Saturday, July 13, 2024

Saga and the Thin Divide Between Tenderness and Cruelty

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The ‘Phang arc’ may have been the bleakest one in Saga so far. God knows I couldn’t shut up about it. Although I still adamantly abide by the statement, I must acknowledge it wasn’t necessarily the most heart-wrenching. That dubious honor goes to our current series of events. One thing is to suffer a crippling loss, but another thing is to consider what it could have been otherwise. And then again, seeing that prospect materialize before your very eyes is leagues away. Painful, painful leagues. But that’s okay: some enjoyment can be drawn from moderate amounts of emotional masochism.

Issue #45
“No fair! I haven’t learned to fly yet!”

Acknowledging the apparition of Alana and Marko’s unborn, unliving child is a must. But first, let’s focus on the character gracing this issue’s cover. Petrichor has steadily become a potent darkhorse in the crew through a magical mixture of depth and competence. Having recently looked at the sexual dimension of her character (as we have for the rest of the non-minors), it should be no surprise that we find her snoozing after reading Petite Deaths II by D. Oswald Heist, as you do. Alas, the Pervious outlaws disrupt the ambience by calling her to come out with hands in the air. They have tracked their bounty by following Sir Robot’s fancy footprints to the vicinity of the family’s rocketship home.

Although outnumbered and outgunned, Petrichor is far from outsmarted. As we will see throughout the issue, Petrichor manages to turn the situation in her favor by playing the figure of a frail expectant mother, going back on her decision to get an abortion. A mild degree of legitimacy shines through by the manner in which she speaks of Sir Robot as the scoundrel responsible for her current situation. What makes the whole act believable is her alternating intervals of heartfelt (fake) candor and violent resistance. Naturally, the outlaws buy into it even when on the verge of hanging Petrichor.

Although these outlaws are really expendable mooks, they prove comparatively low on the Saga’s villainy scale. Nowhere near as ruthless as The Last Revolution, nor as dickish as Special Agent Gale, they even offer to spare Petrichor if she points in Sir Robot’s direction. But rather than taking the offer, Petri pretty much bites mama outlaw’s nose off, which is pretty gruesome and virtually an invitation to armed comeuppance. Sir Robot makes the save by interfering in her execution at the hands of papa outlaw and son outlaw. Keeping with the theme of “the opposite of war is fucking”, he brandishes Heist’s Petite Deaths III with his non-cannon hand.

Petrichor has proved too able to serve a mere damsel in distress, so the main takeaway here is a heroic feature on Sir Robot’s part. That’s concerning character development, anyway. However, on the plot department, a peculiar mention by the outlaws sheds disturbing light on another facet in the narrative. Those who inhabit the Badlands are a truly monstrous folk who do truly monstrous work. Certainly not the kind of people you’d want to handle an abortion. So, it’s pretty frightful a thought that our heroes are heading right for their direction. And this is our cue to observe the other half of this issue.

Let’s hop on the train ride towards the Badlands. Alana and Marko are understandably shocked about their son’s impossible apparition. Rather, shock is their common factor. But there is a flavor of dire concern on Marko’s part. He reveals that the boy, Kurti (named after Hazel’s deceased friend), is the product of a spell known as forecast. The Wreath Elders use this powerful projection spell to simulate likely situations in the future. But the boon comes at a price, as the spell affects the heart, posing a risk of cardiac arrest for the caster. This is the grownups’ take on the situation, but what about the kids?

Hazel and Kurti bond pretty quickly, just like, well… the siblings they could never have been. Shit, even writing this hurts. But whenever they’re not amusing themselves with farts, they’re hugging, which conjures the most bittersweet image I’ve seen in this comic, which you can see way below. When embracing, their shapes merge via the impossible contact between Hazel’s physical composition and Kurti’s ethereal form. In this perspective, their likenesses become nearly identical, which poses a rather hurtful thought. If things had gone slightly different during Alana’s pregnancy, Hazel would be the unborn one, and the story she incarnates would have never happened.

She would be the greatest story never told. For this occasion, I’ll take the liberty of linking “The Greatest Story Never Told” by Murray Gold from Doctor Who‘s Series 4 Soundtrack. It’s my favorite and I feel it fitting for the realization. Massive props to Brian and Fiona for linking artwork to such a heartbreaking no-win situation. For Alana’s sake, she should definitely break the spell… but how could she? Thus, Kurti accompanies them to the Badlands, essentially a boy ‘living’ on borrowed time. He’s aware of not being alive, but that doesn’t take the awful taste from knowing he still constitutes a loss waiting to occur all over again.

Alana collapses from cardiac arrest upon arrival. It seems like Marko’s dread turned out to be a Chekhov Gun here. But he can’t offer the solution since his powers are too strong to provide the adequate shock to kickstart Alana’s heart. Therefore, it falls to Hazel to use her powers as a defibrillator for mummy. This adversity proves not only a chance for Hazel to save her mother, but also to explore the functioning of magic in this universe. Magic is inextricably linked to emotion, which distances Wreath from Landfall even in regards to living ethos. Emotion and mysticism versus cold rationality and technocracy.

The dichotomy is an interesting consideration, but ultimately everything amounts to sheer act, as Hazel’s electricity spell is fueled by her doubt. All things considered, it’s a lot of doubt we’re talking about. Hazel succeeds in saving her mother, just in time for the Badlands’ dweller to greet them at their yard. This being inspires many things, none of which is confidence. Suddenly, the desperate means to ensure Alana’s well-being after losing her child look no better than the problem itself. Plus, this furry ‘cutwife’ looks nasty as hell on her own. And that’s terrible.

Stay tuned, friends. The pain fest is far from over. But since we’re masochists and mental about good stories and good delivery, we’ll tag along for the ride.

And speaking of rides, it has been quite an interesting one. I’m talking on the whole here, by the way. 2017 has been a mad year, full of awesome and horrible. I’m quite looking forward to the next one, which will probably be just as awesome and horrible. But so long as we get to read, view, play, and talk about great, hilarious, enraging, problematic, sexy stuff, we’ll be fine. Happy holidays to all, wherever you are.

Indulge responsibly. Stay hopeful. Be kind to customer service and waiters. And brace yourselves.

Saga Issue #55 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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