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Saga Braves a Villian’s Scars

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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

 

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Saga: On the Nature of Tragedy

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This comic doesn’t run short of terrible moments, which occur ripe for our enjoyment. This alone plays into the theatrical character of tragedy. That is, narratives surrounding the fall of the mighty and the despair of the innocent. Curiously, this issue begins with Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat watching the news of Phang’s traversing the Timestuck, while knowing better on the true outcome to unfold. We’ve all watched news in a similar fashion, not necessarily knowing or suspecting a different dynamic at play. After all, real life also doesn’t run short of terrible moments, never to anybody’s enjoyment.

But what sets these characters apart is the fact they’ve had a hand in the writing of that narrative. One way or another, it’s a case of the author beholding their handiwork. Feeling horror at best, indifference at worst. This is how we’ll approach the climax to the darkest story arc in Saga so far. The Sophoclean dynamic is known to us already. Knowledge, however, doesn’t soften the impact, nor the horror.

Issue #42
“Of course hell is real.”

The Phang scheme has now been exposed as something of a manufactured catastrophe. A risky play in a game board where countless lives are at stake. Such is war. In spite of the religious zealotry, the introduction of Jebarah, Kurti, and their tribe has nuanced our impression of Phang. Suddenly, the comet is not just Sophie’s homeworld wherein she was sold to serve in Sextillion. It’s now a piece on the board, a pawn intended to serve the long game. But as Sophie is quick to observe as we open this issue, there is a great cost to pay in spite of the damage control via massive evacuations. Here she asks Gwen a more than pertinent question. At what point do the necessary casualties become too many to win a war?

Gwen, in her cool, analytical demeanour, can’t give an actual answer to that question. But no matter, the subject is put to rest for the night as Gwen’s wife, Velour, comes in…with cupcakes. Talk of cold pragmatism in war and cupcakes simply cannot co-exist under the same roof. Let nobody tell you otherwise.

Interestingly, we get a little of that Hazel-retrospective-narration during the transition from Wreath to Phang. She addresses the concept of evil as something arbitrary and depending on the perspective of the accuser. This may well be a caution against observing some questionable means as simple ‘evil’. Then again, mileage varies. A taboo coupling is nowhere in the vicinity of a potential genocide in the making.

Now, let’s hold on to that thought for a moment. Evil can also be construed as a misguided harmful action or intent against the innocent. Thus the definition of ‘evil’ may also apply to someone like Sir Robot, who had Alana and her baby at gunpoint last issue. Fadeaway influence and an ocean of guilt notwithstanding, such an action would put Sir Robot in a place beyond redemption. His intent no longer comes into consideration, because the character would have become a verb, encompassed only by his despicable deed. Marko is very aware of this, which is why he proceeds to execute Sir Robot. In turn, this would also affect Marko, if his apparent definite return to violence last issue is for real.

However, Petrichor interrupts him with a more important subject. She has found fuel in the The March’s ride, which should allow them to escape Phang before it hits the Timestuck. All of this is news to Sir Robot who asks why they haven’t left yet. The answer is no peaceful matter to Petrichor, as she tells them Alana has offered Jebarah and her tribe a ride. Petrichor addresses the potential smell problem of an overcrowded treehouse rocketship. But one has to take the tribe’s devotion for the Timestuck into consideration before giggling about the prospect. And indeed, Jebarah’s answer to Alana’s offer is just what we dread.

The matron only sought Alana at this moment to return Marko’s blade. As for her family, however, they have no intention of ever leaving this comet. Her kind of faith is one that blinds her to imminent destruction. Under the circumstances, it’s more than frustrating to hear Jebarah’s assurance that the Creator will see them through this catastrophe. Alana attempts to threaten Jebarah into coming along by pointing her rifle at her, but the latter pays no heed. Her parting words are a name suggestion for Alana’s baby. ‘Kurti’, which means ‘sunshine’ in their tongue. Should Alana indeed name her child that, Hazel’s brother would be a living eulogy to the friend she’s about to lose. And she doesn’t even get to say goodbye to him.

