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Saga: A Bloodchilling Double Feature

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Hello there, dear readers. You may wonder why there hasn’t been a Saga review in a while. The reason is a turn of events I’ve been dreading for some time. This is not to say the comic’s quality has decreased in the slightest – I’m not sure that’s a thing that can happen. But Issue #53, while eventful, gives me little to flesh out in terms of analysis. Simply put, it does very little we haven’t seen before; in fact, it seems to me like it’s reprising its old dynamics to little effect. Whether that is telling of the course this comic is taking or my own limitations as a writer, that’s up for debate.

Regardless, I decided to make a double Saga feature for this occasion. Issues 53 and 54… IN ONE GO. Another reason I decided to do this is the particular tone of both issues, or rather, their narrative flow. You could think of them as one of those two-episode stories with a cliffhanger in the middle and a foreboding “to be continued…”. As previously stated, while these issues may start feeling somewhat formulaic, shit does get real.

Naturally, MASSIVE spoilers ahead.

Issues 53 and 54
“That is the hardest part of being alive.”

Long-ish story short: it’s one catastrophe after another, the first of which occurs in the shadows of corrupt practices. Asshole extraordinaire Special Agent Gale meets up with Hebdomadal’s editor-in-chief to talk about the story Upsher and Doff intend to expose regarding Landfall’s role in the destruction of Phang. To keep the matter under wraps, his first recourse is blackmail. When the threat of exposing Upsher and Doff’s relationship doesn’t work, Gale opts for a more definite measure by unveiling the assassination of Sir Robot’s source, then staged as a suicide.

Really, why pose the first threat when the second deal was already a go? Is this a writing oversight or a device to flaunt Gale’s asshole-ness? Whatever the case, the story is now buried – not that it would matter much considering the state of affairs for our heroes. Petrichor and Ghüs come upon Doff’s body. There is no death confirmation, but one man down is one man down, so this party sparks the mushroom flare, which Hazel and Upsher see from their camp. In an ironic twist for Hazel’s relief, Squire shows up right before their eyes, held at gunpoint by Ianthe, because of-course-she-fucking-would.

Now that Hazel is within her grasp, Ianthe means to escape the planet and come out the winner. But being who she is, she cannot help by making an evil tirade, gloating on having shot Doff, much to Upsher’s fright. Painful as this disclosure is, it buys enough time for mum to arrive and make the save. Unfortunately, Ianthe is a quicker shot and blasts Alana’s right wing apart. Then again, Upsher takes the opportunity to blast his mushroom flare directly at Ianthe’s mask, mangling her delightfully bad. The tabloid hero pounces at her, prying her gun away and killing her. On this side of the world, things came out for the better, though the wounds and the possible loss sting hard.

Now, when this arc started, it seemed like Ianthe would be the most daunting baddie so far. She certainly was the cruelest, but her downfall began as soon as she lost the slightest possession on the board. Now, as we go to the other end of the world, we see her purpose as a narrative device was truly to reinvigorate another menace whose edge had been dulled by loss and heartbreak. The Will has returned to his early designs: take Hazel and exact revenge on Sir Robot for the death of his lover.

Sir Robot, impaled and death-bound, attempts to make a bargain. It’s one bad thing after another with this guy. First, he accidentally shows The Will an episode of his childhood and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. Then, Marko walks in on the scene as soon as Robot offers to sell Hazel and her family out. Awkward. Fortunately for him, Marko doesn’t ever believe anything Sir Robot says. Magic goat dad probably thinks this is a gambit to save his own ass. As usual, Marko tries to go for a peaceful solution. He offers to surrender himself willingly to The Will (heh) as long as he lets Sir Robot go.

The Freelancer turns down the offer, tearing Sir Robot’s head off. This is a point of no return for several characters. Upsher has had to experience firsthand the violence he would only observe. Squire is now an orphan. And by the looks of it, The Will may be too far gone for even a Lying Cat return. Issue 54‘s cover maintains the tone with the design of a single black feather floating on a bloody pool, warning the reader for further horror.

