It’s that special time of year again; turkey dinners are being digested, “black Friday” ads all about, and the return of one of the best comic books to store shelves. As the series does roughly every ten or so issues, Image Comics’ “Saga” has been on hiatus since early July to give the creative team a chance to get in some “lead in” time for the next arc as well as to give “trade waiters” a chance to buy the latest collection of the previous arc. In addition, the series’ regular artist and co-creator, Fiona Staples, has been especially busy with handling the art (and covers) for the relaunch of “Archie” during the fall. However, that’s all in the past as Staples reunites with series writer/co-creator Brian K. Vaughan to continue along with the “Saga” which has taken the entire industry by storm.
As always with this series, it excels on providing a give and take between satisfying its audience and putting them through emotional knots over their favorite characters. While Alana and Marko may have finally been reunited at the end of the previous issue, the universe’s star crossed family are once again apart as Hazel and her grandmother Klara (as well as Lexi, one of the band of rebels who were imperiled them all) have fallen into the hands of their enemies. Taken to a distant internment camp set by the Landfall empire for “enemy noncombatants”, it is little better than a prison camp for the adults and a group home for children. While she is still looked after by the ghost babysitter Izabel and her friendly mantis-like teacher, many of Hazel’s sorrows and troubles are hidden just below the surface. As a hybrid of parents who hailed from both Landfall and the moon of Wreath, Hazel has the potential to unite or destroy entire galaxies for what she represents. Having now reached age four, Hazel’s at the point where she can do more but provide narration from some unknown in the future; she can interact with characters on her own to a greater degree. As with every chapter, the cast of characters seems to expand, such as with the transgender Petrichor, another “guest” of the internment camp.
While this is not a chapter with any action, it proves to be an essential one towards showcasing Hazel as being more than the voice of the future or a MacGuffin who others fight over. As she states herself, she’s more than an “egg”, she is her own person. As someone who represents both worlds, Hazel seems capable of seeing the strengths and faults of both societies even at her young age – such as noting to Petrichor that as bad as the Landfallians are, at the very least they accept her as a woman. On the other hand, the average winged soldier of Landfall usually sees the “inmates” of the camp as parasites at best, as a call out to those within our planet who see “illegal immigrants” or “refugees” as less than human despite often hailing from the empire which (in)directly caused them to want to immigrate or seek refuge. As such, among the many themes which exist within “Saga” is the moral that war is hell for everyone, regardless of social position. The fact that it manages this without being bogged down in politics gives it even more power.
As with every chapter, the artwork by Staples is jaw dropping in its ability to capture both depth and simplicity. One can easily see the earth-creatures who inspire the various alien figures who are introduced here, but that hardly makes any of them boring. In addition, Vaughan once again provides a script which is able to mix humor with tragedy and the real with the surreal. It is wonderful seeing Hazel come into her own, even if we know that this only marks a new stage into her trials and tribulations.
Both of the series which Vaughan is best known for – “Y: the Last Man” for Vertigo and “Ex Machina” for WildStorm – ended after roughly five years worth of issues (or between fifty and sixty issues). Assuming that such is the same for “Saga” (which has easily been the best selling and most profitable of Vaughan’s series), this means that as of this issue, readers are officially past the halfway mark of what may be his greatest work yet. As 2015 comes to a close, there are many things to be thankful for in the world of comic books. “Saga” is chief among them. It will remain an essential part of every comic book fan’s library for generations to come.
