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Sometimes storytellers will plant a seed that seems relatively insignificant at the time, but takes on greater import in the future. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have done that, to a degree, in Saga #41. On its surface, the issue ends with a character making a rather violent rescue. That’s the sort of big climax of the issue. However, based on things readers have learned in previous issues, that moment means something else. There will be some SPOILERS to follow.
Marko and Alana are raising their daughter Hazel the best way they can. However, they are fugitives because each parent is from a warring planet. Many times, Marko, Alana and Hazel (as well as their associates) have come into danger. In Saga #41, the freelancer The March is on their tail, after “killing” their ghost babysitter Izabel. The March takes Kurti, a young friend of Hazel’s, and holds a knife to his throat, asking for Hazel. When Alana attacks, The March knocks her down easily. Hazel shows off a bit of magic (from her Landfall side) and throws The March off balance for a moment. When The March recovers and is about to come after Alana and Hazel, the freelancer is struck down by a flurry of blaster fire. The last page shows us the shooter is Marko, here to save his family.
So one reading of the end is triumphant. Marko plays the hero, rescues his family and dispatches an enemy who would see them harm. However, that overlooks Marko’s recent arc, which has been all about nonviolence. He has faced numerous threats over the past number of issues and has also tried a non-violent or non-lethal retaliation. Initially, this seemed due to Marko’s time in the Landfall-Wreath war. Marko admitted, though, in Saga #40 that he actually enjoyed the violence. In that context, there is something a little tragic about Marko destroying The March. It was necessary, but his recent struggles have been undone. Additionally, Mark’s bloodlust has been stirred. We don’t know how this will affect him in the future.
There is also an important story element that is mentioned in the beginning of Saga #41. The planet Phang where Marko, Alana, Hazel and their friends are currently located is about to imminently enter a Timesuck, which is like a space vortex. That detail might be forgotten after the tense confrontation with The March. While they managed to win against The March, they still face an even bigger threat. Also, there is not a clear way off Phang. So we do not know how they will all escape the Timesuck.
Saga #41 features another important scene that has nothing to do with Phang. Former freelancer The Will returns to see Sophie, the girl he rescued many issues ago along with his former partner The Lying Cat. Many years have passed in the story and Sophie now lives with Gwendolyn, working towards peace. The Will offers to take her and The Lying Cat with him. Fans would likely loved to see the three reunited. However, Sophie tells The Will that she has a different kind of life. Likewise, when offered the choice to go with The Will or Sophie, The Lying Cat chooses Sophie. It has been a hard few years for The Will. It will be interesting to see where Vaughan and Staples take the character, who now seems to have no obvious story direction.
Staples creates a great sense of pacing in this issue. The threat of The March is expertly handled. There are a lot of characters involved in this scene and a less skilled artist might “lose” track of some of them. Staples, though, gives us a clear sense of where each is located – with the exception of Marko, who appeared to be unconscious. She then elegantly handles the climax of the issue – the shooting of The March. Staples flows the suspense of who actually fired the blaster across the last two pages, and I was genuinely surprised when it was revealed it was Marko. These are the subtle things that Staples does so well as a comic book artist.
Saga #41 does a lot of little things well. Even though there is a big confrontation, I think some of the significance of the story is not obvious until you think about it in the context of the recent issues of the series. Vaughan and Staples mix the tense story beats and action moments into well-established characters arcs. That makes the action matter more than simply as plot twists or advancements. The two creators show that these characters, ones we have spent years following, are still changing.