Hazel’s retrospective narration makes a come back in the scene of the killing, shedding light on her father’s state of mind. Marko has witnessed something a few readers may have also thought impossible. Anyone can die in this comic, many have. But the demise of one like Sir Robot, amoral, ambivalent, hilarious at times and damaged to the core is not an easy pill to swallow. It’s certainly a lasting impression at least.

Things like a strict upbringing and a life as a soldier have likely done a number on Marko as a person. Alana and he agreed to never resort to even a spanking if Hazel misbehaved. If we believe Hazel, she turned out relatively alright. But we may not be able to say the same about her father. The Will’s spear malfunctions as he moves on to kill Marko. The latter takes advantage, lunging ahead. His expression as he tackles The Will off the cliff is nothing short of frightening. It’s bloodlust become an expression.

The two land in Ianthe’s ship below, right on Sweet Boy’s carpet of all things. The predator swaps places with the prey as Marko climbs on top of him, hands tight around his neck. Behind his bloodshot eyes, we see the triad of trauma unfolding in his brain. His father. The Stalk and Big Sophie. Gwen and Little Sophie. All taunting him to give in to death, one panel each. The fourth one, however, is awesome. Lying Cat slashing the illusion away with a doubtless, striking “LYING”. The Will fights back, reaching for a remote to launch the ship off from the water. In the ensuing chaos, The Will attempts to gain some ground, but Marko manages to utter a flaming spell to keep him at bay.

Back in the shore, everyone can see fighting in the distance, including Alana, who just knows her husband is in trouble. The conflict is too far from their reach to become involved. The ship elevates upwards past the planet’s atmosphere, well into orbit. The Will knows Marko is too weakened to blast him again, so the confrontation becomes a purely physical matter. Marko takes the first hit, but he’s not as spent as The Will believes. He uses one last burst of magic to meld The Will’s gauntlet with his own hand. Taking advantage of Will’s burning pain, he delivers the headbutt to end all headbutts – a goat headbutt.

Marko has taken a definite advantage over his adversary. He stands tall over The Will, shield in hand, ready to behead him… but he relents. A deadly mistake, one which The Will seizes, stabbing Marko in the back with his mangled hand-gauntlet amalgam. As readers, we may have expected something like this from him. It’s not the first time the inner conflict between pacifism and bloodshed has caused Marko trouble. We may berate him; we may facepalm. But above all, we must never forget that this comic features heaps of trauma that come to claim our heads.

Wouldn’t go as far as saying Saga takes a very active or nuanced approach to mental illness or emotional damage. That said, no character is really one dimensional, or untouched by these wounds… except for Special Agent Gale, fuck that guy. That said, it’s also not a superficial or simplistic approach. I’d even call it compassionate, for even the baddies have their burden to carry.

As Marko lay dying on the ship’s floor, he revives a moment he had with Hazel. While helping her build a moat for her sand castle, Marko has a chat with his daughter. As it often occurs in conversations with kids, their understanding of the world and their convictions can exhibit more maturity than we do in our adult experiences. And these can shine through even in the most carefree of times. Hazel asks her dad if he would be okay with her never having kids. Marko replies that he doesn’t care what she does, so long as she is kind to everyone she meets. For all the awful things he has experienced, the core motivation is to pass on something better to his daughter.

Sometimes that’s all we can do.

Usually, at the end of all Saga issues, we get rows of fanmail below the header reading “TO BE CONTINUED.” On this particular occasion, the editor was kind enough to leave a blank below the header for us to process what just happened. I believe, below the tears, the consensus will be to ask “Is Marko dead?” I’d rather not pose doubt to undermine such an emotional moment, especially since these two issues ran on just that, emotion heaped across over fifty issues. Never let anyone tell you it’s silly to become attached to fictional characters.

All in all, these two issues didn’t really do anything new – but they didn’t need to. The only downside I could see was that I’d be writing a shorter review that I’m accustomed to. There was a main ingredient here at work, and it was death, something media like Game of Thrones vulgarises when using it as a selling point rather than a narrative device. Saga didn’t need to do that because it respects its characters and it respects the attachment we as readers have developed towards them. We can trust Brian and Fiona to guide us lovingly throughout this loss, and forward towards the uncertain future.

Thanks for reading.

Saga Issues 53 and 54 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples


All images are courtesy of Image Comics

 

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Fireside Fandomentals Discusses Comicsgate

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The Wicked + The Divine: An Old Spanner in the Works

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As we run out of issues to review, the big picture in WicDiv starts becoming clearer. It usually works that way with stories that work on basis of enigma. This tends to be rather bittersweet, and that’s just when the writers do it competently. So far, addressing Kieron Gillen’s writing as merely ‘competent’ is an understatement that could earn you a slap and a curse on your family. (Yeah, I introduced my beloved, though slightly wacky ex, into WicDiv — with lovely results). The only thing that could ruin the flow would be an ass-pull.

Here’s hoping…

Anyway, this week we shall see the truth revealing a wee bit brighter to our enthralled, divinely besotted eyes. Will we see blood? Wil we see tears? Both, maybe? Spoilers ahead, loves.

Issue #38
“Of course they can’t resist it.”

We begin today with a little audience taking place in Devonshite, England in 1944, between poet Robert Graves and a lovely Miss Anna White – the same woman featured in this issue’s cover. Following a generous helping of whiskey, Anna White goes into detail about the Gods, especifically those famous foundational three, the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. The writing to her lines is quite peculiar. Her words to Mr. Graves are fairly clear and revealing, but to us knowledgeable readers, they’re rather ambiguous and even kind of misleading. She identifies herself as the giver of godhood and inspirer of iconography, but she vaguely distances herself from too direct a role by speaking of the three women as her Sister’s Gods.

By her admitted aversion to the dark and our experience, we know that Anna White is Ananke. (I mean, the name and facial structure are kind of a giveaway) Or rather, Minerva on her way to becoming Ananke. Regardless, who we see here is essentially our Ananke when younger. It’s sometimes difficult or even off-putting to see our loathed villains exhibit a lighter facet to their characters. But I do quite enjoy whiskey-drinking Ananke, and I’d like to see more of her, please.

Anyway, this is the ‘fateful’ night that would inspire Robert Graves’ essay The White Goddess, published four years later. The event was referenced in an early issue. Several years later, during a colloquium in 1957, Robert Graves speaks of The White Goddess, falsely attributing his ‘enlightenment’ to a spontaneous obsession while also downplaying Ananke’s role, landing her in a mere, ethereal role of muse. Naturally, Anna White, who attended the event is not pleased about his betrayal for the sake of academic cred. She may be the baddie here, but I sympathise. Forgot that.

Fast forward to 2013. A child appears amidst a field of flowers in England. She resembles the same child who ‘lived’ through ninety years of darkness after a botched ritual back in Egypt, as seen in the previous issue. This appears to be our Minerva, who is well in collusion with Ananke even before her flashy ‘ascension’, after which she was adopted by her parents, and we just about know the rest on that. We also get a look into some behind-the-scenes scheming to tie loose ends. Therefore, we could never trust Minerva, not even from the beginning. Minnie and Annie, they were pulling the strings all along the way.

Another fast forward to the present day, we get another unpleasant alliance between the other baddies to the story. Woden meets up with Cass’s old crew, a bunch of nobodies whose names I already forgot, who use the magic of editing to further discredit Urdr. That’s right, there was tampering to paint her Cassandran Truths. Woden, joined by Minerva, go have a chat with the imprisoned Norns. Minerva plays the scared bargaining chip role to encourage Urdr’s cooperation. Woden requires her to divine the location of the remaining Gods. Loud swearing ensues — isn’t Cass just the best?

