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In Saga #27, Marko has something of a moment of clarity, albeit one that comes about from unusual circumstances. There are many different “fronts” on which Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have been telling the current story in Saga. However, they confine issue #27 to only those with Marko. The narrow focus, which includes extensive flashbacks for Marko, work well.
At the end of the previous issue, Marko decides that he didn’t want to feel so much, and so he asks Alana’s friend (and drug supplier) Yuma to try the drug Fadeaway. It turns out to be a bad batch and Prince Robot IV finds both Marko and Yuma overdosing at the start of Saga #27. Therefore, much of this issue are scenes of Marko’s youth that he is re-seeing as he goes through his bad trip. The sequences help to fill in some more of his background and motivations. Both Marko and Alana have felt like fully-formed characters since the beginning of Saga, but seeing more of his earlier life does make it a little easier to get why he has had complicated feelings towards violence for much of the series.
What we learn about Marko is that he had a bad experience when he was a child. A neighbor girl was tormenting (possibly torturing) Marko’s pet and he ended up beating the girl up. That results in Marko getting rather harshly (though believably) beaten from his father, Barr, with a belt. There are numerous levels of violence in this interaction: the girl acting against an animal, Marko acting against the girl, Marko’s father acting against him. All three affect Marko, and it shows how violence has a long tail that influences people in different ways.
The bad trip sequence in Saga #27 reminded me of another Vaughan story – the lauded “Safeword” arc of Y: The Last Man, in which Yorick is bound and submerged by Agent 7-11 and realizes what he has to live for. In both that arc of Y: The Last Man and Saga #27, the main character goes through a harrowing and consciousness-changing situation, and comes out on the other side with important clarity. For Marko, he ends Saga #27 by passing the Rick Grimes hurdle of again embracing violence, stating he is going to cut off the head of the man (or robot, in this case, named Dengo) who took his family away.
The art from Fiona Staples is of course still great. Her renditions of young Marko are charming and also heartbreaking at times. She is able to run through a number of montages, shifting back and forth in time, without losing a beat. If there is anything about the art that I don’t think works as well, it was how Saga #27 opened with yet another graphic sex scene. I get that Vaughan and Staples want to show that sex is no worse than violence to depict, but the sexuality of that opening scene feels a little gratuitous in a way that took me out of the story.
It’s interesting that Vaughan and Staples chose this moment to slow down the narrative and focus on a portion of Marko’s backstory, since they have three different story groups at the moment, all on a collision course. The change of pace is a nice departure. It’s also some unpredictable moments that we’re presented from Marko’s past. It does connect in a believable way to Marko’s recent avoidance to violence. His awareness of this past incident also seems to free him of that aversion. Look out Dengo, Marko is coming for you!