Book Review: Saga – Volume Seven by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Image Description: book cover of Saga, Volume Seven by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. The cover has a green and dark green tint over the cover, the cover's main focus is a side-profile picture of the series two main characters Alana and Marko. Alana is holding a laser rifle and is firing at someone off-screen, Marko is holding a shield and deflecting fire, he is also looking over his shoulder at something off-screen.
Title: Saga, Volume Seven
Author: Brian K. Vaughan (Writer) and Fiona Staples (Artist)
Publisher: Image Comics
Format and Price: From the Image Comics website, Print Book at US $14.99 (AU $19.50) and Digital Book/PDF at US $11.99 (AU $15.60).
Rating: 4 out of 5

About The Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan is the award-winning writer of comics like Saga, Y: The Last Man and The Private Eye, a digital, pay-what-you-want series available at this site Panel Syndicate. His upcoming works for Image Comics include the futuristic military thriller We Stand on Guard with artist Steve Skroce and the young adult mystery Paper Girls with Cliff Chiang. He sometimes dabbles in television, including stints on the hit series Lost and Stephen King’s Under the Dome.

About The Artist:
Fiona Staples is a comic book artist living in Calgary, Canada. She has illustrated comics such as Mystery Society, Done to Death, Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor, Jonah Hex, and Northlanders, and contributed covers to DV8, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Criminal Macabre, Superman/Batman, Archie, and more. Her work on the 2009 horror series North 40 was nominated for an Eisner Award, and she took home the 2011 Shuster Award for Outstanding Cover Artist. She’s currently working on the ongoing Image series Saga, with writer Brian K. Vaughan.

About The Book:
From the worldwide bestselling team of Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, “The War for Phang” is an epic, self-contained Saga event! Finally reunited with her ever-expanding family, Hazel travels to a war-torn comet that Wreath and Landfall have been battling over for ages. New friendships are forged and others are lost forever in this action-packed volume about families, combat and the refugee experience.

Trigger Warning: This graphic novel series contains the following topics: Civil War, Death, Grief, graphic depictions of Combat, Deaths of Soldiers during a Civil War, Deaths of Civilians during a Civil War, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Drug Use, Drug Use in conjunction with PTSD, Death of a child.

Spoiler Warning: With the list of Trigger Warnings, this should probably be a given, however, as this is volume seven in a long-term series, it will be difficult not to spoil something. This particular volume contains a lot of heavy stuff, a literary “punch to the gut” type of heavy. I seriously recommend that reading these graphic novels from the beginning, and in order, or it’s not going to make sense.

This review won’t be following my usual pattern. With my Book Reviews, I usually categorize elements of the media into aspects I liked and aspects I didn’t like, however, I don’t think I can do that with this graphical novel. War on Earth, let alone a Civil-War IN SPACE that has been going on for decades (possibly centuries) and involves multiple star-systems and multiple alien races, is too complicated for simple or even general terms such as like and dislike. Be prepared for ALL THE FEELS, and by ALL THE FEELS, I mean sitting in a corner and contemplating the depth of War-time horror that people are capable of inflicting upon one another.

Image Description: a still image of Sponge-Bob Square-Pants sitting at a diner-style table and booth with a steaming cup of hot-drink in front of him.

At the end of Volume 6, Marko and Alana (with the help of Sir Robot – formally known as Prince Robot IV) have rescued Hazel but have left behind Marko’s mother (she volunteered to stay behind to help educate people in the prison she was being kept inside of). It was also revealed that Alana was pregnant again.

So, at the beginning of Volume 7, Hazel is dealing with the fact she has just found her parents and will soon have to share them with a younger sibling, that Isobelle has been her only constant throughout her very young yet complex life, her grandmother is gone, and she’s in a dangerous war-zone – The Comet Phang.

The War for Phang is a brutal example of what happens when you apply the expression “cut off your nose to spite your face” in terms of Civil War and Battle strategy. The comet is rich in fuel and nothing else, but Landfall and Wreath are determined to keep fighting and sacrificing for it.

The source of the Comet’s strategic value stems from the fact that it contains a rich source of energy beneath the surface, Landfall and Wreath do not want the other party to obtain said fuel and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this outcome. The comet itself has no industry or sources of trade and, unless you own a space-ship or something like one, there is no escape.

