Monday, July 15, 2024

Saga Gives Us a Reality Check

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A reality check, what a notion, eh? We frequently use it in a very dream-crushy fashion. Whether it be an attitude too whimsical for one’s station or the high of success swelling our heads. Sometimes, it’s just a cruel gesture to dash hopes and dreams. And again, sometimes it’s just a fortuitous sum of circumstances unfolding without a purpose. Real life is not a story, yet we supply a purpose anyway: at times, we just need to remember the fundamentals.

The thrill of adventure and pursuit takes precedence in fantasy, but even these fictional universes are subject to laws we’re quite familiar with; namely mortality and chance. When talking about Saga, we also have to consider a social and political dimension shaping the narrative world. The veil of the fantasy genre can be so thin sometimes, and it only takes one event to remind us that even in fantasy, there is such a thing as the inevitable. Judging by the cover, it’s not too hard to imagine what will occur.

Issue #11
“That probably… counts for something… right?”

We know at this point that Vaughan and Staples have a tendency to start off an issue with a stark impression. No surprise there. Alana and Marko are having sex, and he finishes inside as per the frenzied words of the former. Hazel acknowledges, through her narration, that her parents did have a rather active sexual life. Considering the two-level narration of the comic and Hazel’s discourse on her early years, it becomes easy to establish a literary link. Much like an awkward passage (1.1) in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, she’s ‘present’ at the time of her making. This is suitably and delightfully uncomfortable, yet it also centres the story even tighter around the child. Each event, no matter how intimate or brusque lends to the importance of the character.

It’s not to exalt her status as a ‘main character’, but sometimes the galaxy does unfold around her. This is not gratuitous, but we’ll talk of that at the end of this recap.

Besides such mild Schadenfreude via awkwardness, we get some amusement in seeing pre-parenthood Marko and Alana. Sex and after-sex in comic books tends to be most eventful. Depending on the genre and style, there may be violence, inner monologue, banter, etc. If the style is overly subverse, it may even seek to portray the mundane. Of course, we get banter in this case about the chances that Alana may be pregnant. There’s something to notice here, though.

The high of recently-attained freedom and arousal appears to do something peculiar to their respective personalities. Prudent Marko appears carefree and daring at this time, while spunky Alana comes off as more aware of the looming perils they face as fugitives. Each has a different view of what a child between two species could imply. In the context of Saga, such a union and conception does beg the question. Is a child merely a child, or could they also be a symbol, a phantasm of peace between the two species? Under the light of a shooting star, the soon-to-be parents discuss what would they name the child. This poses one early answer to the question: it doesn’t really matter; the priority is for a child to grow beloved and healthy.

Thus ends the pre-Hazel flashback.

Picking up from last issue, the living Rocketship is still in close proximity to the Timestuck. Our heroes are trying to get away from it, but the ship keeps approaching the baby’s gaping maw. Marko takes the initiative to engineer some means to escape their predicament. All the while, Izabel looks out the window at the Freelancer’s torn ship, feeling pity at the grim prospect of death in outer space. She’s not wrong, as on the other side of the chase, Lying Cat drifts further away, doombound. However, while Gwendolyn holds Slave Girl close, The Will manages to save his kitty. Therefore, we can now breathe easy as she lives another day to call out on everybody’s bullshit. The Will and company retreat for the time being.

Meanwhile, in the engine room, Klara and her son are thinking up a way to fuel the ship’s thrusters. Unable to find anything to that end, Klara talks Marko into taking her teleporting gear and leaving Barr and her behind. It’s a most loving gesture and a valiant sacrifice. Marko accepts the gear, but not as his mother intended; rather he uses it to fuel the ship’s engine. The reinvigorated ship dashes away from the hideous space baby, but its physical integrity becomes compromised. On deck, Barr strains himself to keep the ship in one piece with his magical weaving skills. With the combined efforts of all, this wondrous family dodges death by baby. However, if Marko and Klara have been unaware of Barr’s condition, they’ll know it pretty soon. Hazel’s grandfather looks beyond exhausted.

Back aboard The Will’s ship, Gwendolyn seems to have patched the tear on the craft’s hull. Slave Girl is unconscious, Lying Cat is safe and sound, and the Freelancer is rather miffed. He was quite some reason to, since the Wreath woman was responsible for their near death. Plus, Slave Girl’s safety concerns him aplenty. In spite of all this, The Will concedes that they were on the right track. Even if his ship’s instruments were unable to pick up any signal, he saw the ship himself when rescuing his kitty-partner. They’ll need some more permanent repairs, but there is no way but forward now. The chase is still on.

There will be some respite for our heroes in relation to this one pursuing party. That’s nice, but it doesn’t mean things are going to be so sweet throughout. As Klara and Marko climb back up to deck, the son tells his mum that they’ll find a new home for her and his dad. He thinks it’s too dangerous for his parents to travel along, and he’s not wrong. But before his mother can show herself willing to share in on the crosshairs on their backs, they face a most terrible sight. Barr lay on the deck’s floor, while Alana attemps to resuscitate him, all in vain.

He is dead. Izabel shows sympathy, and the grief is all very real on Klara and Alana’s faces.

But for Marko, it’s a different story. He stands in the threshold with a blank expression, while the memories pour in through a flashback from his infancy. I call upon thee linguists of the universe to translate the tongue of the Wreath people. Although we don’t get the conversation between father and son in plain English, we don’t really need to. Strip away the horns, the language, the magic, and you still get something (I sincerely hope) relatable. Learning to ride a bike is nowhere as cool as learning to ride a grasshopper. But when a father teaches you, it becomes something special and immanent in a way. It’s a lesson that you never forget.

Safe to say, this might be somewhat of a tearjerker in the series. It was for me.

Alana offers comfort as her husband approaches. He discreetly declines it, as he has no eyes for anything other than his parents. If only for a moment, he figuratively returns to his native soil in hermetic and private mourning. Hazel narrates that her grandfather was cremated in the belly of the ship. She still keeps a scrap of a piece of clothing he made for her, which she uses as a bookmark. It is so that the ship flies on, safely away from danger, yet irremediably wounded, as the family has suffered its first loss.

The death of Barr, Marko’s gravitas in loss, the hurt that will cast a shadow; it’s all powerful. Yet, this is the reality check itself. It’s not only about death, but about the ideological adversity our heroes face. Those who aid them will be endangered, because the war context creates an ideological bulwark. It’s the same as in real-life; people die because of others’ prejudice and blindness. In this age of resistance and struggle for human rights, this reality strikes ever stronger. It’s a very real menace when the very notion of being is criminalised.

Let’s return to the questions posed above. The galaxy does unfold around Hazel because she is both a child and a symbol of peace, a living subversion of a paradigm. Barr, her grandfather, was quick to abandon this paradigm and accept her as what she is: a child. Acceptance from one individual is a small victory, but it’s meaningful. The loss of one ally may be considered small, but it’s just as relevant.

Saga Issue #11 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images courtesy of Image Comics

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