Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Saga: Ballad of the Loose Cannon

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Sometimes we get character-centered stories by the issue in Saga. The instance is rare, but understandable. Narrative here is a peculiar matter of alternating proportion between the struggles of the few and how they represent the life of the many. This is most true about Hazel and how her very existence has turned the galaxy on its head, figuratively speaking. On this occasion, however, the story mostly centers around Sir Robot, a character that has exhibited his ‘quirks’ early in the story. His existence is a volatile mixture of funsies and reckless dickishness. But behind such incendiary traits, there is a lot of pain throbbing like a vein about to burst.

He is one who’s been on both sides of the conflict, who has suffered and caused suffering aplenty. After all this time, the compound of Sir Robot’s inner contradictions begs the question: Does he have a conscience at all?

Issue #40
“No, how could you say I’m a good father?”

Bringing an answer to the question posed above, yes, Sir Robot does have a conscience. It begets harrowing nightmares surrounding the theme of guilt, which manifest on his screen-face. Hazel and Kurti draw entertainment from these horrendous dreams in no different a manner than sitting and watching television. (Talk about a rare example of schadenfrude on behalf of innocent parties). Besides the former Prince Robot IV’s tendency to be a dick, one of his character’s defining characteristics is the mental scarring from his life during wartime. The prospect of having sent Izabel to her demise and leaving his son behind (under capable care notwithstanding) would only add to this emotional burden. It’s serious stuff.

And it’s played for laughs, given the mischievously voyeuristic undertone to watching Sir Robot while he sleeps. The mood dissonance between Sir Robot yelling at the kids upon waking and the woe that follows plays to the duality at the core of this character. Tragedy and comedy, unbridled and so close to each other that they become almost one and the same; postmodernism at its robot-iest.

Speaking of blurring boundaries, however, the conversation between Hazel and Kurti highlights a similar dynamic about the former. Her life isn’t only a mixture of species but of both joy and adversity to the point of one existing within the other. Add the territorial concern about the baby sibling in mum’s tummy and this singular mix becomes more pungent.

So far, these are the domestic affairs. But as we know, life in Phang is on the verge of getting real hairy.

Outside, Marko and Jebahrah observe the battlefield from a distance. If conflict had a strange flavour in this particular world from the get go, the peculiar behaviour in the front lines just adds to it. Despite outnumbering the Landfallians, the Wreath front opts for a retreat. Marko is of a similar thought if the bloodshed were to spread near their settlement. Jebarah, on the other hand, is more than willing to defend her homeworld. Marko’s sudden lashing out reveals a little something about his past. Phang is the first battleground where he killed. The ease and competence behind his past actions frightens him, and the current circumstances may require a reprisal of that bloody past.

Interestingly, if Sir Robot’s nightmare is a hint, he also partook of the battle on Phang. Obviously, he’d have been on Landfall’s side via the Robot Kingdom’s allegiance. If that’s the case, then their return to Phang carries a sting of irony. They’re really not that different from each other. Two fathers, different in all ways but one: inner torment over the past. Their respective ways to cope also distinguish them from each other. And Marko’s certainly leaves him vulnerable, the worst possible state when a Freelancer like The March is watching from afar. The twofold killer is preparing to make his move.

Meanwhile. Gwendolyn has a meeting with someone we haven’t seen in a rather long while. This is an echo from a not-so-distant past, Special Agent Gale. He’s always been a shady asshole, and Lying Cat’s early calling-him-out-on-his-bullshit is a clear indication that he is still just that. But why would that be a surprise? As we know, there is a secretive development surrounding Phang; that’s a lot of mystique on its own without the spooks’ intervention. But the strange box, which rather looks like Hellraiser‘s Lemarchand’s box stacks the ominous even higher. Whatever this artifact does, Gwendolyn has given it to Gale. He means to use it to bring the war on Phang to an end. But what kind of end will this be?

Back on doomed Phang, Petrichor is on the unknowingly-hopeless search for Izabel. As she traverses a marshy town, she encounters an exemplar of the local vegetation. These bonkers exhibitions of flora and fauna are quite the underrated Saga feature, but I digress. The talking bluecap mushroom grows on places of conflict; they are sentient and live to tell the tale for future generations. This one in particular hasn’t seen a ghost floating about. All the people that used to live in this shitty little town have been evacuated. A foul omen, which is followed by a suitably ghastly sight. Phang, not a planet but a comet, is approaching the hideous cadaver of a Timestuck floating in space.

From one dead baby to an unborn one, we join Alana, who is starting to feel her child’s kicks. Not a nice feeling, I’d think, but I imagine it’s preferable to being approached by a lusty Sir Robot. As we may uncomfortably remember from last issue, Alana has been showing up in his sexual fantasies. Several shades of fucked up right there, and now he’s acting upon these urges under the influence of Yuma’s posthumous Fadeaway stash.

The creepy factor rises exponentially when lust and infatuation gives way to an apparent intent to turn Alana into his son’s mother. While this initially glows with objectifying vibes, Sir Robot finds a way to twist the discourse even further by pointing his arm cannon at Alana’s womb…

… only to then turn it on his own head, ready to blast himself dead. His possible final words are a wish for his son to be a better person than he ever was. Perhaps the ultimate pang of repentance from a guilt-plagued heart and mind. Whether we feel he’s come too late to the redemption queue or not, nobody can really claim this is an implausible decision. Pain, trauma and guilt go a long way. In a somewhat meta turn of events, we too have been observing the strange spectacle of his ordeals with as much voyeur as Hazel and Kurti. Something to consider for this and many similar cases.

Saga Issue #40 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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