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Saga rediscovers the journey through fresh eyes

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Saga, as a whole, is about a journey. The mechanics of which shift between ‘away from’ and ‘on the pursuit of’, dictating the way in which we root for Alana, Marko, Hazel, and their extended family. But though they’re at the centre of this narrative, the agony of other characters still snatches our attention as they join the drama.

On this occasion, a character’s death has allowed for the return of two characters from the first arc. However, Upsher and Doff have missed aplenty since. If they’re to join the ride anew, they’re in for some catching up, which will prove no dull matter. This issue, we join the dynamic Hebdomadal duo on a journey of their own.

Issue #33
“It’s our job to go through the dirty sheets.”

What better way to reintroudce this pair into the narrative than by some great news? Well, the term ‘great’ is relative here. Upsher brings his partner the news of The Brand’s death by the latest headline on a newspaper called The Suns (which happens to be printed in Hebrew). Much like her brother, The Will, The Brand became a rather likable character once you got past the whole Freelancer gig.

But the loss that some would mourn, others will celebrate. That’s the wonderful realm of pragmatism and conflicts of interests for you. In this case, older Sophie’s death means the poison she used on the journos is no longer operating. This means they’re free to hop back on that scoop on Alana and Marko; well, Upsher seems to think so at least.

On the other hand, his partner Doff let go of the scoop long ago. He also doubts Upsher’s claim that the substance wore off with the Freelancer’s death. However, Upsher’s obsession with revealing the truth of what may not still be ‘the story of the millennium’ dies hard.

The only actual hurdle ahead is their editor, but he greenlights their investigation project, hinting there’s still some interest on the matter. Little do they know, things have changed significantly since the last time their trail was warm. Upsher’s starting lead is that one time when Zipless quoted a line from D. Oswald Heist’s novel in the Open Circuit. Not entirely solid, but as we know, he got it right—that was Alana. He then produces a picture of Ginny, as well as a classified ad directed to a warrior from Wreath—that’s Marko. By now, the links have become something of a chain. The most plausible destination to pick up the trail is a place called The Uncanny Valley, the place where the Open Circuit has been broadcasting.

At this point, Doff offers a counterpoint to his partner’s zeal via the first sensible question anyone has asked in this comic. Why not leave them alone? Indeed, why not? Well, the answer is obvious: we wouldn’t have a story to read; this logic is reprised in-universe by the craft of the journalist. And here we have a special contrast between Upsher and Doff. The latter would show some decency and even empathy, living in a planet full of prejudice. On the other hand, Upsher is quick to dismiss this. He is perfectly okay with potentially ruining Alana and Marko’s lives if it means reinvigorating his career. Thus, the duo begin their trek, unaware of the storm they’re sailing into.

First stop is Gardenia, the last place Alana, Marko, and Hazel lived as a nuclear family. Ginny is eager to ‘mistake’ the journos as handymen in order to keep the interview a secret to her husband. It’s kind of easy to misconstrue Marko and Ginny’s proximity as something other than friendship, after all.

Early on, she reveals several bits of information. One, the Wreath half of the scoop’s name is Marko. Two, the elopees’ daughter was kidnapped by the Robot Kingdom. Or so she believes, anyway. Although we know the responsible party was actually Dengo, they still get their next lead. A faraway planet called Outcome, the last stop before the Solar Graveyard. Sounds like a grim place for Marko’s last call over a year ago.

This destination proves something a problem, as they discuss later on that night, while making love at a motel. Talk about consummate professionals. The place is not ideal for a swift search, being a wasteland of stars and all. And their budgetary limitations don’t spell an easy task ahead. A relatable problem, that one.

Here’s when Doff raises the stakes by suggesting they tell their editor at the Hebdomadal the truth. The possible involvement of the Robot Kingdom looks too enticing to pass on. Upsher initially believes Doff has become enthusiastic about the story. That’s not quite the case, though. Doff is following his moral compass here: a child’s life is in danger. Although Upsher and Doff are the ultimate representation of that Paula Abdul song, their differences don’t make the slightest dent on their love.

This new and strong morale will definitely set their efforts on the right track. Little do they know, an unknown party appears to observe their progress unfold.

