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The Saga-scious duo shines bright in Saga

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Oh yes, that’s a pun alright. Fear not, it’s not even the best I can do (best meaning worse, of course). However, I can think of no better title to describe the events on this week’s issue. The narrative in Saga is usually distributed neatly amongst several characters in different settings and conflicts. That’s not the case this time. In a similar way as previous issue, the story is more focused on one place, one set of characters and one tone. While we had a thought-provoking journey of self-discovery and self-assertion through Hazel last time, this issue takes a different approach. It’s all action, from beginning to end, with a distinct and succinct blockbuster-ish flavour.

It’s a most fitting choice, considering the Alana and Marko’s agon: rescuing their daughter. Every action to this end must have had plenty of thought and planning beforehand. Thus, the time has come to simply act decisively. The mechanic is considerably simple for Saga, but not any less engaging for it.

Issue #31
“No, they’re fetishistic narcissists.”

Let’s start with a question. Has Saga ever let us down when it comes to opening splash pages to leave a lasting impression? This is rhetorical; the answer is no, it never has and it probably never will. This issue is no exception as Alana and Marko staging a robbery contains the proper amount of obscene language and the proper amount of bonkers teamwork. This roguish, guileful measure has one purpose: getting their ride back from the spaceship impound, which is probably every bit as annoying as it is in some funny little rock called Earth. And same as how it would fail on Earth, their little scheme fails to convince the guard by the fact accountants, like Alana pretends to be, never work late. The Devil’s in the details, isn’t it?

Nonetheless, Marko opts to knock the guard out with the last of his dad’s sleeping powder stuff. This is virtually a confirmation that he’s back on his usual pacifist approach. This may be for the best, seeing as how Alana and Marko are more effective and stable when working together. Hazel’s nigh-omniscient confirms the extent of their mutual purpose as she acknowledges that her parents had nothing in mind but retrieving their daughter since their reunion. Although they’re back together, they won’t indulge in anything until they had Hazel back. So now, more than ever, Alana and Marko are a force to be reckoned with. And it’s just as well, as they’re infiltrating Variegate—the financial hub to the Coalition’s prison system.

The most effective way to unearth a couple of names (Hazel and Klara) from the system is really just getting your hands dirty and take them yourself. This probably also applies in real life, but I’ll keep my furious views on bureaucracy to myself.

Things go amazingly until they come upon the second obstacle on their path, an unbreachable door. This halt in tempo yields some room for a little talk between the two of them. It’s apparent that Marko’s renewed approach derives from guilt at his role in their schism several issues ago. Of course, throwing a bag of groceries at your spouse in an outburst isn’t that great an offence. Though Alana sees this as what it was, Marko will go to every measure to ensure nothing of the sort happens again. While commendable, we’ll have to hope this won’t be hindering, or annoying. Marko turns his wife’s gun into a skeleton key and now they’re free to continue their talk on Hazel’s education while searching. That’s practical thinking right there.

Soon enough, Alana finds the desired information. Hazel, Klara and a third female (Lexis) were taken to a detainment centre… on Landfall. On its own, this spells trouble for Hazel’s parents, but they have a more immediate concern as their infiltration comes to a third obstacle. Flamingthrower constables—quite a neat design from Fiona Staples, as usual. An arrest for breaking and entering, and destruction of property (the constables’ doing) sounds like a long term hurdle, but Alana has a treacherous card up her sleeve. With her acting skills, their rocketship’s approach, and the constables’ dipshittery, she successfully manages to masquerade as a suicide bomber. So, away the three flaming stooges go.

However, she wasn’t lying when selling their rocketship as an inbound missile. Thus, their getaway is also something of an obstacle in itself. Risky move; they’ll have to actually intercept the vehicle as it passes the building. We’ve seen this countless times in blockbusters and there’s a reason it gets a rise out of the audience every time. It just doesn’t look possible. However, Alana’s look at her husband dispels all doubts on the matter. And here is yet again another reason why Fiona Staples is Fiona Staples. She absolutely nails expressions. She can do things with a dozen lines, Rob Liefeld cannot hope to do with a hundred. Alana’s face looks daring, loving, inviting and confident all at once. It’s the face you want to see when about to do the riskiest thing ever.