Despite the heavy loses both Landfall and Wreath have endured, however, it’s the citizens of Phang (mostly refugees who have resulted from the Landfall/Wreath Civil War) who suffer the most, they get pretty much no say in this conflict, and the civilian fatalities are far worse than either military party. It has become common for War-Widows to come to the comet in search of their spouse’s bodies.

When Alana and Marko, along with their acquired motley crew, land on the comet to recharge their space-tree (this makes sense in context) and the surrounding area has little to no food or water and is located in what is considered the neutral zone of the comet. There is nothing but rubble and mass-graves surrounding the space-tree, although there is a Robot Embassy some distance away.

It’s estimated that it would take a few weeks to recharge their space-tree, six weeks at maximum. When they emerge they are greeted by a starving family of talking meerkats, mostly children and lead by their highly religious/spiritual grandmother. It is because of this family, whether direct or indirect means, that the following plot events take place.

Alana and Marko end up staying on Phang for six months. SIX MONTHS. Sir Robot (formerly known as Prince Robot IV) has been denied access to his son Squire for six months, which seems a little hypocritical of Alana and Marko, as they are people who supposedly care very much about reuniting children and parents. Grandmother Meerkat (I’m sure she has a name but I can’t remember what it is) is quick to express her gratitude for Alana and Marko staying longer than they needed. They both know the Meerkat family would have died without Alana and Marko’s intervention.

Sir Robot and Petrichor (a Wreath trans-woman who was previously an inmate from the same detention centre as Hazel and her grandmother were imprisoned in), frequently ask and complain that they should leave, before it becomes too late, so naturally, these two people are ignored. I couldn’t tell if Sir Robot and Petrichor were asking Alana and Marko, or if they were asking the creators. Petricho has one of the most memorable lines in the volume, “Remember, you have the future to think about. And you’ve surrounded yourself with people who think only of the past.”

Petrichor almost considers the tree-ship another form of prison, which explains why she’s always the most eager to scout out the surrounding war-zones and to keep tabs on the surrounding battlefields. I despise the use of “The Complainer is always wrong” trope, especially when they end up being right all along.

While the slow pace of this volume is a little frustrating, I suppose it’s in-character that Alana and Marko have put so much effort into the process of finding and rescuing Hazel, but have put little thought into what do afterwards. As a hybrid, it’s not as though Hazel would be able to have a normal childhood, and the comet Phang does offer a few stolen moments of normalcy.

It turns out that Wreath and Landfall have come to a mutually beneficial solution to the War on Phang, and by mutually beneficial, I mean it only benefits Wreath and Landfall. They plan on sacrificing Phang to a Timesuck (a giant baby creature that eats time and destroys anything and everything in its path). Both parties are prepared to round up people (at gunpoint if needed) and escort them from the comet, no doubt to dump them somewhere else.

There is a problem with this, the Robot race doesn’t agree on this particular problem-solving method, and it’s revealed later that Landfall operatives have no problems with shooting members of the Robot race (people who have been their allies since the beginning of the war) to achieve their goals. This is not the first time that it has been revealed to the reader that, while Landfall needs the Robot race (they are immune to lots of different attacks like gas and Wreath magic), Landfall doesn’t trust them.

The problem with the plot elements is that the plot build up is slow but then they all seem to converge at once. Because the tragic events of the volume take place right at the end of the volume, it may take a couple of re-reads to process it all, if that’s possible for some readers.

One of those tragic events that were difficult to process was Isobelle’s sudden second-death. Isobelle is killed with a “magic sword” at the hands of a Bounty Hunter, the events happen quickly and aren’t really addressed, I suspect that the deeper effects of Isobelle’s absence will be demonstrated in later volumes (or at least I hope so).

I understand that this may have been deliberate and, as Hazel points out, sometimes we don’t get a goodbye and sometimes we don’t don’t get closure when it comes to losing someone we love. Isobelle was one of my favourite characters, her second-death was like a punch to the gut, I will miss her brash honesty and I’m sure I will not be the only one.