A bit later, Woden and Minerva “find” the Heads. Luci, Inanna, and Tara, still alive, with carvings on their faces and sewn lips. There’s also Sakhmet’s dead head. Creepy shit, that is, but Minerva’s evil grin takes the prize on that scale. Her expression hints that she wants Woden to try and touch any of that “gunk stuff”. Doing so would probably help her agenda… but are we not curious to see what indeed would happen? And if we wanted a suitable guinea pig for it, who better than asshole spurious God Woden?

Down in Highbury and Islington, Baphomet — who now decides to go by his original name, Nergal — mourns over The Morrigan’s body. Persephone urges Nergal to carry her body along if he must; they have to get moving further into the Underground. Despite the bitter, abusive tone of their relationship, Nergal’s grief strikes true. Even his motions seem to run on pure automatic response, as noted by Persephone’s inner monologue. Eventually, they reach depths Persy has never seen before: the humble abode of Nergal and The Morrigan. Well, if an underground cathedral can be called ‘humble’.

To their surprise, Marian’s body starts levitating, Next to her, we see her personae of Babd and Gentle Annie. Something is about to occur, and Nergal advises Persephone to leave, for her own sake. Before she complies, though, she reveals to him that she’s pregnant. Nergal’s response is committing enough. Whether as friend or as other half to this circumstance, he will do all he can. But at this moment, his decision takes priority: he will finish this temple to his dead girlfriend…whatever that actually means. Laura’s inner monologue, and her emotional response by extension, is vague.

Later, Minerva visits Baal in the burned ruins of Valhalla. The latter summoned a load of rain to put out the fire. It’s a dreary scene, much like the overall landscape of events. Judging by their dialogue, Baal thinks Minerva is innocent. Well, he was away for plenty of the events to this arc. In this obliviousness, he confesses that he could not bring himself to kill Laura, and that she’s pregnant. Now, this second thing is absolute news to Minerva. And judging by her freaked out expression (priceless), this is a big NO NO.

Back in the Underground, Persephone has a lonesome moment of reflection. She thinks on the things that have happened, all originated from their foolish desire to become Gods, despite knowing they were doomed. It’s a painful reflection, tragic even, since they chose to hold on to this poisoned chalice. And her expressions throughout flawlessly reflect her heartache. Laura’s cellphone is done for, so she wanders around the dark, arriving at her and Sakhmet’s old abode, where she finds a still functioning phone.

She sends Cass a text. It’s a well-wishing as well as a warning about Baal and Woden, the latter of whom reads the text out loud to Cass, since she’s his prisoner. The sum of it all sounds like a farewell, really. Suddenly, an alarmed Minerva runs in, urging Urdr to divine where Persephone is. At first, Urdr refuses to help Woden find Persephone. She won’t do it, not even when Woden puts a gun to her head – turn the gun to the other Norns, though… and Cass complies. The three Norns work their magic to look for Persephone, but despite their efforts, all they see is Persephone gone.

It’s not that she’s in the Underground and reception is rubbish down there. No. Persephone does not exist.


The Wicked + The Divine Issue #38 Credits
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
Images courtesy of Image Comics

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Extermination Sets Up The Best Mutant Event In Recent Memory

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For over a year now the Mutant universe within Marvel has been going strong. It’s mostly separated from the going ons in the rest of the Marvel Universe, which, based on individual perspective, can be either a blessing or a hindrance. Either way, X fans have rejoiced in the multitude of titles out there catered to anything or anyone they’d want to read about. With over ten different series and mini series currently on shelves, there’s something for everyone…I feel like I’ve mentioned this somewhere before. Yet, all good things come to an end as we’re often told. In the next month, we will be seeing the end of the two series that launched this event: X-Men Blue and X-Men Gold.

