Saga #27 – Comic Review

Marko dives deeply into his own past in Saga #37, exploring violent moments, and actions that drove away his wife Alana, and daughter Hazel. Saga #37 offers:

  • Adult artwork, depicting emotionally intense scenes unflinchingly
  • Exploration and insight into Marko
  • Questions about pacifism and violence

Strong artwork elicits an emotional response – some of the more violent scenes are difficult to read through as Marko remembers violent and sad moments from his past. Artwork builds tension, and shows off some frightening creatures.

Early artwork in the comic justifies the mature rating – the comic contains nudity and violence. These early scenes establish Marko is hallucinating, and that the events shown are not part of a storyline that happened, but a misremembered moment that Marko is reliving while tripping on the drug Fadeaway.

In a shocking moment, a red devil-like creatures appears before him. Possibly, this thing is a personification of his deeply repressed violence. Another interpretation is that Marko is just giving a shape to the guilt he feels about different, but specific violent moments.

Revealing Marko’s childhood memories, the comic brings back a scene where Marko is punished by his father Baar for attacking and injuring a girl in his neighbourhood. She was guilty of torturing his pet dog, practicing her fire magic on a defenceless animal. Marko’s violence did not fit the crime, however.

The panels where Baar lashes young Marko with his belt are emotionally strong. The panels move closer into Marko’s face. The intense pain and shock is clear. It’s effective artwork in that these scenes are not easy to read.

While most of the pages are given to Marko’s exploration, Yuma, Ghus, and Prince Robot IV have some strong moments, providing a sense of humour and support.

Probably as a result of his current emotional state, Marko recalls only violent memories – receiving a sword as a child as a birthday gift, reading violent comics, fighting on the street, and fighting in the great Wreath versus Landfall War that has consumed the Saga universe.

It’s interesting to see the fallibility of memory playing out with Marko. The way he describes incidents
in the past do not line up with the way the memory is presented later. Memories of his wife Alana, and daughter Hazel, help to counterbalance the stream of violent moments. These kinder moments ease Marko back into reality.

Prince Robot IV expresses his disgust at Marko and Yuma’s drug use with hard language. This batch of
fadeaway was a bad batch, causing deep introspection and potentially trapping the user in
their own misremembered past. This distressing experience takes the place of a soft, glowing high that Yuma has become addicted to.

Ghus is particularly useful in recruiting Prince Robot IV to rescue Yuma and Marko from their memory trap. Despite appearing like a cute mascot for Saga, Ghus shows a deeply pragmatic acumen and honesty: appearances can be deceiving.

Marko’s experience plays out into questions of violence and pacificsm: when is violence an appropriate response? In dire circumstances? Marko’s character shows layers of complexity as he grapples with conflicting ethical ideas.

As Marko returns to reality, he lives through the harsh lashing from his Father again. He begins saying thank you repeatedly. It’s unclear whether Marko is thanking his father for giving him punishment as atonement for what he has done; thanking his allies Ghus and Prince Robot for helping him escape from the memory trap; or thanking Yuma for giving him a chance to find insight into who he is, and what motivates him to reject violence.

His final resolve, however, is to attack the man who has kidnapped Alan and Hazel.

What revelation has Marko learned here? His memory exploration shows the difficulty of going against a behaviour or trait that is ingrained into family groups and culture – violence has always been in his life, from a young age, and is clearly a large part of Wreath culture since Marko’s neighbour decided to attack their dog as practice. Has he come to the conclusion that his resolve for pacifism was limited and flimsy, falling over when Alana made mistakes that put his daughter at risk? It’s a complex question raised here, on when violence is a measured and appropriate response, or when pacifism is the stronger path.

Marko may be returning to his culture’s use of violence as a solution to dire problems.

Another possibility is that his pacifist path is reinforced. Understanding what he is capable of, Marko has the will to fight against the violent drive. Marko could have choses parts of these possibilities, or two at once. The comic succeeds in introducing a truly complex and layered character, who shows the difficulty of handling multiple conflicting ethical ideas at once.

Saga #27 is published by Image Comics ($2.99 USD). Brian K. Vaughan (W.) Fiona Staples (A.) Fonografiks (L. D.) Cover artwork by Fiona Staples.

Superman Doomed #2, New Avengers #24, Saga #23 – Short Comic Review

While I’m on vacation for three weeks, I’ve put together a short round up of comics published this week. I’ll return to full reviews on October 11, 2014.