Later on, their diligence in Outcome strikes gold. They follow the signal on Doff’s way-cool-camera-thingie to a snowy planet, where they find the wreckage of a Dragon Skull. It’s PRIV’s ship, which previously belonged to The Stalk. This would seem a dead end, given the inhospitable surroundings. But Doff’s knowledge of botany yields a new clue. These flowers, called Violents, appear to grow in the trail of bloodshed, and they lead towards several sets of footprints. Doff is busy enough examining these traces, but Upsher becomes alarmed at an unwelcome presence. A considerably overweight The Will appears, with his deceased sister’s Sweet Boy at his side. As we know, life hasn’t been kind on him since last we saw him, so his intentions as of right now are uncertain.

His attack on the journos via spear and Sweet Boy immediately dispel all illusion of a peaceful encounter. He has come to this planet, tracking The Stalk’s ship using the dragon’s eardrum. The ultimate intention is finding Prince Robot IV, which suggests a quest for vengeance. However, an addled state of mind by apparently hearing voices adds a disturbing dimension to his task. He figuratively twists the knife in the wound by doing just that, except with his spear skewering Doff. This doesn’t kill the photographer, but does ensure their full cooperation for whatever he’s planning. And it probably won’t be pretty. Seeing him like this makes me wonder what happened to Gwen, Sophie, and Lying Cat.

Uncertainty at seeing a dreadful present can be a killer.


Saga Issue #33 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Saga: True Colours

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It’s a fine line that which divides nature and a zone of comfort; so fine it’s sometimes too easy to confuse one with the other, or think them to be interchangeable terms. But the differences are there, however subtle. For one, a zone of comfort is often a treacherous foe against personal growth. It may even render you numb before coming adversities and leave you unprepared to resist them. Am I being obnoxiously specific yet? Well I can take it up a notch. A zone of comfort can also blind you, delude you into mistaking someone’s nature. Make you see a foe as a friend when the tide is calm.

But when the tide grows restless, leaving that zone of comfort is quite the rude awakening. Hope you like those, lovelies.

Issue #52
“Not when we were so close…”

The “Jetsam Holiday” arc has been a lovely time so far, comparatively speaking. For every dark development unfolding within or without Hazel’s immediate (and extended) family, there has been lots of sunshine and fucking. And of course, there has been plenty of wholesome entertainment for the whole family to enjoy also. If the image of Hazel waging sea war against Petrichor and Ghüs while atop Sir Robot’s shoulders isn’t heartwarming, her wishing Sir Robot didn’t have to leave absolutely is. And furthermore, Sir Robot even reciprocates it.

Old foes may turn dear friends in time – just like my dad used to say… not really, but let’s pretend he did.

In the meantime, Marko and Upsher have a thoughtful conversation while frying fishies. Beyond the perennial dynamic of the journey, one of Saga‘s thematic signatures is the encounter between worldviews. Sometimes this occurs through future Hazel’s introspection, and sometimes through calm moments like this. By learning of how Upsher and Doff learned about the fugitives and their daughter, Marko finally realises something we’d long known by now. There is no action that goes without consequence in this galaxy. Whether it’s some nameless mook who becomes a villain’s motive for revenge, or a grunt left behind who’s see too much.

Their conversation migrates then to the topic of accountability when it comes to one of the most traditional roles in war: killing. Having been a soldier, Marko has obviously taken on a very active role. But Upsher isn’t entirely clean either, despite never taking a life himself. Being a journalist, his business is all about information, but its reception always risks a response, which sometimes involves violence. This is, Marko argues, the reason he will be sticking to writing fiction. Nevertheless, Upsher’s response is a banquet for thought, and I’ll quote:

“Putting new ideas into another person’s head is an agggressive act, and aggressive acts have consequences. Face it, you can be a writer or a pacifist, but you can’t be both.” The written word, to communicate or to inspire, is necessarily a political act. We’ll take this morsel with us home to mull it over, as something else comes up, demanding all heads and hands. Alana enters the scene with the news: Squire is missing. The young Robot has followed through with his plan to leave.

Cut to Ianthe, wandering the wilderness of Jetsam, and adding a touch of danger to Squire’s stunt. Her concern over The Will, now free, angry and deadly, reaches a high point upon seeing a note pinned against a tree with a knife. Menacing even when written in cursive. The note proper says they’re even; him having killed her fiancé, and she having skinned his dog. I’d hardly call it even myself – Ianthe is still in debt, but I digress. We’d be delusional to think this warning would dissuade Ianthe – too proud a villain to heed common sense.

