Saga #51 // Review
Saga #51, by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples, finds the main characters relaxing on the beach. What could possibly ruin a day at the beach?
This is a rather simple comic. Sir Robot and Squire talk about what they’re going to do with their lives once they’ve changed bodies (as part of the deal for giving reporters Doff and Upsher some juicy information about what happened on Phang). Upsher gets the call from his editor about the story he wrote and confirmation that the supplies to transform Sir Robot, Squire, and Petrichor (the trans woman Moonie that Sir Robot is in love with) are on their way. Marko tries his hand at writing and Alana is pretty into it. Doff teaches Hazel how to swim. Then, something completely unexpected happens, but not really. As good as Saga is, the book’s stories have become rather formulaic, but more on that later.
There are several standouts in this issue. Squire asks Sir Robot to show him a memory from when he killed the Stalk, and Sir Robot’s reaction is extreme to say the least. Lately, Vaughan has been fleshing out the once haughty aristocrat, and this plays perfectly into that. In the beginning of the book, Sir Robot seemed to be a cold-blooded killer, dispatching others with a calm efficiency. His reaction here, and other things that have happened with the character recently, show that there was always more going on beneath the surface of the character than readers know about. It’s all presented in a rather expert way. The robots in Saga, with their computer monitor heads, can be hard to read emotionally most of the time, but Vaughan and Staples play this scene exactly the way they should, getting it all done with body language and dialogue. Another interesting plot point is after Alana reads the story Marko wrote, there’s a full page spread showing her surrounded by demons. Marko talks about being inspired by the people who have helped them and specifically mentions Yuma, who introduced Alana to the drug Fadeout while she was on the Circuit. Could the full page spread be some kind of Fadeout flashback, and, if it is, what does that mean for Alana and her sobriety?
All that said, this is a very average installment of Saga. At this point in the book’s run, it seems like there’s a bit of a formula going on with Vaughan’s writing. Certain plot beats happen around the same time in story arcs and this one is no exception. Unfortunately, the moment doesn’t have as much resonance as similar ones in the past have. It’s also a rather safe choice, as far as it goes, which is disappointing. Saga thrilled in earlier stories because it felt like anything could happen, but that feeling has been gone for a long time. Of course, there’s still potential for this story arc to really throw things for a loop, but so far it’s been paint-by-numbers Saga. What readers are getting is still enjoyable, but it hasn’t had the emotional heft or feelings of suspense that a lot of the previous arcs have had. Sometimes, it’s okay for a quiet story, but the set up for this one hints at big consequences and nothing that has happened so far has helped sell that.
Staples’ art is pretty great, as usual. The full page spread of demons isn’t scary, but imaginative. Staples mixes up the body types of the demons, not staying with the typical bipedal form. The look of rapture on Alana’s face works on multiple levels as well. Is it there just because of how good Marko’s story was or is there something more there? Also, her creature design for the mustachioed kingfish is simple, yet it invokes a sense of wonder. It’s a flying manta ray-like creature, but what really makes it pop is the colors. The coloring throughout the issue works very well, especially on the backgrounds. Towards the end, when the action is taking place away from the beach, the lush green which makes up the background gives the impression of heavy vegetation without there being too much detail, leaving Staples to concentrate on the stuff in the foreground.
All told, this is an average chapter of Saga, with a few interesting standouts. Saga is still one of the better books being published, but it feels like it’s in a rut and this issue is a great example of that. It moves the story forward, it builds characters, and there are some cool visuals, but it all feels so rote. For most books, this would be perfectly fine, but Saga isn’t most books. It set the quality bar very early on and in recent arcs hasn’t been reaching that same point. This story arc does have the potential to change all that, but time is running out for that to happen. It’s no reason to drop the book, but it’s a rather average chapter of Saga. It’s not bad, just a little disappointing.