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Saga #12 Review

By Zak Edwards
April 11, 2013 - 22:35

Saga has already made headlines this week, here and other places, for its explicit content that had it banned and subsequently un-banned (de-banned?), but this hardly speaks to the book itself.  Sure, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples’ book opens with a fairly small depiction of a man giving what is colloquially known as a blowjob, and subsequently bukkake (look it up if you want), but it also happens to be one of the best comic series out right now for this and many other reasons.  This issue in particular is  concerned with the position of  artists in the world and, out of a sense of solidarity, Vaughan talks a lot about literature generally thought of as disposable.

Perhaps first and foremost we should talk about the opening that caused so much controversy this week.  First off, it’s pretty funny in a similar way to the local TV station in Hamilton, Ontario that got hacked during its breakfast television program last year, broadcasting gay porn instead of the weather for a few minutes.  Here, the robot is ‘fritzed’ and showing porn on his monitor instead of his usual grey, blank screen.  It’s funny and plenty of gags would have worked besides such explicit material, so I wondered why, in an issue that is very concerned with art in general, would choose these particular images.  The answer may lie just next to them with a character who makes a fatal error.  A rodent alien joins the war on the promise of going to school but, when the enemy attacks with a poisonous gas, she realizes both her worth and lack of provided gas mask.  Her worth is moot, a tool in the war and college was a dream for someone who thought they could increase their worth in a society that doesn’t value them.  So, while she manages to stop Robot IV’s perhaps subconscious desires (and perhaps simultaneously his worst fears), she doesn’t get to reap the rewards.  The function of what is thought disposable is at the forefront of the issue, by way of some good publicity buzz over the past couple of days.  What is deemed disposable elicits sympathy in the character and the book so focused on later in the issue.  Perhaps Vaughan is making a case for porn as well.

Prince Robot “Bukkake Face” IV, one of a growing list of antagonists for Alana and Marko, moves from the battlefield to a mostly ignored planet in his quest for why Alana and Marko defected.  His suspicions lie in a writer, D. Oswald Heist, and a novel he wrote that Alana read to Marko a few issues back.  What ensues is a long discussion on the place of art, specifically popular art and mass entertainment, in society.  Of course, Vaughan has the pleasure of an overt and more controlling government to build tension between Heist and Robot IV, but the arguments still hold for today as well.  Heist is insistent that the book in question, A Nighttime Smoke, was for a quick paycheck while Robot IV spouts the quote of the issue: “We all need to earn a living. But that doesn’t mean that greatness can’t be achieved in the process.”  I am reminded of what comic artist Brian Bolland said to a fine artist who plagiarized his work and was selling posters for six hundred euros: “It pleases me (and it seems ideologically sound to me) that if anyone wanted to see my work they could do so for the price of $1 – or at least at a price they could afford.”  Bolland is talking about, in part, the Ivory Tower and the ability for certain mediums to reach more people.  This concept, of course, has been the source of much conflict in the entertainment industry: how to profit, keep affordable, and reach people effectively in the wake of the Internet.  It’s also what makes comics so fascinating, up to and including the present, because they are amazing indicators of their current cultural climate but can also discuss those things, exactly like what Vaughan is doing in this latest issue.  And in the fight between Robot IV and Heist, the ability of art says something profound: Heist, a pacifist, simply tells Robot IV that he “doesn’t get it,” throws his pen, his only weapon, away and threatens Robot IV with his death.  After all, it’ll only boost sales and his ideas will become more popular, reach a bigger audience.  And Vaughan leaves us for another hiatus with another wonderful cliffhanger as the conflict stops, one of his many assets as a comic writer.  The issue, and the issues, will give readers plenty of things to think about until Saga can return.

Fiona Staples’ art is simply incredible and perfectly suited for this story.  I’ve talked about her wonderful character design, her ability to forefront the action with minimalist backgrounds, her emotive capacities, and how she can draw anything Vaughan and her come up with.  This issue, obviously, is no exception, and I did enjoy her art besides the now most famous panels.  The first sequence, where a character is introduced an immediately killed, relies on Staples’ intimate artwork.  The little mouse pulls at heartstrings not only because off Vaughan’s trademark dialogue, and her death is made all the worse by Staples’ gruesome depiction of the horrors of the gas.  Our mouse doesn’t simply choke, she explodes, and the transition into Prince IV reliving the moment on his screen, is cool.  Cool, in the sense that it’s an inspired way to move the story along, but also simply cold in our continued inability to read him when we would most want to.  Staples conveys emotion so effortlessly that, when we don’t know, the effect is compounded, which helps make Robot IV such an interesting character.  I simply can’t read him well enough to figure him out.  But, I have some time, Saga returns in a few months.

Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25

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