Saga #53 // Review
Saga #53, by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, contains the kind of story that this book has needed for a long time. After the events of the previous issue, this one blows everything wide open. It doesn’t change everything, but it ends with the kind of shock that only a book with the caliber of Saga can offer.
This is a very hard to synopsize without giving anything away. It’s the penultimate issue of this storyline, and it delivers a lot of drama. The Wings’ intelligence apparatus has found a way to discredit Doff and Upsher in the eyes of the public, basically killing their story. Meanwhile, Ianthe holds Squire hostage and is confronted by Alana, Hazel, and Upsher. Ghus and Petrichor find out who died last issue. Robot IV pleads with The Will to spare him, offering the only thing he has when Marko comes upon them.
Those are the pieces on the board and Vaughan moves them around with a finesse that seems effortless, but pays dividends for readers. There are some legitimately shocking moments in this one, and it has that old Saga feel where anything could happen. The last page alone is worth the price of admission. It’s a moment that readers won’t expect, but one that has been in the making since the book first began. It’s a genuine jaw dropper that this book hasn’t had since Izabel died during the War On Phang story arc.
It’s a testament to Staples and Vaughan that this moment is so affecting. Everything leading up to it lulls the reader and gives them the impression that everyone is going to get out of this one alive. Sure, they’ll get hurt, but our heroes will ride off into the sunset again. Then, with a turn of a page, the carpet is pulled out from under readers and things have changed irrevocably. Staples captures the moment in all its glory with a masterful full page splash and the issue ends. The curtain has dropped on someone who has been in the book since the beginning.
This issue is the shake-up that Saga has needed for a while. The book has felt safe lately and this one does away with that feeling with a jarring finality. This story arc always had the potential to go this way, but the turn this chapter takes is something that comes out of left field completely. It’s doubtful that readers believed that Doff and Upsher’s story would have got published without a hitch and Robot IV, Petrichor, and Squire would have been able to go away and start new lives, but the turn this one takes ends all that in unexpected way. Special Agent Gale of Landfall Intelligence has always been a background player in the book and he plays that role to a tee in this one. Using captured info on Doff and Upsher’s love life (homosexuality is illegal on their planet) and getting the only other witness to what happened on Phang, he maneuvers Doff and Upsher’s editor into killing the story. This action is part of what lulls readers for the more visceral events later in the book. It’s so artfully done that, when the blood starts flowing later in the issue, it’s a complete surprise.
Beyond the last page, Staples expertly executes the moments in this issue. There’s a sense of uncertainty to this one from the get-go, and her art plays into that. There’s several last panels on pages that are perfect cliffhangers, daring the reader to turn the page and see what awaits them. In past issues in this arc, the backgrounds of the planet the heroes are on has been bright and colorful, but, in this one, they’re darker. It’s subtle, but it sets a tone for readers that they won’t even notice until it’s over, a visual representation of the dark things that are on display in this chapter.
Saga has always been a book with a simpatico between its creators that is unparalleled in this industry, and this issue is all the better because of it. Vaughan and Staples work together so well, first lulling the reader into thinking things are going to go one way then violently turning the wheel, sending the story down another path. This installment brings the danger back to Saga and it’s wonderful. The book has needed this shot in the arm for a while and Vaughan and Staples administer it perfectly.