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The beloved space drama Saga from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples returns in issue #19, having jumped forward some considerable time. Many things are different since the last time we saw Marko, Alana and the crew, but the thing that’s the same is that the power couple is trying to figure out how to be fugitives and good parents at the same time. By focusing on these two areas, their relationship seems to have taken a hit. This issue ends with a heartbreaking revelation by the narrator, future Haze. It’s something that implies what’s to come and it’s not good for Alana and Marko.
Rereading the issue with that end in mind, there is a great deal of things in this issue that portend marital strife for Alana and Marko. It’s many months after issue #18, and Alana, Marko, Hazel, Izabel, and Klara are now living on the planet Gardenia. Alana has an acting job (at which she’s pretty bad and nearly fired) to provide for the family while Marko watches Hazel, who is now a playing toddler who says adorable things like “skish” (for squish, which means she wants her parents to hug with her in the middle). Marko and Alana also argue about responsibilities and parenting decisions, things that most parents do, but in their case, there are many people who want them dead.
At times, Saga #19 almost feels like an episode of Mad Men, with conversations in which infidelity is constantly a subtext. At the playground, Marko runs into a cute Gardenian who teaches dance to kids. She approaches Marko, who is dressed in disguise as a wounded war veteran, and tries to speak to him in his native language. When he replies in her language, he tells her that he’s “cheating.” He means that he has a language translator but it still causes an awkward pause. Later in the conversation while mentioning her child dance studio, she offers Marko her card, saying “No pressure, but if you’re ever looking for a place to kill an hour, maybe channel some of that extra energy…” On the surface, this is about Hazel, but Vaughan phrases this so it clearly can also be read on another level as a sexually-suggestive offer to Marko.
To further hit the point, the next scene begins with Alana saying “So our marriage vows were a joke?” She says this while acting in costume (as the superhero Zipless). It’s part of the script of her theater/TV program, but it also again can be read on a meta level as a commentary and indication that there’s marital trouble coming for Alana and Marko. Things are hard for both of them. Alana is working a job she doesn’t like and to which she is not particular suited. Marko is trying to be a good father but feeling second-guessed and somewhat useless since he’s not making money. This might be a different culture and Alana and Marko may be a super-liberated couple, and yet gender role expectations still are hard to escape.
As always, Fiona Staples delivers astounding art. Her costume for Zipless, clashing orange and green colors, is both ridiculous and yet also something that I can totally imagine being drawn in a superhero comic. She also continues to push boundaries (as Saga always has), such as having the issue begins with a close-up of the birth of Prince Robot IV’s son, literally emerging from his mother in a full splash page. It’s the kind of “whoa” moment for which Saga has become known. On a less-extreme level, Staples also makes older Hazel recognizable but old enough that we know a considerable amount of time has passed.
Although this issue isn’t jammed with action, it’s very satisfying. The issue, with its jump forward in time, is clearly starting a new chapter in the story, one that promises to take the characters into new territory (both internal and external). As a series that has always been grounded in character and important ideas, the return of Saga in issue #19 hits all the right notes, even if those notes indicate some big changes, perhaps even unhappy ones, are coming.