Friday, May 17, 2024

A mind is pried open in Saga

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Everybody loves a character-centred issue every now and then. Especially if you have a moderate, but colourful palette of characters, such as Saga. Their sheer design is already inviting, but once you scratch a little beyond the surface, you’re bound to discover a world of nuance underneath. And all of this is possible, arguably because of individuality and relatability. The former point is pretty self-evident, as even characters we see on only one occasion leave an impression. But when you make a character relatable, it’s often through intentions and flaws, which ultimately make that character ‘human’, even if they’re not actually human. Today, we’ll have a taste of that very humanity. Of Marko’s, to be precise.

Issue #27
“It was perfect.”

Trauma, perceived faults, and responsibilities can often shape our worldviews and decisions for years to come. For a while now, we have known Marko to be as much of a pacifist as a soldier can be. And it’s time we knew his reasons. When he was seven, he hurt a girl who was practicing fire spells on the family’s dog, as only the most twisted of peoples do. In response, Marko hurt her in an sudden burst of violence. The deed marked him thus, casting influence on most aspects of his life, including his peculiar awkwardness during rough sex with a pregnant Alana, which is where we get this reveal.

Saga is nothing if not subtle, eh? This intimate moment takes a turn for the oh-my-god-this-is-so-wrong when Alana starts morphing into the likeness of Hazel’s doll. ‘Grotesque’ is a mild way to put this sequence.

The scars of such a deed at the tender age of seven don’t fade away easily. Furthermore, a life as a soldier would inevitably face Marko with the notion of doing something he would avoid, whether for guilt, or fear and disgust of himself. This goes so far as to chastise himself for his outburst at his wife back in Issue #22. While a bag of groceries is miles away from a fist, in his mind, it’s all one and the same. And it’s indeed in his mind where this takes place. For this horrid moment is in fact a Fadeaway-induced nightmare. Marko’s subconscious lashes him raw on the circumstances that led to him losing his family while his body lay foaming at the mouth (literally) in the ship. Yuma too is going through a mental self-punishment as she frets over betraying her late husband, Oswald.

Bad batches are bad.

Prince Robot IV and Ghüs are understandably freaked out. Poison control line is engaged, no surprise there on this or any other galaxy, and they can’t call for support from the Robot Kingdom if they’re to stay on mission. Thus, PRIV’s solution is to just throw them out the hatch, cause he’s sensitive like that. However, Ghüs argues against this, as he’s a lovely creature with a good heart and cute everything. But truly, the reason he gives the Prince is mostly pragmatic. To take out Dengo and retrieve their families, they will need someone truly fearsome. Whereas the screen-headed prick doesn’t scare the walrus shepherd, Marko truly does. This assessment proves accurate as we see flashbacks of Marko’s life. There are coffins aplenty resting on his conscience. The overdose is taking a plunge for the disastrous.

Back in the physical, sober world, PRIV makes a call to the Surgeon General in the Robot Kingdom. In order to keep the mission going unperturbed, he makes the ultimate claim to the patient-practitioner confidentiality: do not tell dad. Amusingly, at hearing PRIV needs instructions on Fadeaway detoxing, the good doctor assumes the Prince is up to some nasty shit again. Regardless,the Prince is suitably vague on the identity of the ailing ones, simply referring to them as non-Robot acquaintances. The Surgeon suggests a purge via Robot blood, which is toxic to the digestive system of non-Robots. Therefore, it’s fortunate that Prince Robot IV happens to be a robot, and that Ghüs has such a nice, big ax.

Meanwhile, back inside Marko’s memories, we see the aftermath of the infamous episode. Violence is inexcusable, and there’s no “boys will be boys” mentality here. But the way Marko expressed his doing at the beginning of this issue, one may think he nearly murdered the girl, when in fact he gave her a bloody nose and a black eye. Again, inexcusable and deserving of a proportionate punishment. Thus, Barr gives seven year old Marko a lashing with his belt – a common, but controversial manner of punishment. Judging by both Barr and Klara’s demeanour here, it’s not something they do often, which means Marko’s rage was something new and fore seen. There’s no telling if this episode occurred before or after the flashback in Issue #7.

Nevertheless, violence, experienced or seen in his childhood reads (one of his flashbacks), or taught by the history of war in his homeworld has always been present in his life as a child.

The memory of that painful experiences then gives way to other three key moments in his life. His capture at the hands of the Landfall forces, meeting Alana, and having Hazel. These are arguably the moments that truly define his life and character, far beyond the trauma. And indeed, a better way to bring this tremulous voyage through memory lane to an end. Coming out of the trip, Marko repeatedly says dankon, which means ‘thank you’ in his native tongue. Ghüs and PRIV (with a bandaged hand and a grumpy mood) walk back to their quarters, leaving Yuma to apologise to Marko for such terrible first Fadeaway experience. But Marko actually feels grateful for it.

Although he will most definitely not try this substance again, he got what he wanted. Not only does he now understand his wife better and her reasons, but he finally understands himself again. Perhaps he even managed to forgive himself, and that is a virtually a mountain to conquer. Now, with reinvigorated purpose, he knows what he has to do. He is going to find the individual who took his family and he is going to, and I quote, “going to cut his fucking head off”. While well-meaning, his vow of pacifism may well be a crutch that has overstayed its use if he is to heal definitely. His purpose can’t be executed through half-tints. If his hands need be bloodied, then so be it.

Hopefully this reinvigorated purpose involves a dash of patience. For, as Hazel had said in last issue, it will be years til Marko gets to his family.

Saga Issue #27 Credits:

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

All images courtesy of Image Comics


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