Saga, Vol 6, Issues 31-36 by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)
Saga Vol 6 is the first one I had to wait for, as I read the first 5 volumes back-to-back. This is such a popular, excellently-written, and amazingly-illustrated series that the main question fans will have is, “Is it still as greater as ever?” Well, I’d say it isn’t quite as brilliant as the first 4 volumes, but Vaughan and Staples have established a very high level of storytelling and can probably maintain it for quite some time. So rest assured, fans will not be overly disappointed. This series remains centered on the characters, though this time the surprises and twists are fewer in number.
As I mentioned in my previous review, the tone had become a bit darker in Vol 5, and while I applaud the series for taking risks and embracing change, it was nice to see Vol 6 switching things up a bit and being more whimsical and less violent than usual. This may be because Hazel is no longer a baby – she’s a precocious little 4 year old, and is starting to talk and observe the adult world with less innocence than your average toddler. Until now she has been narrating offstage as an adult, and the incisive wit and life insights have been one of the greatest charms of the series.
So now we get to see Hazel in action as a little girl in what looks like a school but is quickly revealed as a detention facility on Landfall for “enemy noncombatants”. There are several adults also held there that serve as her “aunties”, including Alana’s mother Klara and Lexis, a former bounty-hunter. There is also another detainee named Petrichor who harbors her own secrets. Hazel develops a close relationship with her spider-like teacher, whom she reveals her dangerous secret to. Hazel has a lot to say about kids and grownups:
“No matter how much freedom they’re given, most kids are still glorified props, carefully shuttled from one secure location to the next. We’re not children, we’re eggs. But sooner or later, those eggs begin to crack. As they emerge, the creatures beneath those fragile shells begin to understand that they possess more agency than they ever dreamed. And when you finally realize you’ve been living your whole life inside a shitty nest, there’s only one thing to do.”
Meanwhile, Marko and Alana are finally reunited by the common cause of extracting Hazel from Landfall. So they make up as couples will do after major blowouts. They remain a very realistic and likable young couple trying to be the best parents possible amid difficult circumstances. They end up forming an alliance with a very unlikely individual to get access to Landfall.
We also revisit Doff and Upsher, the gay journalist couple who were pursuing the sensational story of star-crossed lovers and a rumored love child that would shake up both sides of the civil war. They follow the trail to Hazel’s ballet teacher Ginny, who points them further along the trail. When the finally reach a distant planet, they run afoul of yet another familiar face who has gotten a bit…heavier.
So now we have the familiar multiple narratives, favorite characters, snappy dialogue, gorgeously precise artwork, and rich galactic background that make this series so great. So why did I feel like Vaughan was coasting just a wee bit? The story is as fast-paced and addictively-readable as always, and I breezed through it in one afternoon. But when I was finished, I couldn’t help feeling “Was that it?” Nothing really conclusive happened, and despite some eyebrow-raising panels, I wasn’t floored in shocked surprise like I was in the earlier volumes. Everything moved along at a steady pace, but there were no scene-stealing new characters or revelations. And having been spoilt by that earlier on, Vol 5 and 6 have been a bit lacking in table-turning plot twists.
If it weren’t for Hazel’s development as a young lady, I’d feel we’ve reached the middle volumes of a larger story, with the resultant loss of momentum we’ve been dreading. So while it still remains a wonderful comic series that captures the fickle tastes of Gen-X, I’m still hoping it will step it up a gear in future episodes.
The sixth volume of Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan’s epic space-opera is all about reunions: reunions between friends, between loves and between families.
Alana and Marko are two soldiers from opposite sides of a war between the planet Landfall and its moon, Wreath. As the conflict spreads across the galaxy, the two of them desert their posts, marry in secret, and give birth to a daughter called Hazel. Now they travel from place to place, trying to find a safe harbour for them to raise their family in peace — which is easier said than done when governments from both their home-planets are hunting them done.
At the end of Volume 5, the loving parents were forcibly separated from Hazel, who has spent the last few years in an enemy detainee centre for non-combatants with her grandmother Klara. Klara has spent most of this time desperately trying to hide the fact her grandchild has horns and wings, making her an obvious hybrid of two warring cultures.
But for the first time, Hazel is old enough to demonstrate a little proactivity in an otherwise stifling environment, and confides in a teacher as to who she truly is.
Meanwhile, Alana and Marko are breaking into government facilities in search of records that might lead them to Hazel’s location. It’s been years since they last saw her, but after gaining a solid lead they trying enlisting the help of Prince Robot IV — one of their original pursuers — who’s now living off the land of a deserted planet with his young son (and Ghüs, a sentient harp seal in yellow overalls who rides a walrus and carries a battle axe — yeah, this comic can get pretty weird).
Also on the trail are two investigative gay journalists from an aquatic world who see Alana/Marko/Hazel as the scoop of the century, and a bounty hunter/assassin known as The Will, still after the man who killed his girlfriend.
As it happens, this is a surprisingly more upbeat volume than its predecessors, in which (gasp!) good things actually happen to our protagonists! Against the backdrop of war and death, our little family meet with people who genuinely want to help them, concoct plans that generally work out the way they wanted, and often look like they’re having a pretty good time! Sometimes things work a little too well, as when two well-meaning individuals’ separate plans to save a child run the risk of colliding.
This upbeat tone is apparent in the artwork itself. Usually Fiona Staples adds at least one “shock panel” per issue, but here it’s just some full-frontal nudity — pretty tame compared to the doozies of the past. She also has plenty of extraordinary character designs on display, from Noreen the giant yellow praying mantis to Petrichor, a transgender woman with asymmetrical horns and a big shock of hair.
Perhaps the best thing about this series is that things change; not always for the better — but they change. Hazel is no longer an infant, but a kindergartener. The Will has put on weight. Prince Robot now has permanent cracks across his monitor. It all adds to an ever-growing, ever-developing story within its own universe. If you haven’t already, make yourself familiar with SAGA.