Superman Doomed #2

The trust Lana and Lois place in Superman is a little inspiring to see. Even more so when they reach out to Superman – telepathically – and urge him to realise that no matter what he looks like, no matter how horrifying he might look, he is still Superman on the inside.

Appearance has nothing to do with strength, integrity, and everything Superman stands for. That’s the value here.

These scenes show excellent us of composition and positive and negative space. Panels and thought bubbles are expertly placed across action scenes. Worldwide, Superman’s friends (Baka, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, and Krypto) are all fighting to stop the villain Brainiac.

New Avengers #24

This comic has a story tied down in months of story telling. The science fiction concept of parallel universes plays out in this comic. The most intelligent characters in the Marvel Universe decided they could prevent incursions – events where two parallel universes collide, and only one of the twins can survive.

Unfortunately, the gathered heroes have fallen out. King Namor has fled to Dr. Doom for help, while the Black Panther’s country is under attack.

The artwork is widely varied. Strong facial expressions convey distaste, rage, fear, and other dramatic emotion.

There is a great deal of Orange and Black used in this comic. The colours wash over panels and scenes, with more violent scenes appearing in orange, and black in use for moments of conversation, drawing attention to the white speech bubbles.

Saga #23

The Truth is boring. If anything is clear in the opening pages of Saga, truth is not enough. People need enticement to believe in something. Life is complicated, but it’s also very short. Another idea appears. A scene between Izabel and Alana highlights that life is too short for petty ego fights, or sacrificing an entire relationship just to win one argument.

There’s some brilliant plot changes here and the artwork is stunning. A cliffhanger ending is a bit chilling.

What becomes more and more clear in Saga is that despite story focus largely centred on Alana and Marko, parents of the narrator, Hazel, there’s no guarantee that these two characters will remain to the end.

Saga #17 – Comics Review

Warning: Saga #17 contains mature and explicit content, which this review mentions and discusses.

Some character spoilers also appear.

What Saga #17 Offers

A key discussion of sexuality – saga maintains a mature rating, and continues it’s bold anti-war arguments. The comics has deep themes about war and conflict, and features a key argument by one of its characters.

D. Oswald Heist tries to make sense of human nature, and advocates freedom of sexuality as the opposite of war. Themes of discrimination and censorship of journalism are also included.

The art is excellent, and captures emotions and body language. Characters raise a variety of ethical questions and discussions with their actions. The comic’s key ethics on war and sexuality would be suitable for students at colleges, and older readers. Also of relevance is ideas on the phrase “kill your darlings”, which makes the comic relevant for writing students.

Cast

Violent attacks on several characters in this issue move the story forward, and highlight real world discrimination. Two newer characters – the journalist Upsher and his partner Doff – are attacked by a character called “The Brand”.

Heist himself is assaulted by Prince Robot IV. Discrimination plays a key part in building the Saga universe: despite the fact that they are targeted not for their preferences, but for their war reporting, the idea of an discrimination is unavoidable since Upsher and Doff are gay characters under attack. Heist is an elderly character also attacked.

Evidently, LGBTIQ characters and elderly characters face discrimination in the Saga universe, which captures a relevant point from the real world.

How this advances the story is more is at stake for Upsher and Doff if they want to continue writing and reporting any news on the main characters of the comic: military deserters Alana and Marko. Heist in danger gives several characters the motivation to take action and escalate conflict.

Alana and Marko, in a moment of desperation, talk about a very dark solution to their problems as fugitives on the run from two powerful consortiums (The forces of Landfall and Wreath).

Art

The art could not be better: it shows off cute but dangerous animals, and captures expressions of delight, anger, and panic in its characters. Glowing and neon colours are used sparingly to add a type of futuristic flash to some character’s weapons. There are powerful moments of sequential art, and great perspective choices.

What is sequential art? Comics and Graphic novels tell visual stories with sequential art – images placed in a sequence that tell a story. Sequential art is also described as juxtaposed panels.

Themes, Ethics, Values for Readers

While discrimination and censorship of journalism are key themes that are unearthed by Saga #17, The key ethic that appear in the comic is a strong anti-war argument. Because the comic values freedom of sexuality, the anti-war argument is not simply about pacifism or peace.

Anit-war movements in America during 1960’s certainly advocated for peace. Heist argues that the opposite of war, however, is sex and sexuality. The comic makes an explicit comment with Heist’s argument. Further, peace is explicitly stated as less valuable as an opposite to war by Heist himself.

It’s the image of a flower, though, that changes the argument, which lines Heist’s argument up more with peace. Heist’s argument plays out as he debates war with Prince Robot the IV. The robot is a regal character, who displays images of what he is thinking on his television set head (that’s him in the cover artwork for issue 17# below without his shirt).