Quoting Hazel’s narration, this farewell is as sudden as it is baffling.

Elsewhere, someone else is trying to cope with a different farewell. The Will, or Billy if you would, seems to have relapsed into heroine after the second parting with Lying Cat, Gwen and Sophie. As we’d expect, this features The Stalk’s return as his mental projection of choice. Such is the form his wish fulfillment takes. The one that tells him to get back on Marko’s pursuit to win his companions back. The opposing drive, the one to move on, then appears, taking the form of his sister. Of course, this makes for a very ‘peculiar’ twist of the ages-old debacle between the Angel and Devil on each shoulder. All the while, Sweet Boy keeps vigilance while his Master masturbates.

The black humour in this setting takes a wrong turn as an unknown presence shoots Sweet Boy, killing him. (Insert a several weeks-long NO here, thank you very much.) The strange-looking killer shows up from the shadows, shooting The Will as well, but only to incapacitate him. They claim to be exacting revenge on the former Freelancer for killing someone they loved. Billy seems to have gone from being accessory in a vendetta to being the recipient of another. Something of a snack in the middle of the main course indeed. Nothing to sneeze at in regards to disturbing and heartwrenching, though.

Back to Phang’s orbit, where we learn the purpose of that cube thing Agent Gale obtained from Gwen last issue. After blasting a friendly Robot Kingdom craft intended to secure Phang’s safe passage through the Timestuck, two Landfallian dudebros use the cube Gale obtained from Gwen. Obviously, this is what those shady orders led to, and the source of Sophie’s inner conflict. The cube is a device to awaken the Timestuck, turning it into a living bomb. Instant apocalypse right there. And here is where it all gets really dark, really quick.

A lot of detail went into facial expressions. But the faithful capturing of emotions onto paper may do the reader’s heart a disservice. Hazel’s narration also adds a good deal of pain. In just two pages, Saga becomes truly merciless.

The Timestuck’s destruction occurs on the background while Jebarah rapturously speaks to her people. Fat load of good that will do. An explosion inside the giant baby’s body violently shakes the family’s rocketship just as they’re about to take off. Hazel’s family manages to escape in the nick of time, thanks to Petrichor’s quick fuel recovery.

However, although they get away safely, the impact has cost Alana her unborn child. Through alternating panels, we see Alana and Marko mourning their child, as well as the doom befalling Phang’s population, in frightful detail. The final actual image we get is Kurti falling under the black tides of Phang and the Timestuck’s entrails, desperately pleading for his life.

… and the rest is silence. 

Alana, Marko and Hazel have all left something of themselves behind in a world become synonymous with catastrophe. Innocence and hope lie both sunken in the Phang’s dark waters.

Alas, the story goes on. Stay tuned, my friends. The sunrise follows even after the longest, coldest of nights.


Saga Issue #42 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Air Capital Comic Con Sticks To Its Roots

Dan

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The comic convention used to be exactly what it sounds like: a way for the “Marvel Zombies”, “Batmaniacs”,  “Shellheads”, and “Wingnuts”  who braved the comics shops of the world for their monthly dose of multi-colored, multi-panel heroism; to get together with their own people. They traded old comics and new ones, wore homemade costumes, and argued over nonsense. The guests were artists and writers of the comics themselves, and the con was a chance for them to meet the people who loved their work.

But slowly but surely, the TV and movie conventions began to merge with the comic cons. With most of the con-goers belonging to multiple fandoms, for many, it was a no-brainer for them to consolidate. The nerds of the world rejoiced as they could at one stall meet the creator of Batman and in the next meet the Adam West who played him on TV. But, slowly but surely, the movie and film stars became the attractions at these cons. While no comic-con has truly shaken its comic book roots, it can be hard to find one today that still maintains that old school purism. But don’t fret true believers, there’s one in Wichita, and I attended it last weekend.

