Well, I wasn’t lying when I said that was bleak. When a series or a comic book explores such depths of despair and loss, you simply can’t come back out the same. Both characters´and viewers/readers´outlook is inevitably changed and we learn to take joy with a grain of salt. There have been instances where unabashed fun returns into the story without a sliver of tragic recoil. But that hasn’t been the case with Saga so far (no spoilers, mind you). If you’re looking for the perfect conveyance of tragedy branding all moods, look no further than this issue’s cover. Although brimming with colour via Alana’s mount and the sunny background, the rider’s attire and demeanour spell jaded all over.
Ghostly babysitter, a second family, an unborn sibling. All heavy losses, after which the show must go on. I’ll indulge myself the liberty of quoting a verse in a song. “Django” from the eponymous 1966 Italian Western Django, compose by Luis Bacalov: “After the showers, the sun will be shining.”
I must confess, I did go for gravitas in my introduction. But the comic makes it worth fuck all with the first page, joyfully introducing us to the next destination for our heroes: a lovely town literally called “ABORTION TOWN”. The contrast between mood and subject is almost palpable. Some painful means are required to get Alana’s miscarried child out of her body; especially considering the child’s mixed parentage. This is also why instead of Alana and Marko coming to town, it is Alana and Sir Robot. The story they sell owly Doctor Sheriff is credible enough, though pretty bonkers. Earl Robot LI (Can’t think of a more ridiculously aristocratic name than that) needs to be rid of the conception he had with his Landfallian subordinate.
Surprise on the (probably false) possibility of Robots and non-Robots being able to conceive a child, the good doctor agrees. Surely, as Earl Robot LI such a child would be born with horrendous and grotesque mutations, maybe. So it’s all good, until Doctor Sheriff asks Alana how far along she’s into her pregnancy. Unfortunately, at eight months, there’s not a thing they can do for her. We get a little social commentary here, as Landfall’s jurisdiction is very particular over abortion laws. The wings’ parliament/congress is mostly composed by males who have no qualms about dictating over women’s rights. I wonder where we’ve heard that before.
Since this is such a dire situation, however, Doctor Sheriff suggests another way. A clandestine way. There is a place on the other side of the planet, where the “doctors” can take more “liberties”. Of course, we mean the Badlands. So, it is another journey for our heroes, this time not to pursue someone loved, but to try and live after losing one. The intent marks the voyage’s fashion. But first, Alana ditches a distraught Sir Robot, having only allowed him to tag along for the sake of this ruse. Somewhat uncharacteristically, Sir Robot hardly even poses an argument to this. Guilt and infatuation may play into it. But this change and Marko’s absence do beg the question: what has happened between past issue and this one?
Time to rewind a bit. Future Hazel gives us a recap of the galaxy’s outlook. Landfall on one side, Wreath on the other; two worlds in opposition, by war and social ethos. One constantly seeks to mindlessly renew itself, the other stagnates in tradition. Technology versus magic, the war expands through the galaxy, forcing everyone to pick a side. Yaddi yadda. In spite of the war, two oddballs from Landfall and Wreath respectively get together and make Hazel. All info we already know. I find this recap strange since it’s not a great issue to start for new readers. But the art is always worth it, so it gets a pass. Now we find ourselves in the immediate aftermath of last issue.
Hazel finds her parents grieving for their lost child. Marko always does pick the soft delivery, but is fairly forthcoming about the fact that Hazel’s baby brother is gone. In walks Petrichor, with wounded hands from handling the fuel cube to get the ship off Phang and with a bound Sir Robot is tow. The intent is clear: she means to execute him for having indirectly caused Izabel’s definite death and for his little Fadeaway trip, which jeopardised everyone’s safety. Responsibility aside, a quick sniff has Petri disregard all of this in favour of a more important subject: Alana’s miscarriage.
However, instead of merely offering her sympathies, Petri kneels at Alana’s feet, acknowledging her as Most Holy Mother. What a twist. Marko explains that some faiths in Wreath revere women who carry unborn children as holy vessels. Alana is not in the least amused or excited about this turn of events. But Petri is no Jebarah, so she’s quick to acknowledge the risk Alana suffers in carrying an unborn child in her. She proposes going to a High Cleric in Wreath to perform a ceremony to get the child out, but that’s out of the question considering Alana is from Landfall. On the other hand, Landfall’s gynecologists don’t offer a more promising solution either. That’s when Sir Robot chimes in with a little trip to Abortion Town in an arid planet called Pervious.
Their stay in this new destination has been a few months long. A time for recovery. Lately, Marko has been hard at work digging a hole by the rocketship. Petrichor says he’s digging a septic line to discard all the waste from the rocketship. The less one says about that, the better. As away of making conversation, Hazel asks about Petri’s genitalia, which is not a considerate subject at all. Petrichor does take some offence. However, Hazel’s intent comes not from morbid adult curiosity, but from innocent childhood fear.
To her, wings and horns are basically the same as penis and vagina. Since she parentage has given her the former pair, she wonders if boy parts would grow in time as well. It’s kind of hard to feel angry at her for dreading this. It’s also hard not to see where she’s coming from, as early on, she’s made to understand she is not ‘normal’ as per the galaxy’s backward standards. And man, don’t we fucking hate that word by now? ‘Normal’. Petri has some words of wisdom on the matter, and this deserves quoting. “You are unlike anyone who has ever existed, and that makes you exactly like everyone who has ever existed. (…) I promise that you will never be alone.”
Cue Hazel’s grateful hug. Concerns on the body will fade with time as identity asserts itself with maturity. But the matter of belonging in a society with fixed standards, is something trickier. It’s best to comprehend that our differences ultimately unite us all as soon as possible. The world feels way less lonely then. Before Hazel can ask about nipples, Alana returns after the little visit to Abortion Town. Hearing about the Badlands, Marko insists on coming along, but Alana refuses for safety’s sake. After all, Pervious is under Landfall’s jurisdiction, and horns are pretty hard to conceal. But we know already he IS coming along. Be a lot less cool if he didn’t.
This issue ends with a spectacular delivery of the things that make Saga, well, Saga. Adversity, uncanny, humour, grotesque. Magical dung people come to life from the septic line, attacking everyone and triggering Hazel’s potty mouth. Heh. Weapons are useless against this new threat. So our heroes are quickly outnumbered and out…gunned? Only magic works against this brown menace. In a peculiar twist of fate, Alana is the one to make the save, by magically summoning flame – something Landfallians are unable to do. Petrichor was on to something, alright. The loss they suffered was not only the end of a narrative, but the start of a new one.
Stay tuned, my friends, as we brave the Badlands. Shit (heh) will be on fire (heh).
Saga Issue #43 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
All images are courtesy of Image Comics