Sunday, June 23, 2024

Saga Kills Darlings

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A character’s actions tend to speak for themselves. In the formal assessment of an individual, they’re sometimes the only clue we got when defining them. They who hunt are a hunter, they who cook are a cook, they who intentionally mislead talent for too lean a paycheck is a call-centre outsourcing company. Narrative, however, affords us the privilege of knowing backstory and motivations. Here is where we come upon the individuality of a character, a deeper level. In Freudian terms, it’s the Ego and Super-Ego at work; but what about the Id? How do you gauge and observe the instinctive drive? Saga went ahead to answer this question by giving us the Robot people. These folk have big, lovely, screen-shaped heads that display images on them. It’s very convenient.

In the case of one particular character, we get the Id displayed in full, crude glory. Prince Robot IV is a robot on a mission. His reasons are clear, and even easy to empathise with. But a traumatic war-ridden past was unleashed a paradoxical animal drive. Behind every conscious action, there is a tint of unbridled madness. There is a peculiar voyeuristic tone to his violence, and it’s easy to associate with those he pursues. This issue’s cover portrays that in no uncertain terms. The obvious sexually receptive perspective of the view is a pretty neat way to express the aggressiveness he conveys. Judging by last issue’s conclusion, our heroes may soon be fucked thusly by Prince Robot IV.

Issue #17
“Nice and filthy, eh?”

It’s appropriate and neat to throw in a few contrasts between presentation and narrative proper. So, what better fashion to wash away the cover’s flavour than with a lover’s embrace? We’ve seen Upsher and Doff work hard, through risk and annoyance to reach their goal. So, it only makes sense to see them now resting in bed for a while. But even then, their commitment deserves noting, as they continue to discuss their findings so far. I must say, this is a rather effective and subtle-ish way to make a recap of past events without looking outwardly exposition-y. Little do they know, one of these events is to catch up with them, intruding right in their intimate moment. This doesn’t happen through some vulgar intrusion, but through a dog that sneezes poisonous darts, as you do.

Therefore, we meet the Freelancer, which Agent Gale paid handsomely to silence the journos. The Brand, and her animal partner Sweet Boy. That’s right; this dog is not a ‘good boy’, he’s a sweet boy. Knowing the distinction could save your life; I’ll accept payments in cigarettes and cat food. The poison in this dart works in a peculiar way. The substance, Embargon, won’t kill them, so long as they never say a word about Alana and Marko. It turns out that this Freelancer is quite merciful, as she won’t outright kill them, in gratitude for their covering the strike of the Freelancers’ union. That’s some politics-flavoured slice of life for you, right there. Business done, the Brand leaves by tearing a hole in the fabric of reality with her dapper switchblade. This method reminds us of Klara and Barr’s weapons in previous issues.

And now, let’s drop by a place dripping with inevitability: the lighthouse. Alana, Marko, and Klara argue as hushed as possible about the course of action to take. Hazel’s safety is priority, but they cannot ignore the fact that PRIV has shot their host in the leg. The bloody tension downstairs between D. Oswald Heist and PRIV has not decreased one bit, as the latter threatens to go for the kill. As a preemptive taunt to the writer, the Prince mocks the title of one of his books, The Opposite of War. Still under the conviction of him preaching subversive pacifism through his literary works, PRIV questions if the opposite of war is peace. Since he’s a dick, he naturally mocks the very notion.

Outside, Gwendolyn and Lying Cat observe the scene as it unfolds. The Wreathborn woman concludes that a robot’s presence confirms Marko is in there. Lying Cat seems reluctant to storm the place proper, but she knows that something important is at stake. Just how long has The Will left to live before he bleeds out?

Here’s the cue to return to the green planet of wacky meat. The Will doesn’t look good, as you may imagine, with a wound in his neck and all. Fortunately, the effect of the wacky food was worn off for Sophie, and she is very apologetic. Still, it should strike as no surprise that the dying Freelancer holds no ill will against her. Lately, he has been exploring a kinder nature, and Sophie is a good reflection of that change. The little girl is quick to reassure him that things will be fine, that Gwendolyn will get help. On the other hand, the Will offers a different kind of reassurance, the advice of a dying man. Spreading your payments over two years may not have as much gravitas, but it’s still golden advice. Thus, he goes quiet.

We’re at Death’s door here. And we cannot really blame Sophie. On the Briony Tallis’ scale of kids-that-fuck-everything-up, she ranks pretty low. At this point, we may not see the Will’s full redemption, but we’re certainly calling Lying Cat what Sophie does. Honest Cat.

Back on Quietus, the tension rises in the hide out. Alana, Marko, and Klara have still to decide what to do, only to find that Marko’s mother has left the scene, with a clear and bloody purpose. Downstairs, Heist is wounded but hasn’t entirely lost handle on the situation. With the power of his silver tongue, he gets inside of PRIV’s head. The Writer takes the Prince’s near-death-experiences to deconstruct a cliché, as he asks the Prince what he saw on the brink of death. Rather than seeing his life flashing before his eyes, he sees a literal fuckfest involving his entire platoon. Heist knew this would be the case. Alas, this orgy is not an expression of sexual violence, or even romantic love-making. It’s a tao, rather – an impulse whose objective is its very process.

Thus, Prince Robot IV concludes that the actual opposite of war… is fucking. The enlightenment is cut short by Klara, who has come to Oswald’s aid. She gets shot by PRIV in the attempt, and as a consequence, Heist shoots him. And yet again, as a consequence, Gwendolyn and Honest Cat run towards the lighthouse. While the Prince is down, Heist heads over to Klara; her hip is broken, but she is otherwise safe. Things seem to go well, until Gwendolyn kicks the door open. Amidst the panic, Heist points the gun at her, and she in turn points the spear at him. And we ruefully remember that this is the Will’s spear – an extendable weapon. She skewers poor D.Oswald Heist through the eye, killing him. Klara attacks in heartbroken retaliation, but Honest Cat pounces in defence of the Will’s newest ally.

Gwendolyn can only stand bewildered among the madness while PRIV “restarts”. She evidently had no intent to kill the writer, and still ended up doing the deed that we’d have attributed to the Prince. It’s a disastrous irony that a character can die through an impulse unrelated to their narrative, when a much more plausible end was facing them. Some characters kill, thus they are killers; some characters write, thus they are writers. The story behind these career choices do matter and are hues in an endless palette of possibilities. But one skip of a heartbeat, and the Ego and Super Ego aren’t worth shit.

Saga Issue #17 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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