Meanwhile, the grownups at the beach camp find Squire’s farewell note, charmingly written in crayon. His message and how he addresses himself as Princeling make his intentions clear. Sir Robot’s son intends to return to the Robot Kingdom; maybe his ways of chivalry had an unexpected, unintended side effect on the kid. Overtaken by shame, Sir Robot insists on handling this himself, then declaring this to be his fault. He then reveals the ugly incident of hurting Squire last issue, earning Alana’s anger and Hazel’s disbelief. Before Alana can unleash a (well-deserved) fist upon Sir Robot’s face, Marko walks in full-clad in armour, bearing… mushrooms.

Ah, but these mushrooms are special mushrooms. They don’t grace soups with supreme delight or allow you to summon Frank Zappa in Bloodborne (which I’ve been playing a lot of lately). These mushrooms function as flares bright enough to see in daylight or when penetrating deep in the forest. Hazel demands to come with, but her mum won’t allow it for good reason. Upsher offers to stay with Hazel, as he’s also confident his partner Doff has already found Squire.

If only he knew…

The pinky oath between Alana and Hazel marks the beginning of the search.

The scene then changes to Squire/Princeling’s point of view. He has definitely taken a shine to Hazel’s Ponk Konk, who now accompanies him as a friend to “talk with”. And it’s just as well: Squire is terrified. He roams what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, which is a creepy setting in any galaxy. According to a conversation he overheard between the grownups, the magical ingredients for the “body swap” are transported through pipes that run through these unsettling parts. Therefore, his course to take appears obvious, quite unlike the strange creatures following his movements, concealed in the overgrowth.

The worm-like creatures lunge forward, ensnaring Squire to be devoured by a nightmarish mouth spreading wide across the grass. Amidst the horror of the moment, he drops Ponk Konk, possibly into the maws of this hideous creature. Someone makes the save in the nick of time with a few well-aimed shots, however. Thankful, Squire hugs his unlikely saviour: Ianthe. Could it be he has managed to survive one beast only to end up in the maws of another?

Elsewhere, Sir Robot spots a strange jellyfish-like ship while searching for his son. The Will gets the drop on the former Prince, skewering his arm-cannon with his spear. Sir Robot doesn’t quite recognise his attacker, but The Will him well enough; not as the disgraced noble, but as the killer of his former love, Spider woman extraordinaire, The Stalk. A vengeful intent is clearly approaching. And though Sir Robot frets over being interrupted from his search and disarmed, he keeps his cool to talk with the reinstated Freelancer.

The Will is back on the job to catch the fugitives, but not before killing Sir Robot. Knowing that an ordinary, desperate plea won’t do the job, Sir Robot presents another possibility as a bargaining chip to secure his and his son’s safety: to surrender Hazel to The Will.

Seems old foes turn into friends dear when the tide is calm… otherwise, they’re only placated foes, only for so long. Treacherous asshole.

 

Saga Issue #52 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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Batgirl is Getting a New Direction And a New Look

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Can I say that I, for one, am glad that we’re finally getting a new author for Batgirl? Because I am. Now this is no disrespect to Hope Larson; she is a competent writer who has told some really good stories over the last two years, but for me she just wasn’t a good fit for one of my favorite DC superheroes. Now I’ll probably get backlash from the community of fans who like to criticize the whole DC darkness thing for this but you know what? Yes, it should be dark and gritty, that’s always been associated with the “bat” name. Should it try to be a little more light hearted? Sure, but it’s a balance. My issue with Hope Larson’s run was that it was way too “tweeny” considering the kind of comics we’ve seen in the past with Barbara, Cass, and Stephanie.

Now, I also get that heroes need to evolve in order to meet their targeted audience. Hope Larson in retrospect did something that I very much like. Like the political nature of Green Arrow, Hope managed to construct her stories centered around the criticisms of overuse of technology, freedom of the internet, and the use of personal data. These are topics that remains very relevant this year and will be for some time to come. The fact that she was able to use this to tell stories that no matter what I say, were still entertaining, is a testament to the fact that she was a very good writer.

However, it is still time for a change. Despite the great motivations behind her stories, they were still cringe-y sometimes. Seeing Barbara juggle her nightlife with her student life is a common theme among younger heroes, and her friends in the LGBTQ community offered real understanding for audiences, but it still felt like a teen drama.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love her supporting cast, especially Alyssa who was created by Gail Simone in her well loved Batgirl New 52 run. The author was very outspoken for gender identity and the over sexualization of females in comic books. To see Hope Larson treat characters created by Simone with love and care was really something. By now I probably sound like I loved Hope’s run on Batgirl. As I said before, it wasn’t a bad run and I enjoyed reading it for the most part but I need something a bit more than that.

