I find Saga‘s plot to be a good selling point on its own. The adventures of a forbidden couple in a war-torn galaxy—simple, neat, and beautifully illustrated and written. However, one other thing I really like is the notion of culture we get on each destination. No two places are alike. With every change of scenery, we get a taste of unique flora, fauna, religion, politics, peoples, and worldviews. It’s quite an ambitious setting, even if we only get to taste a dash per arc. And our heroes’ sour business in Pervious proves no different. Last issue generated a bit of a buildup on this planet’s aesthetic and ethic. Today we start to see what makes this sandy place stand out.
Spoiler alert: it’s nasty. But that’s only as far as the first few pages. The rest, concerning our heroes, is not unpleasant, but ‘strange’ would be underselling it.
“Mommy just had a bad dream”
Whether by Deliverance or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the collective imaginarium on the hillbilly as a trope paints a rather unflattering picture. Regardless of any possible validity when comparing the trope with real life, we know these characters to be dogmatic, narrow-minded, and prone to violence. If last issue had something of a cowboyish feel, the centaur dune dwellers we meet pose a different theme altogether. Enter a roguish pack that exhibits a disturbing likeness to certain conservative population sectors. The moral coherence on these three is suitably puzzling as well. They’re perfectly willing to rob and kill two Landfallians on their way to Abortion Town, yet they disapprove of the couple’s decision.
A centaur mother and son, and the second human I recall seeing thus far in this comic identify a peculiar set of footprints on the sand. This is how the possible new set of baddies hop on the ‘pursue Alana and Marko’ train. Their motivations may simply be the loot they entitle themselves to, but the outcome of the purpose often involves killing and a callous conscience on the matter.
Meanwhile, the mood aboard the family’s rocketship can best be described as weird. Considering how Alana dispatched last issue’s poop monsters with magic, the tone of grief and urgency have given way to puzzlement. Something I rather love about these panels is the casualness with which they discuss this impossible event. Marko’s fresh out of the shower and in a towel, Petrichor does laundry, Hazel amusingly misuses a word for kinky grown-ups without knowing it. It’s a scene virtually pulled out of a Sunday in any human family’s household. However, Alana violently hurling some black substance is not something that commonplace. That’s a visual cue to remind us things are quite grave, alright.
So, here’s the plan. Petrichor, whose hands are still injured stays behind to watch the ship. She’ll have Marko’s wedding band-translation device to hold the fort verbally and sword-ly. As for Alana, Marko, and Hazel… they’ll put on some cowboy hats (and a hoodie for Marko’s horns). And then they’ll roguishly hop aboard a train, because of-god-damned-course.
We couldn’t forgive ourselves, Brian or Fiona, or life itself, if we didn’t have that scene. This comic handles plenty of the kind of action we’d expect in a movie. And I gotta say, Fiona’s pen translates the feeling of movement really well into the panels. I don’t know how challenging that really is, but Rob Liefeld’s work is a clear indication that it’s very possible to screw that up. So cheers as ever, Miss Staples.
Now, back to Petrichor. Of all the non-hostile characters in this comic, I find her to be the most alluring. Past the novelty of being a trans character not used as a token, she hints so very much. We know her to be very close to her roots in Wreath, its traditions, values and mysticism. This, in turn informs her features as a soldier in a binary war. And that, by extension, nurtures her two most important characteristics: competence and loyalty. However, we don’t know much about her past. This issue corrects that via her stoic mourning of a lost love. The palette of dark blue against pale fire appropriately conveys a feeling of melancholy and gravitas.
Petri casts her lost love’s picture into the fire, which is the universal code for moving on. The ambience grows in relevance. Having done this, she performs a prayer-ritual beseeching the Wreath Saints. The bloodletting is an ingredient befitting the most important of esoteric affairs, be it oaths or blood magic. So, what is Petrichor’s purpose in all this? Well, she’s praying to the Saints to send her someone to fuck. There is indeed some humour behind this apparent dissonance between deed and intent. However, if we go by D. Oswald Heist’s notion that the opposite of war is fucking, Petri has just joined the rest of the cast regarding sexual desire. True enough, when these characters aren’t busy killing, running, or Saga-ing, the’re most definitely having intercourse.
The Saints, on their part, answer to this momentous prayer by literally raining on her bonfire. The dicks. However, that is not the worst development to occur in the scene, as the rogues have followed Sir Robot’s footprints all the way here. Seeing Petrichor’s magic wielding, their most immediate response is to kill her. Although it appears the youngest bandit is not particularly into the idea. We can expect him to thwart the killing, or perhaps prove the gift-in-disguise Petrichor asked for. We’ll see.
This issue closes on a dreamy note, by which we mean a nightmare sequence. Alana dreams about a kinky encounter she had back in the day. The tone turns dark as her partner (not Marko) reproaches her for her habits, to which he attributes her baby’s death. The Fadeaway episode that partially led to the schism between Marko and her was a nasty bit, but we know this is not the reason she lost the baby. This is her own guilt speaking, and it’s difficult to shake guilt off, especially if the character has a conscience. Alana wakes up to find her husband peacefully asleep. But she is not the only one awake inside this train car. Her son is standing right before her.
You know, the one that was never born. Whereas Hazel took more after her mother, this little impossible one takes more after his dad. Cool-looking kids Alana and Marko produce, no doubt about that. This kid looks to be around Hazel’s age, which is just as well, she certainly needs some friends her age to overcome the trauma conga line she has endured. We can surely expect things to get weirder from here on out. But thus far, this has been one of the strangest turns in a comic series that delightfully revels on the bizarre and the unexpected.
Saga #44 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples