War is hell, there’s no arguing it. As a child, the world around me sold the idea that war, or by proxy, being a soldier, was the coolest thing ever. Whether by action figures, or epic poems narrating the warrior’s honours, the glamour fades eventually. That is, if you’re fortunate to afford looking at it from the outside. For all the romanticising of war one may draw with glee and even entertainment, reality paints a much different picture. For every fleeting fantasy about killing ‘bad guys from a bad country’, there is a rude awakening, often via Apocalypse Now.
War is also nowhere near as simple as good versus bad, or more realistically put, us versus them. Though Prince Robot IV has provided with amusement through his deeds and persona, there is much more to him. He is a war veteran, and those experiences seep into his deeds and judgments.
Issue #12 “Which way to the author?”
The art of flashback never grows old, except when it does, but we’re not there yet. In matter of few pages, we see in frightful detail the reason to the Prince’s initial reluctance to pursue the fugitives. Everybody bleeds at the impact of a bullet, no matter if they literally bleed blue. During an experience fighting alongside the Landfallian army, PRIV fell gravely wounded. A rodent-headed field medic is quick to treat him back on his feet. The conversation throughout alludes to the grand scheme of the war. All kinds of species and planets have become involved whether by sympathies or occupation, much to the Prince’s surprise.
Soon enough, a spell in gaseous form spreads on the battlefield: magical biological warfare. In gruesome fashion we get a taste of the by-proxy implications of the war. Aiding one side may give you the colours and appropriate uniform, but not necessarily the full gear. Having a different bodily constitution to the Landfallian forces, the medic didn’t receive a gas mask like the rest of the soldiers. She only gets to fear for a moment before blowing apart, showering the Prince with her blood. This flashback is only a dream in PRIV’s head, whose screen-face transparently reveals what goes on in his mind. It’s quite clear that he suffers from some manner of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and this is only one instant from the war.
He doesn’t get to dream or restlessly sleep further as he receives a transmission from Landfall Secret Intelligence. Agent Gale. a known asshole by the readership, gives him a proper chewing out on his modus operandi. He believes that the Prince’s hunch on the fugitives heading towards Quietus to be waste of time. The agent is quite in the shamelessly cozy position to do the chewing out as he’s attending a fancy political event at the Robot Kingdom. It turns out Landfall’s president is concerned about the war effort supplied by the Robot folk and the possible implications of the fugitives’ deed for the upcoming elections. The Agent lets out a subtle threat concerning the Prince’s wife (clearly pregnant) attending the event in order to give him a gentle push.
In thinly veiled terms, bureaucracy and war politics are a cruel, uncaring behemoth, callous devourer of the masses.
PRIV, probably incensed by Gale’s words, climbs out of the ship landed on a peaceful shore in Quietus. He encounters a seal-y guy leading his land-sea-lion mount and laconically asks for directions. The seal-y guy proves a bit of a lovable simpleton as he innocently reveals that the man the Prince is looking for enjoys lady folk and alcohol. The author of Alana’s favourite novel, D. Oswald Heist kind of lives the dream. He inhabits a cozy lighthouse by the misty shore, wasting away in front of his typewriter and drinking generous amounts of the Saga equivalent of whiskey. Of course, he has a big bushy beard, an old man jumper and a permanently bored look on his one eye. This is my favourite caricature of a novelist ever.
In very polite manner, the Prince asks the author if he’d received a visit from a Landfallian woman and a Wreathborn man. The question does appear to shake the author a bit. PRIV reasons that they’d come to visit him, inspired by his novel A Nighttime Smoke, which we’ve talked about on previous recaps. Amusingly, Heist is more interested (and offended) that PRIV had come because of that particular “piece of shit”. Clearly, he’s a novelist who’s had to write rubbish to gain a pay check, and I can sympathise. The Prince assumes this as false modesty to conceal a most subversive political message in his novel: radical pacifism. Nonetheless, Heist assures him it’s simply not the case. As a nod to the world of English majors, he acknowledges that interpretation is the finishing touch of literary creation.
I’m not saying it is a deliberate nod, or even slightly intended. Just saying, it’s kinda true. It’s basically the essence of what we do as readers. We complete the making of the book/painting/sculpture/film/etc by imprinting significance and signification through artistic appreciation. It is through such way that Prince Robot IV has come to this quiet lil’ planet. He inferred a meaning, same as Alana and Marko. Therefore, he’s completed Heist’s book beyond his role as writer. Now, as usual, I digress… but I shan’t apologise. Okay, back to the unfolding events.
In spite of dodging the Prince’s judgment on his intent, the author is still no stranger to the war. His son was part of the Coalition Forces for Landfall, as seen on a framed picture on a wall. Nonetheless, as the countless boys of the Somme, he too passed away. PRIV offers his sympathies, and parenthood becomes a point of affinity between both men as the Prince will become a father soon. Congratulations are in order, and all seems well until Heist tells the Prince his son had actually killed himself after the war. One of the unspoken laws of creative narrative is that if things are going too well, they shouldn’t for much longer. Let’s take the opening flashback into consideration, as well as the setting for The Stalk’s death at his hand. It can’t hurt to remember the images that pop on his screen either.
For every moment that he manages to keep his temper and arm-cannon in check, there must be a lapse of impulsiveness. It’s not just quite about mood swings, it’s about very real triggers. PRIV is nonetheless, a dick, so the result to this sum of circumstances won’t be pretty. He takes offence at Heist’s allusion to PTSD, and goes as far as insulting the man’s son. Quite clearly, this is no way to behave at your host’s place. Still, the Prince has all liberty to cause a ruckus, being royalty, military and all. Things escalate with snide remarks up until Heist pulls a gun on the Prince, as you do. In response, PRIV fires his arm cannon on the author’s kneecap, and all semblance of civility is gone. Yeah, things were going a tad too smooth.
Things take a turn for even worse as the Prince appears to contemplate killing the writer. It’s more than plausible given his character. However, at the end, the tension defuses with a calm decision to ‘lodge’ at Heist’s humble abode. It’s the most sensible way to go about his plan. PRIV is so convinced of the validity of his interpretation that he’s sure the fugitives will come by. He got the timing wrong though. They’d been staying there for a week already. He’s quite right about it, he just got the timing wrong. They’ve been staying there for a week, and now they know their safety is compromised.
At the end of this issue, I am left with one conclusion. The baddies tasked with hunting down Alana, Marko and Hazel are merely the very fingertips of the true antagonist: The war institution. The big shots call the… shots, and then after it’s all matter of whether you are the bullet or the target. Although both The Will and Prince Robot IV are tasked with a similar missions, they’re ultimately pressured into it by motives beyond their own. Although the former is still on the chase, he’s proven to be more than just his mission. Will it be likewise for Prince Robot IV?
Saga Issue #12 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
All images courtesy of Image Comics