Air Capital Comic Con was co-founded in 2013 to help give the city of Wichita a yearly comic convention of its very own. Since then, it has only grown. The fans in Wichita that for years had to travel hours to Kansas City or Oklahoma City to scratch their nerd itch now only had to drive downtown. But Wichita is not a large city, and the convention itself reflects that.

Taking up a single exhibition hall iatWichita’s Convention Center, it’s easy to walk from one end of the con to the other. I felt strange walking by some of the same booths as I wandered around and took everything in. But size matters not, as they say, and the number of guests in attendance would no doubt be in line with a con twice the size of Air Capital.

The guest list, as I alluded to before, was almost entirely pulled from the halls of comics. Creators from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, Boom! and the indie scene made for a stacked roster for fans to mingle with. Big names included Greg Smallwood (Moon Knight, Dream Thief),  David Gallaher (High Moon, Box 13),  Steve Ellis (Skinwalker Studios), Alexis Zirrit (Space Riders) and Kevin Nowlan (Tomorrow Stories, Superman vs. Aliens). But it was not all old school, as the con also invited multiple high profile cosplayers as well, such as The Hive (Resident Evil Cosplay Collective), Children of Proteus (Aquatic Steampunks), Deadpool’s Chimichanga Shack., and the local chapter of the 501st Legion.

The vendors and artists in attendance ranged from toy shops and comic stores to cosplay gear and jewelry, to a “psychic cartoonist” named Lord Julius Pandhandle. The actually quite healthy Wichita writing scene (cough) was in attendance as well, with bestselling fantasy author Tamara Grantham, sci-fi scribe Tim Hunter, and master William Schlichter all meeting, greeting, and signing books alongside newer writers like AR Crebs and Dakota Caldwell (in character as his book’s main villain).

The attendance was a mix of the old, hardcore nerds who’d met Stan Lee when he wore gold medallions, parents bringing their kids for a day out in their best Spider-man costume, and teenagers dressed as anime characters hanging out with their people. And there was something for everyone. Local game shops and developers had a board gameplay area, and Wichita’s video game bar and e-sports org helper put together a huge array of consoles from the NES to the PS4 for people to play to their heart’s content. On the upper balcony, panels ran every few hours discussing things like villains and the comics industry. It even hosted a nerdy version of The Dating Game.

Overall, it really was a good con. I’m spoiled in that my home city of Indianapolis hosts multiple huge cons, including GenCon, every year.  And Air Capital isn’t near that big or exciting. That is no slight, however. I loved the heart that Air Capital Comic Con had, and the real sense that it was part of a thriving community. There was no flash or glitz, just passion, and good old-fashioned nerdiness. They know there is nowhere to go but up, and they maximize everything they can.  If you’re in the area next November or are wanting to add a stop for a promotional tour, you won’t find a better home than Air Capital Comic Con.


Images courtesy of Air Capital Comic Con

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A Bride’s Story is the Women’s Story You Were Waiting For

Annedey

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A Bride’s Story is a manga by Kaoru Mori (also responsible for Emma). Started in 2008, the series is still running and counts 9 volumes. It takes place in 19th century central Asia and follows several characters in their daily lives. The story is mainly focused on women of the region, but there is also the point of view Henry Smith, an English researcher. Anything else notable? Oh, I just remembered: it is really good.

Talking about a really good manga series could be enough on its own. But you know what’s even better? It is focused on women and their lives. Different women, with different lives, their work, their achievements, their pains. And it is written in a total love of all women. A good manga series, written by a woman about women? What else could we be asking for?

The Story of A Bride’s Story:

I am starting to not like this choice of title very much. But anyway, the manga opens on Amir and Karluk’s wedding. Amir is twenty whereas her husband is twelve (don’t worry there is no weird sexual content between the two). It is not the only thing that separates them. Karluk comes from a mainly sedentary village. Amir’s tribe still has a pretty nomadic way of life. Both spouses are pretty different so the first chapters of the manga follow their adaptation to each other (and to her in-laws in the case of Amir). The presence of Smith also allows the point of view of an outsider into the family.

