The role of mentor is one of the most appealing in all manners of fiction. You can think of any genre and you can easily come up with a few outstanding ones: the Obi-Wans, the Gandalfs, and so forth. In a way, these characters are a key component in the psychological and performative make of another character. Growth, nurturing and education make the character feel organic, because it’s kind of what happens in real life also.
Of course, Saga doesn’t really build whole issues around one single theme. But in this case, the introduction of a mentor figure bears greater relevance for one reason. Hazel, the girl around whom the galaxy seems to turn, is undergoing her formative years. Amidst the chaos of her life so far, one voice of sober reason can make a major difference. Will it be the case here?
“I’m not in trouble, am I?”
Hazel’s narration tends to afford readers a deeper understanding of events than what is already apparent through images. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes a dragon fellating himself is just a dragon fellating himself. But sometimes, grooming oneself in front of the mirror is not necessarily that. To kick off this issue, Hazel reflects on the accustomed negative connotations to the word ‘alien’. It’s not a concept built upon outlining what something is, but rather what something is not.
Though several characters fit this description, almost nobody else does as poignantly as the most recent addition to the cast, Petrichor. On a meta-level, where tolerance and faithful representation have become paramount, the looks she gets from fellow inmates are a sour reminder of the prevalence of prejudice, both within and without the narrative.
In an ironic, but not unexpected, twist, Petrichor—an intersexual woman perceived as alien—befriends Saga‘s protagonist, Hazel, a little girl also perceived as alien. The seed of friendship is sown as Petrichor walks in on Hazel on the immediate aftermath of Issue #31, after revealing herself as the product of two species to her teacher Noreen. Fainting, a nasty knock on the head and a great deal of concern followed. Much to Hazel’s relief, Petrichor confirms Noreen is alive, and even offers to ‘finish the job’ in order to protect Hazel’s identity. Of course, lil’ Hazel won’t have that, opting to trust Noreen and Petrichor’s better intentions. As a side note, Petrichor is rather quick to think Hazel is the product of rape. Unpleasant, but mutually exclusive dichotomy between races (species, in this case) always stems such assumptions.
Meanwhile, Alana and Marko are walking along a shore, looking for the dickhead formerly known as Prince Robot IV. The circumstances surrounding their last encounter and Friendo’s latest poop confirm they’re on the right track. Immediately after, they meet up with Ghüs, Friendo, Sir Robot, and his Squire. Amusingly, Alana and Marko couldn’t give less of a shit about Sir Robot’s bow-and-arrow threats.
By now, he’s that ferociously competent frenemy you ironically can’t take seriously. Alana, Marko and Ghüs try to reason with Sir Robot to lend his aid in Hazel’s rescue. First, they try appealing to his newfound sense of chivalry, including reassurance that his son can safely stay with Ghüs. That doesn’t work, so they blackmail him by threatening to inform his dad of his whereabouts. This works like a charm.
Later that day, Hazel pays a her teacher a visit at the infirmary with Izabel’s aid in masquerading as a guard. Miss Noreen is understandably shaken by what she has seen, and asks Hazel to tell her of her origins. Hazel tells it plain and simple. Her parents loved each other and got together, resulting in her birth. It certainly makes the bullshit that has divided the galaxy look petty and childish in comparison.
The followup question is just as important: what will happen now that Hazel has told her teacher? Miss Noreen won’t tell a soul, but there’s another problem. Although this facility is intended as a reeducation centre for tolerance for war prisoners to Landfall, Noreen admits that’s only the extent of the description. It’s really just a warehouse for people to trade in return for captured soldiers. Therefore, Hazel is a few steps inside the purpose Quain had intended for her a few issues back. Ominous uncertainty abounds; this place now feels considerably less safe than before.
As a present and apology for the accident, Hazel gives Miss Noreen a copy of her parents and granny’s favourite book. That’s right, D. Oswald Heist’s “A Night Time Smoke” has accrued a very particular readership of people in the know of Hazel and what she represents. Hazel remarks that her parents and grandmother think Heist is the best writer in the world. Miss Noreen appreciates both the book and the sentiment. But in response to her family’s taste, she respectfully relays a little wisdom to Hazel. QUOTABLE MOMENT ALARM, ACTIVATE: “Anyone who thinks one book has all the answers hasn’t read enough books.” Judging by Hazel’s expression, this will stick with her for life. It’s one thing I strongly doubt anyone could ever disprove.
In the meantime, we return to Upsher, Doff and The Will on that faraway snowy planet. The Will leads the journos to his ship at spear point. As they walk, we discover the voice he hears is none other than The Stalk, or rather his ongoing hallucination of her. Even now, she is still the ruthlessly pragmatic counterpoint to The Will’s slightly more mellow view. The more immediate guess behind these ‘conversations’ is insanity. However, Doff works out that The Will is continuosly high from a drug called Heroine, which the (possibly former) Freelancer consumes recreationally. If this situation wasn’t mental enough, The Will is ambushed by a sea monster lurking beneath the ice. Sweet Boy is temporarily incapacitated and the journos are unlikely to aid their captor.
So, it’s all a duel between man (and a hallucination mocking/encouraging him) and beast. The Will emerges victorious, much to Upsher and Doff’s displeasure. When told to resume the journey, however, Upsher draws the line. He would rather die than continue under The Will’s thumb.
As usual, Doff speaks as the voice of reason, getting The Will’s attention with a possible lead to PRIV’s whereabouts. It’s the traidional hostage deal: the goods in exchange for their freedom. Succinct as it may be, when has simplicity been a warrant against danger or betrayal? Regardless, the Hebdomadal duo is secure for a while longer.
This issue comes to a close in prison. Klara and Lexis have founded something of a book club with the other inmates. A book club always spells good times, but Petrichor is not so enthusiastic. In fact, she dreads the possibility that Klara and Lexis may be attempting to unite the inmates against their Landfall wardens.
Literature as a means of resistance, how unheard of! Even if it’s shit literature, the notion is still pretty romantic… and plausible. Nonetheless, Noreen pays Hazel a surprise visit on the weekend. The good teacher has been thinking plenty since talking with Hazel. And now all of it has come to fruition. She has come to help Hazel escape.
Many a mentor can inspire you. But few will make an active effort to help you grow up. Bonus points for the peril such an effort can represent. We can only hope she will outlive the deed. Saga does tend to kill our darlings. And if Star Wars has taught us anything, even the death of a mentor can be part of the nurturing process. Few things can be as ruthless as a rite of passage.
Saga Issue #34 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples