The Happiest Families Are Tighter Than a Hangman’s Noose: “Saga” Issue #40 (Review)
Story by: Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by: Fiona Staples
Our characters’ future on Phang continues to crumble in this issue. The soft, cushy existence they’ve been living is coming to an end. In this issue (and really throughout the comic), family is a running theme—and not just the traditional family. Brian K. Vaughan expertly shows how the definition of family can be altered and tweaked, added to and renewed. And the only consistent thread in that definition is one made up of love, loyalty, support, and respect from each family member. As Hazel wisely narrates: “The happiest families I ever met were all frayed . . . but they were tighter than a hangman’s noose.”
What I love about Vaughan’s writing in Saga is its relatability. Sure, this world is filled with TV-screen-headed humanoids, blue sphynx cats that can tell whether someone is lying, and large, Cheshire Cat–like talking mushrooms, but the story weaves in real-world issues and themes. Slowly we’ve been seeing that Hazel is just like any other kid facing growing pains. She gets into trouble with her friends and throws tantrums and tells her parents she hates them and rebounds shortly after, realizing how much she loves them. She feels jealously when she finds out that her mother is pregnant and she won’t be the only kid receiving attention anymore. But Alana and Marko would do anything for Hazel, and their child soon to come—and we see the real presence of family in this issue. Not just with Marko, Alana, and Hazel but with Jabarah and the meerkat tribe, Sir Robot, Petrichor, and the late Izabel as well. As Hazel puts it, “If a chain is only is strong as its weakest link, then family is more like a rope. We’re lots of fragile little strands, and we survive by becoming hopelessly intertwined with each other.” What perhaps is assumed, but not stated, is how family can easily become unraveled once one of those strands is tugged loose. In this issue, that’s Sir Robot.
He is conflicted over his feelings for Alana and the distraught he feels over missing his son. He dreams of his son and the regret he feels for leading Izabel astray. Shortly before he puts his gun to his head, he tells Alana that his feelings for her weren’t sexual. He fell for her because she would be an excellent mother to his son and will be an excellent mother to the child she’s carrying. In true Brian K. Vaughan fashion, we’re left with a cliffhanger, so Sir Robot’s fate isn’t certain. However, I think Alana will be able to talk him down from the ledge, or knock him out at least. What I love about this interaction is Alana’s reaction. She’s never one to show weakness. “How dare you point that shit at us,” she responds when Sir Robot originally points the gun at her (and baby to be), while picking up a lamp behind her.
She is arguably the bravest character in the comic. Since Hazel was born, everything Alana has done has been to protect her. She stops at nothing to protect her family. We’ve been seeing the larger family Marko, Alana, and Hazel formed on Phang slowly unravel issue to issue. With Izabel’s death, Kurti and the meerkat kids’ violent tendencies, and Sir Robot’s unpredictability, it’s uncertain when that final thread will be tugged loose. However, as Marko sees in the issue, the war ravaging Phang is soon to catch up with the group, and we’ll see just how tight knit a family they truly are. But what’s Gwendolyn’s role in it all? In her cameo in the issue, she’s giving an object to an emissary on Wreath. Will the war ravaging Landfall and Wreath actually be over? Marko did see troops retreating. Perhaps Marko, Alana, and Hazel will have to learn how to survive a normal existence rather than living constantly on the run and being caught in the middle.
As always, Fiona Staples’s art is delightful. Her signature style—thick, black line work in the foreground and more muted colors in the background—allow the characters to pop off the page. She always gets facial expressions and body language just right. I love the two-page spread with Phang heading toward what looks to be a planet shaped like a giant baby. The rings around its head are reminiscent of Saturn, and if we just saw the top of the planet, that’s exactly what it’d look like. But of course in Saga not everything is what it seems. Her cover is great and plays into the theme of Sir Robot missing fatherhood. The cover shows Kurti watching a cartoon on Sir Robot’s screen. With his crossed arms and stiff posture, Sir Robot doesn’t look to be thrilled about it. Yet, he allows it to happen, because he is desperate for family connection.
This is a good issue that moves the story forward and shows some character development. The bizarre continues to be made relatable in Saga, making it one of the best comics around. Vaughan’s smart, creative storytelling and Staples’s striking artwork inside and out make it a must-read month to month.