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


Image Description: book-cover of Saga – Volume 9. The cover is a verticle photo within the space-tree, it’s a family-portrait of Marko (sitting on the floor of the Space-Tree), Hazel (smiling and laughing as she sits on Marko’s shoulders), with Alana standing behind Hazel (circling her arms Hazel’s shoulders and hugging her). There are large blue-glowing toadstool-style mushrooms in the background.

Title: Saga, Volume 9
Creators: Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Format and Price: PDF (direct from Publisher) at US $14.99 (AU $21.43)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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:
The multiple Eisner Award-winning series returns with a spacefaring adventure about fake news and genuine terror. Get ready for the most shocking, most impactful SAGA storyline yet. Collections of Saga issues #49-54

Spoilers: This should be obvious at this point, however, this review will contain massive spoilers. This book review is also going to be super long.

Trigger Warning and Content 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, Domestic Violence, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Drug Use, Drug Use in conjunction with PTSD, death of a child, and abortions.

~Hanging on a Cliffhanger:
This volume ends on a brutal cliffhanger, which is why it’s super important to read from the beginning, otherwise, this series won’t make any sense. But back to the Cliffhanger! I mean… I still don’t know how to talk about it. Wild arm flailing comes close. If Volume 7 was a literary punch to the gut, then Volume 9 is a literary whack to the face with a 2×4, with repercussions that will affect the entire series from now on.

I can understand The Will holding a grudge against Sir Robot for killing his ex-lover The Stalk (although this not without its problems), however, in my view this doesn’t make up for the fact that the situation with The Will has been dragged out for too long. I honestly don’t know how the series is going to continue from this point on.

I’m not saying the comic series can’t continue, I just simply don’t know where the narrative is going to go from here, and I NEED answers! NEED! In some ways, Alana and Hazel’s lives are going to change radically, however, in some ways, they’re not going to change at all. As long as Alana and Hazel exist; they will be hunted by Landfall or Wreath.

Now, Volume 7 had a lot of Plot-Orientated action, but there was little follow-up or reaction to these events within Volume 7, the reaction to the events had to wait until Volume 8. I have mixed feelings about the “bring up a plot point and then deal with it in the next volume” approach to writing. It’s a good way of keeping your readers wanting more, however, the writer does need to address these plot points eventually.

I feel as though not all of the issues that are raised in Volumes 8 and 9 have been addressed in an adequate way (I’ll recognise that this may just be a problem for myself).

~Plot Fizzle – Sir Robot, Petrichor, and Squire:
This volume focuses on how Alana and Marko now have a few extra people in the Space-Tree and it’s getting a little full. The Space-Tree is currently host to Doff and Upsher (journalist and photographer in search of the “true” story behind Hazel’s existence), Sir Robot, Squire, Ghus, and Petrichor. In This Volume, Doff and Upsher offer Alana and Marko a proposal, they offer to write an article about Hazel and the truth of her existence, however, Alana and Marko ultimately refuse. Doff and Upsher also offer access to a special “Identity Protection” program, which is exclusive to Jetsam and their newspaper.

Alana, Marko and Hazel could start a new and normal life together on Jetsam as Fish people. This causes Alana and Marko pause, considering the opportunity to provide Hazel with a normal childhood, but again they ultimately refuse. They didn’t want to change Hazel, they love her dearly just the way she is, and that’s a sweet thing in principle. This conversation is overheard by Sir Robot and he thinks this special “Identity Protection” system is worthy of consideration.

In previous scenes, it’s revealed that Sir Robot and Petrichor have become a couple, and Sir Robot has become quite invested in this relationship. Sir Robot wants to settle down. The core idea of settling down with Petrichor is actually one of Sir Robot’s better ideas. He and Petrichor have a lot of common interests and Squire apparently loves spending time with Petrichor (although the reader doesn’t get to see these interactions).

Petrichor, being more pragmatic of the situation, acknowledges Sir Robot’s feelings but ultimately thinks that the situation between them, while enjoyable, isn’t going to work out long-term. There’s some justification for this mindset, after all, Petrichor is from Wreath, a planet that is current at War with Landfall and The Robot race. Being out and about in public would cause quite the stir.

Which leads us back to the conversation between Sir Robot, Doff and Upsher about the “Identity Protection” program. Sir Robot, without talking to either Petrichor or Squire about this, decides to take Doff and Upsher up on their offer of protection in exchange for information. Apparently, Sir Robot was told by a Robot sex-worker, who was told by an operative (from Landfall) “what really happened” on comet Phang.

Now, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think Doff and Upsher would take this seriously, but I was wrong. They agree to a deal and began investigating the issue. I also didn’t think Petrichor would go along with this, at the very least I had hoped there would be some discussion about how Sir Robot should have talked to her first before deciding for her, but I was wrong about that too.