So, they made it. They’re safe and on their way to retrieve Hazel, Klara and Izabel. From the heat of the moment, they break their unspoken vow of no-intimacy as they kiss for the first time since reuniting. It’s cliché as hell, but it works.

After the logical followup to that kiss, Hazel narrates that her parents were secretly convinced their daughter was dead until they found the scroll saying otherwise. This, in turn, imbues their lovemaking with a tint of despair. This action-packed operation was actually their last resort to prove their fear false. Now, after their long due frothy reunion, it’s time to face another inconvenient truth. They won’t be able to successfully undertake this mission without help from a third party. Someone they’re reluctant to work with.

Prince Robot IV. Well, he doesn’t consider himself Prince anything more, rather something of a Knight Errant. Ghüs brings him the news of their approach. And he couldn’t have less enthusiasm about the fact. However, before he and his Squire son can put some distance between a second reluctant alliance and then, his son catches sight of a “shooting star” while hunting geese, as you do. It seems fate has caught up with the Knight Errant and his Squire lad before they could even try to run away. Just like a frisky cat biting his puss sibling’s nape (Pardon the vulgar analogy, but at the time of writing, my cats are being assholes to each other). However, among other things, Saga has taught us to be on our toes, constantly.

There is always the chance that a visitor may not be who we expect.


Saga Issue #31 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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Saga: On the Nature of Tragedy

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This comic doesn’t run short of terrible moments, which occur ripe for our enjoyment. This alone plays into the theatrical character of tragedy. That is, narratives surrounding the fall of the mighty and the despair of the innocent. Curiously, this issue begins with Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat watching the news of Phang’s traversing the Timestuck, while knowing better on the true outcome to unfold. We’ve all watched news in a similar fashion, not necessarily knowing or suspecting a different dynamic at play. After all, real life also doesn’t run short of terrible moments, never to anybody’s enjoyment.

But what sets these characters apart is the fact they’ve had a hand in the writing of that narrative. One way or another, it’s a case of the author beholding their handiwork. Feeling horror at best, indifference at worst. This is how we’ll approach the climax to the darkest story arc in Saga so far. The Sophoclean dynamic is known to us already. Knowledge, however, doesn’t soften the impact, nor the horror.

Issue #42
“Of course hell is real.”

The Phang scheme has now been exposed as something of a manufactured catastrophe. A risky play in a game board where countless lives are at stake. Such is war. In spite of the religious zealotry, the introduction of Jebarah, Kurti, and their tribe has nuanced our impression of Phang. Suddenly, the comet is not just Sophie’s homeworld wherein she was sold to serve in Sextillion. It’s now a piece on the board, a pawn intended to serve the long game. But as Sophie is quick to observe as we open this issue, there is a great cost to pay in spite of the damage control via massive evacuations. Here she asks Gwen a more than pertinent question. At what point do the necessary casualties become too many to win a war?

Gwen, in her cool, analytical demeanour, can’t give an actual answer to that question. But no matter, the subject is put to rest for the night as Gwen’s wife, Velour, comes in…with cupcakes. Talk of cold pragmatism in war and cupcakes simply cannot co-exist under the same roof. Let nobody tell you otherwise.

Interestingly, we get a little of that Hazel-retrospective-narration during the transition from Wreath to Phang. She addresses the concept of evil as something arbitrary and depending on the perspective of the accuser. This may well be a caution against observing some questionable means as simple ‘evil’. Then again, mileage varies. A taboo coupling is nowhere in the vicinity of a potential genocide in the making.

Now, let’s hold on to that thought for a moment. Evil can also be construed as a misguided harmful action or intent against the innocent. Thus the definition of ‘evil’ may also apply to someone like Sir Robot, who had Alana and her baby at gunpoint last issue. Fadeaway influence and an ocean of guilt notwithstanding, such an action would put Sir Robot in a place beyond redemption. His intent no longer comes into consideration, because the character would have become a verb, encompassed only by his despicable deed. Marko is very aware of this, which is why he proceeds to execute Sir Robot. In turn, this would also affect Marko, if his apparent definite return to violence last issue is for real.

However, Petrichor interrupts him with a more important subject. She has found fuel in the The March’s ride, which should allow them to escape Phang before it hits the Timestuck. All of this is news to Sir Robot who asks why they haven’t left yet. The answer is no peaceful matter to Petrichor, as she tells them Alana has offered Jebarah and her tribe a ride. Petrichor addresses the potential smell problem of an overcrowded treehouse rocketship. But one has to take the tribe’s devotion for the Timestuck into consideration before giggling about the prospect. And indeed, Jebarah’s answer to Alana’s offer is just what we dread.