Starting with issue 24, we’ll be getting a plethora of new authors for the next few issues. Like with Green Arrow, finding a new permanent author takes time but with the Benson sisters spearheading that comic, Mairghread Scott will be taking over exclusively come August and issue 26. Now, I haven’t read anything by her save the most recent Green Arrow title, which I liked hell of a lot more than the previous two. So, I’ll be seeing her writing without bias and without former convictions. I’m really excited to see where she leads Barbara in her new adventures, but hopefully she focuses more on Batgirl and Barbara rather than love interests and overly cringe worthy situations. I get Barbara is awkward but that was just painful.

According to previews, we will see the return of Barbara to Gotham and of another character, or rather villain, created by Gail Simone called Grotesque. In this version, he plays a murderous art thief who moves to create his own vile art gallery with the pieces of his victims. He ends up getting the jump on Babs and setting the device in her spine off, effectively taking away her ability to walk again.

It looks like we’re going to be seeing a lot more continuity from the Gail Simone days and either the nostalgia will hit long time fans or Scott will be taking us in a whole new direction. So many questions, the main one being: could this be the end for Barbara as Batgirl? As much as I love Babs, I am part of the group who feels she needs to pass on the cowl to someone new. But that’s a topic for another day.

Speaking of getting a new author, we also have a revamp of Batgirl’s look, which is also a huge plus for me. If you’ve read Batman: White Knight you’ll no doubt recognize this costume from it. Sean Murphy, the genius behind that story, must have allowed the costume to be used as main canon. I’m happy for this because I really, really like the new look. I was never a huge fan of the purple zip up jacket-like outfit she was sporting in “Burnside,” but that just comes down to aesthetics.

The new look is sleek and more “batty” adding more to her own persona. Batgirl and Nightwing were among the first to leave Bruce behind and create their own identity and damn if this is not screaming that she’s the best “bat” out there.


All Images Courtesy of DC Comics

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DC Is Relaunching Vertigo, Doubling Down On Millennials

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It’s been 25 years since DC Comics launched perhaps the most successful imprint in comics history: Vertigo. Since its foundation in 1993, some of the biggest graphic novels ever have come out under the Big V. Its initial run of titles made a splash on the shelves of comic stores and would cement their authors as comics royalty: Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Brian K. Vaughn, Brian Azzarello. Old properties (The Sandman) and old legends (Alan Moore) found new life at Vertigo. These new comics were no longer the whiff! bam! pow! of the past, but they also largely avoided the hyper-violence and darkness of the 90s. They handled adult themes like alienation, religion, feminism, and, yes, violence. But they handled these themes with more nuance and variety than ever before.  For the first time in the medium’s history, comics were becoming literature.

But all of the original titles have ended, with Hellblazer being the last of the old guard, closing in 2013. After a few years on the down low, DC is planning a massive relaunch of the classic brand for a new generation.  With it comes a clear emphasis on the political power of comics. They aim not for the Gen-Xers who made Preacher, iZombie, and Fables bestsellers, but for millennials. Titles will deal with the topics its readers care about: immigration, white supremacy, sex work.

Just like in 1993, the creators taking part in the relaunch are a vibrant mix of rising stars and new faces in the comics world. Eric M. Esquivel (Roberto Roberto) will bring us a tale of demons run amok in a border town while Ben Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour) will spin a tale of brainwashed witches reclaiming their power. Bryan Hill (Postal, Batman) will put a biracial cop in harm’s way as he investigates a white supremacist group. Frequent Nine Inch Nails collaborator, Rob Sheridan, is sending a smuggler on an impossible quest, and Mark Russel (God Is Disappointed In You) pits Jesus against “Superman”.

The group of writers and artists are a nice mix of diverse voices, with two women serving as writers their own titles, both of which will no doubt invite controversy. The first, Goddess Mode, takes place in a cyberpunk VR hellscape where tech support involves a huge neon sword. Its author will be video game developer Zoe Quinn, perhaps most famous for being the internet’s biggest scapegoat and the original source of the “Gamergate” controversy. The second comic, Safe Sex, will be a dystopian book focusing on sex workers who dare to love in a world where all sex is under government control. Its author is sex-work advocate and LGBTQ+ journalist Tina Horn, who will no doubt bring an expert opinion to a topic that comics really, REALLY has never handled very well.

The new books start in September of this year, with Border Town,  and the rest will follow month by month right through into the new year. They will join the pre-existing raft of Vertigo titles, as well as Neil Gaiman’s brand new Sandman Universe line.


Image courtesy of DC Comics and Vertigo

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