The flower is a potent anti-war symbol commonly associated with the minority movements of the 1960’s in America, which featured culture changing sexual freedom. The flower lines up Heist himself with another prominent, anti-war writer. Allen Ginsberg was closely associated with anti-war movements in the mid-1960’s. According to the Poetry Foundation, He is credited with creating and advocating “flower power” – A strategy where anti-war demonstrators would promote positive values like peace and love to dramatise their opposition to the death and destruction of the vietnam war.

An interesting link between Ginsberg and Heist across pop-culture is the recent movie chronicling the life of Ginsberg: Kill Your Darlings. The last moments of the comic include a narration about how the phrase “kill your darlings” is employed to teaching writing to students. The narrator of Saga – a character named Hazel – develops and expands on Heists personality by talking about his perspective on the phrase.

Saga #17 is published by Image Comics ($2.99 USD). Brian K Vaughn. (W.) Fiona Staples (A.) Fonografiks (L. Design.) Eric Stephenson (Coordinator).

Works consulted:

Allen Ginsberg: 1926 – 1997 (2013). The Poetry Foundation. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/allen-ginsberg

Flower Power. (2013) USHistory.org. http://www.ushistory.org/us/57h.asp

Sandman Overture #1 (of #6): Comics Review

Sandman Overture #1 (of #6)

(This review is spoiler free. No key events or characters details are described)

Not to be confused with the Golden Age superhero Wesley Dodds, or the Marvel super villain and Spider-man antagonist, Sandman is a figure from myth – a defender and builder of dreams. He is a powerful and creative character first published in a comics in 1989. This year is Sandman‘s 25th anniversary – to commemorate and continue the adventures of Sandman – AKA Lord Morpheus – a new comic series telling a prequel tale begins in Sandman: Overture #1.

Cover artwork by Dave McKean. Image from BleedingCool.com

Continue Reading

Saga #13 – Comics Review

Saga #13: Chapter Thirteen

(This review includes some spoilers for Issue #13 of Saga)

After a long gap – the last Saga comic book was published in April 2013 – the popular new series continues: the cast returns in a sequence that fills in the gaps between issues 11 and 12. The new family travel to the planet Quietus to meet with the author of a romantic novel. Alana hopes that meeting Oslwald D. Heist will be a formative experience for her daughter, and help bring some sense and direction into their lives.

 

Art

Reading the comic book creates a sense of exploration and adventure as the story weaves through the cosmos. Clockwork suns with uniform, hexagon scales dotted throughout space are followed by a planet with mountains so tall their pierce the atmosphere and freeze into pointed monoliths jutting out into the black vacuum.

The boneyard surface of Queitus gives off  a solid sense of darkness and sadness.  It’s a lost planet wrapped in smoke, where fields of bones can spring to life. Parasites called Bone Bugs inhabit the dry marrow, and combine together to create monsters built from skulls, femurs, and discarded claws. Drunk writers also wander the surface of the planet in their underpants. The pages on Quietus are the strongest of the comic book.

The clear blue skies and spotless, white marble entrance to the Landfallian Army Hospital is marred by an unexpected sight – a homeless Landfallian man with bedraggled, feathered wings wanders around, looking desolated.

Cast

The sensation of exploration and adventure is interrupted by a battle as Alana proves her mettle in a fight to protect her daughter, Marko, and Klara from bone bugs. The Will has what might be one last moment with the Stalk in an hallucination or dream sequence.

Or the Stalk might have returned from death: her appearance could be more than a hallucination.

The moment, however, is written romantically when the Will comes close to admitting all he ever wanted was a relationship with the Stalk. Klara, Marko’s mother, wears a veil as she grieves following the death of her husband in earlier issues of Saga.  Two new characters are introduced, but not named.

Themes, Ethics, Values.

Saga #13 takes a long, hard stare at grief. Everyone experiences grief and bereavement. Mental Health America (MHA) offers some insight on bereavement – unlike a feeling of loss, bereavement is the feeling that death has caused deprivation. Separation, permanently, from something vital. How the people living on worlds speckled throughout the Saga universe deal with the grief and loss of the ongoing war is revealed in this issue. The pristine army hospital with a homeless Landfallian man wandering in front of it shows that this society funds and endorses its military at the expense of the homeless, and the disenfranchised. A poster inside the hospital reads “Troops are our treasure”.

Since the Landfall and Wreath war is ancient and constant, grief must be common. James Madison in 1795 stated that:

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war” (from the Online Library of Liberty).