The matron only sought Alana at this moment to return Marko’s blade. As for her family, however, they have no intention of ever leaving this comet. Her kind of faith is one that blinds her to imminent destruction. Under the circumstances, it’s more than frustrating to hear Jebarah’s assurance that the Creator will see them through this catastrophe. Alana attempts to threaten Jebarah into coming along by pointing her rifle at her, but the latter pays no heed. Her parting words are a name suggestion for Alana’s baby. ‘Kurti’, which means ‘sunshine’ in their tongue. Should Alana indeed name her child that, Hazel’s brother would be a living eulogy to the friend she’s about to lose. And she doesn’t even get to say goodbye to him.

Quoting Hazel’s narration, this farewell is as sudden as it is baffling.

Elsewhere, someone else is trying to cope with a different farewell. The Will, or Billy if you would, seems to have relapsed into heroine after the second parting with Lying Cat, Gwen and Sophie. As we’d expect, this features The Stalk’s return as his mental projection of choice. Such is the form his wish fulfillment takes. The one that tells him to get back on Marko’s pursuit to win his companions back. The opposing drive, the one to move on, then appears, taking the form of his sister. Of course, this makes for a very ‘peculiar’ twist of the ages-old debacle between the Angel and Devil on each shoulder. All the while, Sweet Boy keeps vigilance while his Master masturbates.

The black humour in this setting takes a wrong turn as an unknown presence shoots Sweet Boy, killing him. (Insert a several weeks-long NO here, thank you very much.) The strange-looking killer shows up from the shadows, shooting The Will as well, but only to incapacitate him. They claim to be exacting revenge on the former Freelancer for killing someone they loved. Billy seems to have gone from being accessory in a vendetta to being the recipient of another. Something of a snack in the middle of the main course indeed. Nothing to sneeze at in regards to disturbing and heartwrenching, though.

Back to Phang’s orbit, where we learn the purpose of that cube thing Agent Gale obtained from Gwen last issue. After blasting a friendly Robot Kingdom craft intended to secure Phang’s safe passage through the Timestuck, two Landfallian dudebros use the cube Gale obtained from Gwen. Obviously, this is what those shady orders led to, and the source of Sophie’s inner conflict. The cube is a device to awaken the Timestuck, turning it into a living bomb. Instant apocalypse right there. And here is where it all gets really dark, really quick.

A lot of detail went into facial expressions. But the faithful capturing of emotions onto paper may do the reader’s heart a disservice. Hazel’s narration also adds a good deal of pain. In just two pages, Saga becomes truly merciless.

The Timestuck’s destruction occurs on the background while Jebarah rapturously speaks to her people. Fat load of good that will do. An explosion inside the giant baby’s body violently shakes the family’s rocketship just as they’re about to take off. Hazel’s family manages to escape in the nick of time, thanks to Petrichor’s quick fuel recovery.

However, although they get away safely, the impact has cost Alana her unborn child. Through alternating panels, we see Alana and Marko mourning their child, as well as the doom befalling Phang’s population, in frightful detail. The final actual image we get is Kurti falling under the black tides of Phang and the Timestuck’s entrails, desperately pleading for his life.

… and the rest is silence. 

Alana, Marko and Hazel have all left something of themselves behind in a world become synonymous with catastrophe. Innocence and hope lie both sunken in the Phang’s dark waters.

Alas, the story goes on. Stay tuned, my friends. The sunrise follows even after the longest, coldest of nights.


Saga Issue #42 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Air Capital Comic Con Sticks To Its Roots

Dan

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The comic convention used to be exactly what it sounds like: a way for the “Marvel Zombies”, “Batmaniacs”,  “Shellheads”, and “Wingnuts”  who braved the comics shops of the world for their monthly dose of multi-colored, multi-panel heroism; to get together with their own people. They traded old comics and new ones, wore homemade costumes, and argued over nonsense. The guests were artists and writers of the comics themselves, and the con was a chance for them to meet the people who loved their work.

