Book Review: Saga (Volume 4) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

TL;DR – Just when Marko and Alana look like they have a chance to raise their girl, Hazel, in peace, they self-destruct.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to read reviews of previous volumes of this Eisner award winning series.

Marko, Alana and their family are hiding out on Gardenia. Marko is the stay-at-home dad while Alana is the working mum at a theatre broadcasting centre where she has secured an acting gig. They struggle to find time for each other while juggling their responsibilities and trying to stay under the radar of their pursuers (Prince Robot IV, The Will & Gwendolyn). Little do they know that their pursuers have huge problems of their own.

Prince Robot IV has amnesia and ends up on Sextillion. Back home, his princess wife gives birth to their son. While she holds out hope that those who serve the Robot kingdom will eventually find her husband, she consoles herself with her newborn. However, her bliss is short lived when a vengeful employee at the palace named Dengo murders her and kidnaps the baby. When Prince Robot IV finally gets his memory back and is told the news, all thoughts of the fugitives disappear as he focuses on getting his son back.

The Will is still out of action in a coma lying in hospital. Gwendolyn teams up with The Brand to find an elixir that will heal The Will’s wounds.

Marko and Alana’s relationship comes to a crossroads when Marko discovers Alana has been doing drugs, and Alana finds out Marko has become close to another woman, Ginny, a dance teacher who has been teaching Hazel. Their confrontation leads to Alana throwing Marko out.

The timing of their fight couldn’t be worse as Dengo appears on the scene. His intention was initially to take over the media airways where Alana works to broadcast his message to everyone watching including his Robot royal oppressors, but he then finds out that Marko and Alana are on Gardenia and have had a love child. Dengo realises that if he can show to the masses that a Landfallian and Wreather can overcome their hatred and have a child together then the endless war and bloodshed can stop. Dengo breaks into Alana’s rocket ship home and seizes Hazel. In a desperate move, Alana launches the rocket ship, the sudden take off causing Dengo to let go of Hazel, but he manages to get a hold of Marko’s mother in the ensuing tussle and threatens her at gun point.

At the same time, Prince Robot IV hunts Dengo down to Gardenia but bumps into Marko instead. Together the pair realise that their goal is the same. They both want to rescue their families.

Review

Artist Fiona Staples has been given the freedom to be as graphic as she wants in Saga. She does not shy away in depicting sex and violence, which are not introduced merely for effect but are central themes that dictate the story of the seemingly endless war between Landfall and Wreath.

Volume four opens with Prince Robot IV’s wife giving birth to a son. The Robot kingdom is an alien race made up of humanoid figures with televisions for heads. Biologically, this alien race functions just as humans do except they have a TV where a human head would be. Thus, the first page showing a robot baby coming out of her robot mother’s womb is both bizarre and confronting.

A quick history lesson shows that the Robot kingdom resides on a dwarf planet that has sided with the Landfallians. Like the name suggests, not everyone on this planet is considered royalty and we are thus introduced to Dengo, a Robot janitor, working at the palace where said princess just gave birth. Calling Dengo a disgruntled employee is putting it mildly as he is asked to clean up the mess in the birth suite and displays on his TV head the image of an angry skeleton face. Suffice to say, I don’t think it’ll take much for Dengo to get pushed over the edge.

We then switch over to our fugitive family. Marko wraps his face up in bandages to hide his features while he takes Hazel out to play. Alana is the bread winner and working at a theatre called Open Circuit. The characters she plays always wear masks, so she is less likely to be recognised. We follow their daily struggles while an “older” Hazel does a narrative over the top of what we see in the pictures. Everyone seems quite happy but “older” Hazel says this is the story of how her parents split up.

Writer Vaughan makes the story relatable by introducing elements that would make any relationship pull apart at the seams. The key triggers are the threat of a potential affair (i.e. Marko becoming attracted to another woman) and the use of drugs to cope with a stressful job (i.e. Alana working in a theatre company as an actress performing roles that she hates).

This would be ho-hum if not for the fact that it happens against a backdrop of galactic war, and that Marko and Alana are wanted fugitives. The cleverness comes in the form of saying that relationship challenges are universal regardless of race (alien or otherwise), colour and creed. That Marko and Alana were able to see past the hatred instilled in them by their political leaders, war propaganda, and conditioning, yet still be undone by the very common temptations that a committed relationship face is both astute and compelling. Self-destruction can happen in any form. As the reader, we want our fugitive pair to overcome the immense obstacles presented to them but when the obstacles are of their own making then that flips things on their head. Gripping in unexpected ways.

4 out of 5.

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