This issue refocuses the key themes of Saga – freedoms in the face of war, conflicts over differences, and families.

Living in the present, taking the time to accept the major loss and change, and seeking help from family, friends, and networks are all suggested as solutions for coping with grief by MHA. Some of the characters  follow these steps – The Will reaches out to his crew, giving the slave girl he rescued from the lascivious, space station Sextillion a name – from now on, she’s Sophie.

Grief reaches a resolution in three to six months according to Richard A. Friedman, M.D in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine (May 17, 2012). Saga #13 shows it’s readers how each character grapples with their losses from the first twelve issues. This issue focuses on the “three to six months” – characters are struggling forward with their lives. For Marko, Alana, and Klara that means finding peace for their daughter.

 A bit more on Saga #13

Hazel states in her narration that over the years, they met every kind of person imaginable. Again, some hints are written into the comic that Saga has a long future approaching. The high standard of art and story remains unchanged as Saga returns to regular, monthly releases.

Saga #13 is published by Image Comics. $2.99(USD). Brian K. Vaughn (W.) Fiona Staples (A.) Fonografiks (L.)

Comic Review – Saga Volume 1 Trade Paperback

Saga Volume 1: Issues 1# – 6#.

I saw issues of Saga sitting on comic store shelves throughout 2012. I was impressed by it’s solid cover art: a background colour with a single character or object striking an awesome pose.

The cover art of Issue #1, which was used for the trade paperback, provoked me. I kept thinking, what are these two staring at? Are they aliens, or is this a fantasy story?

It turns out Saga is both, and they are looking out for their daughter, the baby.

Saga bends genre, and mixes up humour, violence, fantasy, and science fiction with themes of family and freedom up against hatred and war.  Brian K Vaughn deftly crafts a tale of adventure around the themes, and knows how to write consistent and layered characters.

 Saga is about a family, but this an adult oriented story with strong language, stronger themes, and often explicit art. That’s the only weakness I can see – Similar to series such as A Game of Thrones,  the story is for mature readers only.

It does not hold back with violence and viscera at times. It’s depiction of childbirth is earthy. Artist Fiona Staples does not shy away from illustrating sexual or violent content.

To introduce the characters, Marko and Alana  are new parents of their daughter Hazel. Marko, the man with the ram horns below, hails from a moon called Wreath, which orbits a planet called Landfall. Since Alana is a native of Landfall, she has a pair of wings. Their daughter has both wings and horns. This is unfortunate, as both Wreath and Landfall have a deep seated hatred of each other, and are currently at war.

Saga: The Art

When Wreath and Landfall are first introduced, the scenes of the two planets in space capture a sense of vastness and beauty. Two spheres, a moon and planet suspended in blackness, circle each other, partially illuminated by a distant sun while stars glimmer around them. It’s hard to believe the worlds are at war considering the space around them is empty and tranquil.

Alana  has outrageous facial expressions, which are accompanied by the best one liner jokes. Through character facial expression, the art conveys humour throughout the comic.

Of course, the new family are hunted by soldiers on both sides of the war. There is no refuge for them as they run from the powerful Landfall army, A Robot prince named Robot Prince IV (Roman numerals for number 4), and two “Freelancer” mercenaries called The Will  and  The Stalk. 

I am a fan of The Will who has an excellent visual design. Fiona Staples’ design choices build layers to his character.

The way he dresses and the company he keeps all represent broken ideals and jaded disillusionment. His blue and red super hero cape is tattered and frayed. He is haggard, and scarred. His pet/partner Lying Cat is a living lie detector. Trust is therefore not something The Will  relies on. All these visual cues tell his story: he had ideals, and strong morals, but has been trampled down by harsh circumstances.

Space in each panel is managed well, giving Saga  a clean and uncluttered feel overall. The comic is packed with detail, but details unfold slowly, and it feels as though each panel in the comic has space to breath. There are several small, visual surprises throughout the comic, which serve to build the science fiction world and entertain.

Saga: A bit more on the Story

Clashes and ideals are a key part of SagaMarko  swears to give up a life of violence as a soldier, renouncing his sword to become a father for Hazel. All the side characters seem to be grappling with how their ideals will match of clash with the universe at war they are living in. Prince Robot IV  is facing the same challenges Marko faces: defy authority and raise his family, or do as authority bids, and go to war. This comic deserves it’s accolades, and is a sublime tale for mature readers.

Saga Volume 1, a trade paperback collecting issues 1# – 6# is published by Image Comics.