But slowly but surely, the TV and movie conventions began to merge with the comic cons. With most of the con-goers belonging to multiple fandoms, for many, it was a no-brainer for them to consolidate. The nerds of the world rejoiced as they could at one stall meet the creator of Batman and in the next meet the Adam West who played him on TV. But, slowly but surely, the movie and film stars became the attractions at these cons. While no comic-con has truly shaken its comic book roots, it can be hard to find one today that still maintains that old school purism. But don’t fret true believers, there’s one in Wichita, and I attended it last weekend.

Air Capital Comic Con was co-founded in 2013 to help give the city of Wichita a yearly comic convention of its very own. Since then, it has only grown. The fans in Wichita that for years had to travel hours to Kansas City or Oklahoma City to scratch their nerd itch now only had to drive downtown. But Wichita is not a large city, and the convention itself reflects that.

Taking up a single exhibition hall iatWichita’s Convention Center, it’s easy to walk from one end of the con to the other. I felt strange walking by some of the same booths as I wandered around and took everything in. But size matters not, as they say, and the number of guests in attendance would no doubt be in line with a con twice the size of Air Capital.

The guest list, as I alluded to before, was almost entirely pulled from the halls of comics. Creators from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, Boom! and the indie scene made for a stacked roster for fans to mingle with. Big names included Greg Smallwood (Moon Knight, Dream Thief),  David Gallaher (High Moon, Box 13),  Steve Ellis (Skinwalker Studios), Alexis Zirrit (Space Riders) and Kevin Nowlan (Tomorrow Stories, Superman vs. Aliens). But it was not all old school, as the con also invited multiple high profile cosplayers as well, such as The Hive (Resident Evil Cosplay Collective), Children of Proteus (Aquatic Steampunks), Deadpool’s Chimichanga Shack., and the local chapter of the 501st Legion.

The vendors and artists in attendance ranged from toy shops and comic stores to cosplay gear and jewelry, to a “psychic cartoonist” named Lord Julius Pandhandle. The actually quite healthy Wichita writing scene (cough) was in attendance as well, with bestselling fantasy author Tamara Grantham, sci-fi scribe Tim Hunter, and master William Schlichter all meeting, greeting, and signing books alongside newer writers like AR Crebs and Dakota Caldwell (in character as his book’s main villain).

The attendance was a mix of the old, hardcore nerds who’d met Stan Lee when he wore gold medallions, parents bringing their kids for a day out in their best Spider-man costume, and teenagers dressed as anime characters hanging out with their people. And there was something for everyone. Local game shops and developers had a board gameplay area, and Wichita’s video game bar and e-sports org helper put together a huge array of consoles from the NES to the PS4 for people to play to their heart’s content. On the upper balcony, panels ran every few hours discussing things like villains and the comics industry. It even hosted a nerdy version of The Dating Game.

Overall, it really was a good con. I’m spoiled in that my home city of Indianapolis hosts multiple huge cons, including GenCon, every year.  And Air Capital isn’t near that big or exciting. That is no slight, however. I loved the heart that Air Capital Comic Con had, and the real sense that it was part of a thriving community. There was no flash or glitz, just passion, and good old-fashioned nerdiness. They know there is nowhere to go but up, and they maximize everything they can.  If you’re in the area next November or are wanting to add a stop for a promotional tour, you won’t find a better home than Air Capital Comic Con.


Images courtesy of Air Capital Comic Con

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A Bride’s Story is the Women’s Story You Were Waiting For

Annedey

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A Bride’s Story is a manga by Kaoru Mori (also responsible for Emma). Started in 2008, the series is still running and counts 9 volumes. It takes place in 19th century central Asia and follows several characters in their daily lives. The story is mainly focused on women of the region, but there is also the point of view Henry Smith, an English researcher. Anything else notable? Oh, I just remembered: it is really good.

Talking about a really good manga series could be enough on its own. But you know what’s even better? It is focused on women and their lives. Different women, with different lives, their work, their achievements, their pains. And it is written in a total love of all women. A good manga series, written by a woman about women? What else could we be asking for?

The Story of A Bride’s Story:

I am starting to not like this choice of title very much. But anyway, the manga opens on Amir and Karluk’s wedding. Amir is twenty whereas her husband is twelve (don’t worry there is no weird sexual content between the two). It is not the only thing that separates them. Karluk comes from a mainly sedentary village. Amir’s tribe still has a pretty nomadic way of life. Both spouses are pretty different so the first chapters of the manga follow their adaptation to each other (and to her in-laws in the case of Amir). The presence of Smith also allows the point of view of an outsider into the family.