Below are honorable mentions. They’re all great comics unto themselves, but aren’t up to Saga’s league this time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #52: Two issues past the triumphant fiftieth issue, and things are still not the same; it seems that such a vow actually means something when it’s not uttered by Marvel or DC Comics. Writers Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, and Bobby Curnow continue to plow forward with a brand new era for the heroes in a half shell without any sign of hesitation or fear of the unknown. Having (seemingly) slain the Shredder once and for all, Splinter and his sons have taken over command of the Foot Clan in an attempt to redeem them as well as restore order to the chaotic (and violent) underworld. This means that once again, Leonardo and Alopex find themselves ordering around Foot ninja, only this time in service to a master who appears more benevolent. Yet Splinter’s transition to power has hardly been smooth; he’s trying to avoid being manipulated by the immortal Kitsune as well as stave off an assassination attempt led by a gang of wraith like ninja, led by a traitor within his own ranks! Meanwhile, Casey Jones’ cross country adventure with April has left him feeling more aggressive than usual, to the point that he’s beginning to pummel street thugs before they actually commit crimes, while Michelangelo has officially fallen in with Old Hob’s “Mutanimals” gang at the behest of Mondo Gecko. All are still being watched by the mysterious Winter, who is an agent of the even more mysterious “Darkwater” organization. This confirms speculation from the last issue, that “Winter” is in fact a new version of Alex Winter, a very minor character from the 1987 cartoon series, since in that cartoon, Winter was one of “Dark Water” (who were an elite team of soldiers). The art is once again by Ken Garing, with colors by the infallible Ronda Pattison. Garing seems to give most of the characters a harder edge than most of their recent artists, but in a way similar to Eastman himself. The traitor’s reveal proves to be a little anti-climatic, but everything else about the story has been interesting and above all, unafraid of the series’ new status quo.
Silver Surfer #15: Still running a bit behind (with a previous issue in September), this volume detailing the adventures of the former herald of Galactus officially comes to a close with a belated “last days” crossover issue with “Secret Wars”. Norrin Radd and Dawn Greenwood are still trying to escape the destruction of their universe by taking up Glorian’s offer to remake it via their collective memories and desires. Naturally, his intentions have hardly been noble as it has all been a scheme to steal the power of the omnipotent “Shaper of Worlds” for his own. Now, both Dawn and the Surfer have to come to an ultimate decision; to join with a universe full of their hearts’ desires, or one which still represents their tragedies as well as the unknown. Behind all of the terrific artwork by Michael and Laura Allred and a script by Dan Slott which offers plenty of shout outs to previous issues (as well as older space comics) is a simple tale about having to risk what is safe and comfortable in order to grow. The revelation of Eternity no longer being embodied by Doctor Doom at the right moment is a bit convenient, but that is more to do with this arc’s place within a broader crossover more than any narrative flaw. This is easily one of Glorian’s best stories as well as the conclusion to what has easily been the best Silver Surfer comic in ages, if not decades. Dawn Greenwood has been the best thing to happen to the series since Shalla Bal, and the Allreds’ artwork has been nothing short of Eisner award worthy throughout. Whether one loves or hates Slott on “Amazing Spider-Man”, he’s been wonderful on this series. Its return next year should be highly anticipated.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #2: To borrow a pun from the previous issue, this is merely the second second issue of this series released this year! It will remain to be seen whether this volume of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s wildly entertaining and lighthearted superhero series featuring the perkiest heroine around will do any better in sales than the last one did. It may seem odd for Marvel to relaunch titles which haven’t even lasted a year, but it may be a brilliant strategy to allow virtually any new series from earlier in the year to get a third trade paperback collection. At any rate, this month’s adventure involves Doreen Green (and her side-squirrel Tippy Toe) being zapped at random through time back to the 1960’s. To make things worse, her roommate and best pal Nancy Whitehead is the only person in the present who even remembers Doreen existed. Rather than hesitate in the past for fear of messing up the timeline, Doreen does what she does best – make herself at home and have as much crime fighting fun as possible. As always, this means more brilliant gags and more of Deadpool’s trading card series of super villains, which is the one piece of Marvel merchandise they should be selling (but won’t). The art by Henderson is as bouncy as ever with brilliant color work by Rico Renzi. The only blemish is the fact that the final page treats the appearance of Doctor Doom as a massive revelation when he’s literally on the cover. Considering all of the advances that have been made in modern day comics, it is always irritating when “showing something on the cover” is treated as a cliffhanger. Regardless, this is one of Marvel’s funniest new series, and one hopes the second time around will be the charm for it.