I would have an easier time believing this if I saw the scene where Sir Robot explained to Petrichor and Squire what he had done and why he’d done it. It would have been good to see that conversation play out and it would have been a better source of conflict. Now, I want to point out that Sir Robot was on Comet Phang for six months, and it could have easily have taken another six months to get back to the planet where Squire and Ghus were, so that’s potentially a whole year of separation. That’s an entire year for Squire’s personality to change and grow.

When Sir Robot said that Squire would do as he was told, I wanted a scene were Squire flat out refuses to do what he was told, I wanted to see Sir Robot and Petrichor struggle with common problems of parenthood. There could have been a scene where Sir Robot tells Petrichor and Squire together about what he has chosen to do, and this would have been a good opportunity for Squire to rebel and plan to run away.

Instead what we get is a forced argument between Sir Robot and Squire. Now, I’m not saying Sir Robot isn’t capable of hurting his son in a fit of rage, anger is a problem for him, the problem is that Hazel is the only one acting like a normal person here. She’s the only one asking why is this happening. Sure, Alana calls Sir Robot out on his behaviour, however, she has experience with an abusive father and, after what happened between her and Marko when he lost his temper with her, it’d be weird for Alana not to say something.

Instead, Petrichor being shown to be having a conversation with Sir Robot about the situation, Petrichor simply tells Hazel they won’t be able to continue their magic lessons because she’s going to become a fish-person with Sir Robot. That it. No real discussion about it, in fact, Petrichor shuts down conversation between Hazel and her when Hazel raises concerns about Petrichor changing her body. Hazel is already mad at Sir Robot for taking away Squire, now he’s taking away her Aunty and mentor, and this could also have resulted in some legitimate conflict. But it doesn’t and it’s frustrating. I hope the creators address these anger issues in later volumes.

I was also kind of hoping the reader would see a scene where Alana and Petrichor (or even Marko and Sir Robot) are having a conversation about the topic, some form of acknowledgement that this might not be such a good idea. But the reader never gets see this scene. If Petrichor has any doubts or fears about the situation, then she hides them very well, and that confuses me. Petrichor is willing to give up everything for this opportunity with Sir Robot and Squire, and I want to know why. Especially since Petrichor is the one who insisted on enjoying things as they were.

~Character Development – Antagonists:
The Will and The Diplomat are more prominent in this volume leading to the explosive grand finale. Normally, I have a problem with The Will having such a big focus, this is because the sections involving The Will are mostly irrelevant to the greater narrative development. While this volume will be the obvious exception, I’m still not convinced of why The Will still needs to have an active role in the Saga narrative. In this Volume, The Will and The Diplomat’s accumulated actions start to add up and make sense.

The problem is that this is The Diplomat’s revenge plan and The Will is being literally dragged into this. The Diplomat captured The Will, and ever since he has been a passive character, which does make sense given the circumstances, but this not engaging. Like a good mercenary, The Will eventually figures out how to change a bad situation into something that works in his favour, but it took him longer than it should have. The Will always had a line he wouldn’t cross, standards he wouldn’t lower himself to, things like cruelty towards children and animals being a big trigger for him (acts The Diplomat appears to take delight in).

The Will tends to fall into the “Noble Demon” character archetype that has, unfortunately, become super common with male antagonists or male anti-heroes in graphic novels and manga. My main problem with The Will and his narrative are that I’ve seen this character type and his story so many times before. Do we really need another variation of The Punisher IN SPACE? In stark contrast, this is not the case for The Diplomat, who serves as an interesting foil to The Will.

In The Beginning, The Diplomat had simply planned to inflict eye-for-an-eye psychological and physical torture upon The Will for murdering her lover (context is important here). The moment The Diplomat found out about Hazel’s existence, that changed, and she decided messing up the narrative surrounding the Landfall/Wreath Civil War would be a better use of her time. The Diplomat was a loaded gun, waiting for someone to pull the trigger, and she was happy to lash out at anyone or anything. The Diplomat enjoyed making others feel as wretched and miserable as herself.

The Diplomat, while lacking any sort of ethical code, was an active and engaging character. I wouldn’t go so far as to feel sympathy for someone like The Diplomat, however, I could understand where she was coming from and what her motives were. The Diplomat, like all good villains, occasionally made a good point about War. In fact, I would argue that the way The Diplomat died at the hands of Upsher is kind of fitting (context is important). A case of “Suicide by Journalist” I suppose.

Now, this could just be the Feminist Reading Goggles, however, I am starting to notice a pattern concerning The Will and the female characters he interacts with. The Stalk, The Brand, and The Diplomat are all female characters who, while being very different from each other, are all interesting characters with their own goals and motives, however, they have all been killed off to advance The Will’s storyline in some way. The Creators have to be aware of the problems associated with Stuffed into the Fridge. The Creators have to be intentional of this by now

In conclusion, I feel as though I’ve discussed this volume for long enough, I don’t know if my issues with this volume are just personal preferences (more tell and less show than I would like), or if Creators are getting sloppy and disinterested the characters and the narrative. I’m happy to discuss this volume and the series as a whole in the comment section below.

Available for Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository

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