The story then expands to other members of the family, friends, and neighbors, as well as people Smith will meet during his travels. Yet the story isn’t all over the place. We follow their lives and emotional development. And when Kaoru Mori focuses on one character she takes the time to tell their story. Even if she has to leave aside other characters for some time. But this is not a problem, as it is crystal clear she loves all her characters and will do them justice in time.

Good guy Kaoru Mori by herself.

A Bride’s Story is going to focus on every aspect of the characters’ lives. There is high drama(military attack of one family on another) but also daily life (learning how to sew, finding your vocation).

In short A Bride’s Story is a really good read. But it is not the only thing that draws you in the narrative.

Art so gorgeous it sucks you in the story:

Another strings to Kaoru Mori’s bow which help you being completely absorbed in her world is that…

…her art…

…is…

…gorgeous.

Which, considering the time we spend speaking about craftsmanship, is important. Having a visual representation worthy of the script is only doing it justice. If you don’t want to travel to central Asia to discover their handicraft after reading A Bride’s Story you are a liar, and that’s all there is to it. The characters and the details are insanely comprehensive. But we are also given amazing and dynamic action scenes.

This incredible art and interesting story combine to give us a narrative uplifting women at every turn.

An Hymn to women’s lives:

A Bride’s Story focuses, as its name clearly spells out, on brides. Sometimes young brides, sometimes bride-to-be, sometimes widows, but always women facing married life. And no it is not reductive. During the 19th century, marriage was (and still is in some cultures) one of the main events of a woman’s life. It was a literal change of family, of environment, and the real beginning of her adult life. So focusing around this event is not reductive. Quite the contrary. It reminds us that, as long as she is a good person, every woman’s life is worth telling.

Kaoru Mori spends a lot of time on women’s daily activity. Sewing of course (if the manga doesn’t give you a mighty need to start sewing you are a liar), but also cooking, taking care of the herd etc. Everything is worth the author’s attention, and ours. Do you know why? Because it is important work done with care. And this ask for our interest and respect.

Another thing which is incredibly well done in A Bride’s Story is the relationship between this women. They are supportive of each other. There is a mother-in-law ready to sacrifice herself to save her daughter-in-law. When Amir learns that she should go back to her family to marry another man because all the brides they have sent are dead (killed by their husband) she is not only crying because she is terrified. She is crying because she knew both of this girls and is devastated by their death. And the person reassuring her and saying that she is « not going anywhere » is her husband’s grandmother.

There are as many positive women relationship in there as there is stars in the sky. And not always just filial relationship. But also mentorship, friendship and emh…

I am sorry but there is no heterosexual explanation to this and yes Kaoru Mori acknowledges it in the author’s notes.

And the icing on the cake is that every single one of these women is different from the others.

No wrong way of being a woman:

Truly it is refreshing to read about women helping each other. It is even better when they are allowed to be different. Because let’s be real, often in fiction women are created to oppose each other. The “good” kind of woman opposing the “wrong” kind of women. Just look at The White Queen and The White Princess, in which motherhood is glorified and “good” women are rewarded with it whereas “bad” women, women having a “man’s” ambition, became sterile and loveless.

Well, in A Bride’s Story we have traditionally feminine women who are soft gentle and love sewing. We have unconventional women who like to hunt and ride but are still good at feminine tasks (but let’s be real Amir is an amazement in universe too) and others which are not. We also have what other media often depicts as “failing” women, but are just unsure of who they are.

Let’s be real we all want to be Amir but we are Pariya who, conveniently, wants to be Amir.

In short, Kaoru Mori is standing on her mountain screaming “They are all my daughters and I love them all!”. And trust me ,it feels good to be, as a reader, welcomed into this story.

Conclusion:

To the surprise of no one, I heartily recommend reading A Bride’s Story. As a first manga, if it is your first, it might be putting the bar a bit high for future dives into the medium. But there are worse problems to have. Just to add to all I’ve said above, we also have good and interesting siblings relationships (my passion), making this manga almost without fault. It is worth a try. It really is.


All images courtesy of Yen Press.

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