Perhaps it was meant to be an intentional way of showing how Alana and Marko can be lead astray by their sense of compassion and empathy for others. I think this is the crux of the volume’s narrative. How much help is too much help? What’s the fine line between helping desperate people and enabling them? The meerkat family won’t leave, and Alana and Marko can’t stay, but neither party wants to acknowledge this very obvious truth.

The end result is that Alana and Marko end up paying dearly for their inability to be honest with themselves, and their prolonged stay results in the loss of Isobelle and the death of their unborn child.

While the loss of Isobelle and even the loss of Marko and Alana’s unborn child seemed more-or-less organic to the narrative, there were a few plot-point that didn’t seem organic to the narrative or at least require further exploration. One of these plot-points that I take issue with is when Sir Robot takes Fade-Away and tries to kill himself.

I get the point that the artist and writer are trying to make about Sir Robot, that despite the fact that he’s immune to gas attacks, ghost illusions, Wreath Magic, Sir Robot can be surprisingly fragile. At the beginning of the series, Sir Robot was already dealing with some serious PSTD, he was having uncontrollable flashbacks, and it was affecting his ability to be intimate with his wife.

The fact that his wife was murdered and his son was kidnapped, in my view, didn’t really help with the PTSD, however, during this time, he sneered at the use of Fade-Away, he even saved Marko’s life when it appeared that Marko was going to die from an overdose, so Sir Robot knows first-hand the potential dangers of taking this very powerful and addictive narcotic.

It seemed to me that the creators wanted Marko to kill the Bounty Hunter and break his vow of pacifism and then proceeded to work backwards, which means they had to remove Sir Robot from the narrative equation (despite how out of character it may seem). While I understand and even agree with the idea of Sir Robot feeling some form of emotional-attachment to Marko and Alana, however, I just can’t agree with the development of a love triangle.

The love triangle conflict between Sir Robot and Alana kind of makes sense in a weird sort of way, it also feels forced and tacked on. At this stage, I just don’t buy it, it doesn’t seem like a genuine source of conflict. Even Sir Robot is willing to acknowledge that he loves the idea of Alana (her maternal instincts) because he wants his son to have a mother just like her. If you’re only in love with the idea of a person or the role that they play, then you’re not really in love with them as a person.

Another problem I had with this volume was that a large chunk of the narrative space of volume 6 and volume 7 has been dedicated to The Will, a character that doesn’t deserve such a large scope of narrative focus. The Will, after waking up from a coma to discover his sister is dead, is determined to put himself back into a coma via drugs and alcohol. This pointless back and forth with The Will has become tedious.

The Will has become a pitiful shadow of what he used to be, I have no comprehension of why the artist and writer continue to write and draw him as a feature character, he’s not interesting, and he doesn’t add anything to the story. All the characters he used to share a connection with have moved on with their lives and have left him behind. The Will is no longer wanted or needed and, while I know this will sound callous, I truly hope he’s been killed off for real this time.

All in all, this edition was emotionally-charged and did not shy away from displaying the horrors of war, it’s a conflicting edition to the series that asks a lot of questions, I truly hope a lot of these narrative problems and conflicts are addressed in Volume 8, which is coming out on 27th of December. If people disagree or agree with my thoughts on Volume 7, please let me know in the comment section below, I’m happy to discuss it.

3 comments

  1. WOW! I’ve heard a few things about the graphic novel Saga, but never this in depth. I’ve been on the hunt for a good graphic novel and I think this one might be it! Thank’s for the in-depth review, it’s finally convinced me that I need this series in my life! Great review!
    -Jared
    dabook.club

    • Thank you, I normally don’t write super long reviews like this, so I’m glad you’ve decided to take an interest. Saga is really good, although I truly recommend reading from the beginning.

  2. […] I wrote a review for Saga – Volume 7, but let’s just say it’s intense, and we’ll leave it at that. It also wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it was simply that I had to wait a super long time for the volume to come out and that this volume (while super crucial to the plot) felt more like a stepping stone to much more important volume. The big problem with the Saga series is that the collected volumes are only 155 pages long, shorter than your average 200-page manga volume, and that’s not a lot of narrative space to work with. It sometimes felt as though certain characters or certain plot-lines were getting more narrative-focus/narrative-attention than they deserved. […]

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