s hold.

As we reach the end of this issue, it seems like meeting Petrichor has encouraged Hazel to explore her own duality. So she reaches to the only other adult she can confide in: her dear teacher Noreen. First, she asks her what she thinks of the Landfallians, political enemies of the main population in this prison. Noreen is neutral here, she doesn’t seek to nurture any animosity towards the oppressor (in this instance). Hazel says she doesn’t remember much of her parents, except for little things here and there. But above all, she remembers her mother’s legacy, a set of black wings which she shows to her teacher. Although Noreen expressed willingness to hear Hazel, this proved too stark an impression, so much that she faints and hits her head on a table’s rim as she falls.

Please don’t die, Miss Noreen. Please don’t slip on that blood, Hazel.  And please learn to embrace and accept each other, inhabitants of this beautiful, bloody galaxy.

Saga Issue #31 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images courtesy of Image Comics

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