However, their ends will not go quietly, as they are also released with a greatly hyped event: Extermination. Like many Mutant events, the stakes are always high and stories are also just as fantastic. With instant classics like House of M, Messiah Complex, Age of Apocalypse, and The Dark Phoenix, it’s only natural that we expect the best. Two issues in, Extermination certainly does not disappoint whatsoever. Beware, spoilers for Extermination #1 &#2 are ahead.

All Roads Lead to Extermination

Like the old Roman adage, the saying is true here. As with most of Marvel’s long standing series, the culmination of events leads up to something major. In this case, Blue and Gold have been hinting at this for quite sometime. The reemergence of Rachel Grey’s marks let us all know something was coming. Though I don’t read any of the side series, I’m sure all of them have at some point played a part in what’s to come with this mini series, especially considering everyone has come out for the party. In the second issue, we see a gathering of nearly everyone in the wake of Cable’s death: all of the main series colored teams, Domino, and the former X-Force.

Notably absent were all the villains who managed to get away time and time again in their respective main series. The young X-men have certainly not seen the last of Miss Sinister, Bastion, or their currently enraged mentor, Magneto. I digress, but if his current insanity makes it into this event I will literally explode from the fan service display…but back to the point. Neither have we seen an end to Cassandra Nova. What remains true is not all is what it seems in this comic, and I’m both excited and frightened to see what’s to come.

There’s Already a Body Count…

The first issue made an impression by hitting hard, and there’s no easy way to say it. Bloodstorm, a vampire version of Ororo Monroe, became a fan favorite when she was brought over from another Universe to join up with the young X-Men. While the early fight and severe heart rip revealed one of two major enemies in this event, we paid for it in tears. Not only had Scott told his feelings to Bloodstorm but he learned they were also requited. For me, this had two emotional impacts. For one, it showed that Scott was not going to allow himself to be a prisoner to fate. This was seen in their own series as well; the whole Scott and Jean romance was something of the past and showed that not only the characters, but also the writers were willing to usher in a new start. Even if it was at the cost of an amazing character.

The attack on Scott and Bloodstorm was orchestrated by Ahab from Rachel Grey’s time, and he was really only after Scott. Of course the implications here are clear, time travel is involved, which means there’s something in the future coming that the bad guys don’t like. Yet, it can’t really be all that simple can it? Ahab is shown to not be the only time traveling villain in this book, nor the only one after the Young X-Men.

The first issue begins with a cloaked figure in some distant future among rubble and dead X-Men. He mentions that an old bastard screwed it up. By the end of the first issue this mysterious cloaked figure actually manages to kill the almighty Cable and take the younger Bobby Drake, and is revealed to be a much younger Cable. Later in the second issue, he manages to strike again, this time incapacitating young Hank and disappearing away with Angel. His actions are clear but his motives are still quite unknown. He wants the young X-Men, but for what reason is still a mystery. In the final panels we see him with Bobby, Angel, and what looks like a bone saw, which can mean nothing good.

The rest of the mutants can’t catch a break either. After Angel is taken, the mansion is attacked not long after by Ahab and his hounds. The fight is action-packed but short and one sided as we almost see Rachel Grey herself fall. It is also revealed that Old Man Logan is a hound now? I didn’t really understand that part very well. Has Ahab found a way to brainwash people quickly? Has Logan been like this the whole time? I guess we’ll have to wait for issue three for that.

Extermination has not attempted to give us answers unless they’re the ones that are straight-forward, so essentially the who and and not the why. We all know that Ahab is bad news and the fact that he’s got Old Man Logan in his ranks now only increases his threat. But why now? Why appear in the midst of this chaos? It’s the same questions with young Cable. It’s obvious that older Cable screwed something up, but what was it? Why is he after the young X-Men? Is it because they’re not in their right time?

The questions are endless and I, for one, can’t wait to see them answered.


Images Courtesy of Marvel

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