The story then expands to other members of the family, friends, and neighbors, as well as people Smith will meet during his travels. Yet the story isn’t all over the place. We follow their lives and emotional development. And when Kaoru Mori focuses on one character she takes the time to tell their story. Even if she has to leave aside other characters for some time. But this is not a problem, as it is crystal clear she loves all her characters and will do them justice in time.

Good guy Kaoru Mori by herself.

A Bride’s Story is going to focus on every aspect of the characters’ lives. There is high drama(military attack of one family on another) but also daily life (learning how to sew, finding your vocation).

In short A Bride’s Story is a really good read. But it is not the only thing that draws you in the narrative.

Art so gorgeous it sucks you in the story:

Another strings to Kaoru Mori’s bow which help you being completely absorbed in her world is that…

…her art…

…is…

…gorgeous.

Which, considering the time we spend speaking about craftsmanship, is important. Having a visual representation worthy of the script is only doing it justice. If you don’t want to travel to central Asia to discover their handicraft after reading A Bride’s Story you are a liar, and that’s all there is to it. The characters and the details are insanely comprehensive. But we are also given amazing and dynamic action scenes.

This incredible art and interesting story combine to give us a narrative uplifting women at every turn.

An Hymn to women’s lives:

A Bride’s Story focuses, as its name clearly spells out, on brides. Sometimes young brides, sometimes bride-to-be, sometimes widows, but always women facing married life. And no it is not reductive. During the 19th century, marriage was (and still is in some cultures) one of the main events of a woman’s life. It was a literal change of family, of environment, and the real beginning of her adult life. So focusing around this event is not reductive. Quite the contrary. It reminds us that, as long as she is a good person, every woman’s life is worth telling.

Kaoru Mori spends a lot of time on women’s daily activity. Sewing of course (if the manga doesn’t give you a mighty need to start sewing you are a liar), but also cooking, taking care of the herd etc. Everything is worth the author’s attention, and ours. Do you know why? Because it is important work done with care. And this ask for our interest and respect.

Another thing which is incredibly well done in A Bride’s Story is the relationship between this women. They are supportive of each other. There is a mother-in-law ready to sacrifice herself to save her daughter-in-law. When Amir learns that she should go back to her family to marry another man because all the brides they have sent are dead (killed by their husband) she is not only crying because she is terrified. She is crying because she knew both of this girls and is devastated by their death. And the person reassuring her and saying that she is « not going anywhere » is her husband’s grandmother.

There are as many positive women relationship in there as there is stars in the sky. And not always just filial relationship. But also mentorship, friendship and emh…

I am sorry but there is no heterosexual explanation to this and yes Kaoru Mori acknowledges it in the author’s notes.

And the icing on the cake is that every single one of these women is different from the others.

No wrong way of being a woman:

Truly it is refreshing to read about women helping each other. It is even better when they are allowed to be different. Because let’s be real, often in fiction women are created to oppose each other. The “good” kind of woman opposing the “wrong” kind of women. Just look at The White Queen and The White Princess, in which motherhood is glorified and “good” women are rewarded with it whereas “bad” women, women having a “man’s” ambition, became sterile and loveless.

Well, in A Bride’s Story we have traditionally feminine women who are soft gentle and love sewing. We have unconventional women who like to hunt and ride but are still good at feminine tasks (but let’s be real Amir is an amazement in universe too) and others which are not. We also have what other media often depicts as “failing” women, but are just unsure of who they are.

Let’s be real we all want to be Amir but we are Pariya who, conveniently, wants to be Amir.

In short, Kaoru Mori is standing on her mountain screaming “They are all my daughters and I love them all!”. And trust me ,it feels good to be, as a reader, welcomed into this story.

Conclusion:

To the surprise of no one, I heartily recommend reading A Bride’s Story. As a first manga, if it is your first, it might be putting the bar a bit high for future dives into the medium. But there are worse problems to have. Just to add to all I’ve said above, we also have good and interesting siblings relationships (my passion), making this manga almost without fault. It is worth a try. It really is.


All images courtesy of Yen Press.

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