Sunday, June 23, 2024

Saga: Anticipation and Dread

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Well, I gotta come clean here. It’s been a little more than a week since this issue’s been out. I’ll claim my little finger’s been broken and aching, but the truth is, I’ve been occupied exploring the marvelous world of poetry. As in, actually attempting to write it. Not an easy thing to seriously undertake. Safe to say, though, as with every seemingly unrelated thing I feature in these introductions, it is truly (somewhat) relevant. To sit down and write isn’t to wait for inspiration, but seeking the proper phrasing. Adding the poetry factor, it’s also seeking the proper form. All in all, it’s a more active process than apparent. It’s in fact the most possibly active thing you can do while your butt is on the seat.

This issue isn’t merely another pit stop for our heroes as they wait for the next progression of events. We’ve had a few of those so far already, and something always happens. Maybe misfortune or surprise is about to catch up, maybe some drama will brew within their numbers. Maybe it’s a bit of those, plus a little flirting with forms, tropes, imagery; all leading to a stage I’ve encountered often these days, to my wonder and frustration: the uncertainty of how a few lines will fit with the rest.

Will it make or break the poem?

Issue #51
“So bloody what?”

This issue starts with a sharp plunge into uncanny valley. Ever since a beloved ex convinced me to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, crayon pictures tend to creep a chill up my spine. The ability of innocence to crudely portray some hideous thing is some brutal honesty. Thus, Squire reprising The Will’s warning about his old man brings up an uncomfortable truth. Even though Sir Robot’s more or less a good guy now, signs of his old vicious self still peek out from the edges of his screen-face. We’ve seen all manner of horrible images come up on that screen, but none is quite as ominous as the stark full-red on Sir Robot when his son confronts him about having killed The Stalk.

Squire, by curiosity or an attempt to better understand his father, asks to see that moment. The response may well be one of the most disturbing moments in Saga, as Sir Robot briefly gives in to his ghosts and unwittingly begins to strangle his own son. He quickly realizes what he’s doing and immediately attempts to comfort Squire. This probably won’t do much to deter Squire’s secret plan to run away.

That’s been quite horrible, so let’s shift the mood by advancing into daytime. A brighter hour, and a brighter set of circumstances and setting. This is, Doff teaching Hazel how to swim while Ghüs sunbathes. Swell times all around, wholesome and pure. There is some celebration to be had, namely Hazel getting the hang of it. There’s also a little comedic content—namely Hazel being called out for having a potty mouth. Suddenly, a wild mustached king fish shows appears, a lovely, colourful, and very rarely seen, manta-ray-like creature. Doff, a passionate photographer has wanted to immortalize one of these in a picture since he was a child, so off he goes on a little adventure of his own.

I do love these moments when you get a little insight into the background of a character, especially when it comes to their personal fascinations. A character is essentially a narrative artifice, but these little jewels certainly make that wall a little more ethereal. In much the same vein, we know of Alana and Marko’s love of (a particular kind of) literature. So it shouldn’t be much of a shock to find that the latter has also had a few furtive dabblings in writing. Nonetheless, Alana still looks pleased when finding out her husband has been working on a secret novella, using a typewriter facilitated by their Hebdomadal buddies.

Overabundance of adverbs notwithstanding (heh), Alana finds herself drawn in. The plot is vaguely Orpheic: an artist kills herself to get into Hell in order to retrieve her stolen stencils. We’ll see if this becomes a bit more fleshed out as the issues pass by, but one thing is for sure: it resonates with Alana, perhaps a little too much, judging by the splash page here. Again, we’ll see where this takes us.

Elsewhere, two characters as different as alike have a little chat in the setting of waiting for an important phone call. Petri is not a trusting person, especially when it comes to journalism. Upsher, cynical as he sometimes may be, does believe in Hebdomadal’s integrity in spite of Jetsam’s (frank acknowledged) government being as corrupt as any other. Candour is a good facilitator for communication between differing worldviews, which succeeds in setting some common ground between the two. Suddenly, a wild telephone rings.

We’ve all been there. It’s one thing to await a phone call. It may be something of a restless experience. But it’s wholly different to be the one awaiting the call while not being the recipient, because your reception is subject to the one who takes the call, and in reading their reactions, you’ve no remedy but completing the rest of the conversation in your head. It is good news, is it bad news? Upsher can be a bit of dick at times, but he’s not cruel. The deal is on, the materials for Petri, Sir Robot and Squire’s transformation will be on their way.

Cue the relief that follows anticipation at its finest. However, one must note there is another facet to anticipation, a darker side which we know as dread: a mixture of uncertainty and expectations of the worst kind. This dread often kicks in with a visual cue, such as, for example, a character walking into some secluded place, unaware of outside forces aiming to cast the world into disarray. Not dread for the character, but for the reader. I have to praise the framework in this bit: we know she’s been closing in, and she’s gloated so much of her many wrongdoings that we know her discourse without needing any variation on her speech bubbles.

And even though she doesn’t show up in the same frame as when she speaks, we know Ianthe has finally caught up to our heroes.

Holding Doff at gunpoint, Ianthe threatens him into revealing Hazel’s whereabouts while acknowledging her full intents. She will take Hazel and use her as a diplomatic asset and kill everybody else. Doff feigns ignorance but Ianthe calls his bluff to the mocking tune of “Lying Woman!”, most likely an allusion to The Will’s former partner, Lying Cat. A sadist, this one is. However, her ‘minion’, the enslaved Will manages to buy a little time for Doff to attack Ianthe. It’s a bold, but foolish move, considering she’s armed. Doff has already had a brush with death, at the hands of The Will himself. But this time, it doesn’t look like he’ll come out alive.

Ianthe gets up, casting aside Doff’s body, which boasts a very nasty and deadly-looking wound. She starts barking out orders for her minion to follow, only to realize Doff’s true intentions. He didn’t mean to take her down; rather he was aiming to get a hold of Ianthe’s remote to unshackle William in order to make this former freelancer, well, free again. Doff, you beautiful sea man, why must you be a hero?

The sacrifice wasn’t in vain, it seems. It’s quite lovely when a villain lets out an acknowledgement of vulnerability. With The Will nowhere in sight, his shackles discarded, the words “oh no” sound just delightful right now.

Stay tuned for the next verse in this poem, one figure lighter than before, however. Not looking forward to Upsher’s reaction, to be honest.

Saga Issue #51 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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