Saga #50, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, is a quiet issue. As the cast prepares for their future, hidden dangers lurk that could derail everything.
Marko, Alana, Hazel, Petrichor, Sir Robot, Squire, Ghus, Doff, and Upsher are hiding out on the planet Jetsam, waiting for the newspaper Doff and Upsher work for to publish Sir Robot’s story about what happened on Phang. Sir Robot warns the newspapermen that this story is going to piss a lot of people off a them. He isn’t worried about it; according to the deal they made, him, Petrichor, and Squire will be given different bodies. Doff and Upsher give the old “we’re journalists, this is part of the job” speech, but Sir Robot is convinced they’re idiots. Petrichor, while training Alana in the magic and combat skills of their people, tells her that she’ll be going with Sir Robot and Squire into hiding. Alana asks Petrichor, a trans woman, why she would want to become something else since she’s comfortable in her body, but Petrichor isn’t comfortable discussing that with a child, so she leaves. Meanwhile, Squire makes a plan that could bring them all down and, elsewhere, Ianthe and The Will get closer to finding the location of the fugitives.
There’s a sense of ominousness to this issue that is palpable. Everyone seems to be in a good place, but there are fractures below the surface, especially for Sir Robot, Petrichor, and Squire. It’s a masterpiece of tone, really. Vaughn sets everything up in such a way that expertly builds the suspense. Sir Robot’s concerns about how dangerous the story could be for all involved gives readers a glimpse of what could happen in the future . Then, Petrichor’s telling Hazel that she’s leaving and Hazel’s reaction ratchets up the suspense a bit more. It seems to be an innocuous sequence, but this is Saga and nothing is what it seems. Could Vaughn be hinting at a big death in this arc with that good-bye? Finally, Squire’s plan, and Ianthe and the Will getting closer to finding everyone, gives the readers a blueprint for how it could all go wrong. There’s good writing and there’s great writing and this is great writing.
This arc is definitely building up to something massive. Doff and Upsher revealing that Wreath and Landfall worked together to destroy Phang will have major repercussions for all of the characters in the book. Saga has always found a way to balance the down-to-earth family elements with the big sci-fi worlds-at-war stuff, but lately the worlds-at-war stuff has fallen to the wayside. The book needs the shot in the arm this arc could give it. Lately, Vaughn has seemed a lot more comfortable writing about the family than about the larger plots going on around them. It doesn’t make for bad reading, since all the characters involved are well written and compelling, but it’s hurt the momentum of the book somewhat. So far in this arc, Vaughn has focused mostly on building the suspense and the stakes. This issue is a perfect example of that, but it still balances with the character stuff that makes Saga so compelling.
Fiona Staples’ art is at her usual level. Her figure working and acting are on point. As always, the backgrounds are a little sparse, but that’s something that has plagued her work throughout the series. There’s no problem with the art in the issue, but nothing really stands out. Staples is so good on a regular basis that it takes something special to really stand out and there isn’t anything like that in this issue. It’s a masterpiece of tone, but most of that is in the writing. The art is very good, but it’s not going to knock any socks off.
All in all, Saga #50 does a great job of capturing a sense of foreboding without being too on the nose about it. It leaves a disquiet in the soul, a feeling that something bad is right over the horizon. It’s just a feeling, though; at this point, there’s a chance that everything will go according to plan and Sir Robot, Petrichor, and Squire will find peace in their new lives, that Doff and Upsher won’t be the targets of vengeful governments, and that Marko, Alana, Hazel, and Ghus will get away and live happily ever after. There’s just enough doubt to keep the reader invested in the whole thing.