After a harrowing few months as intergalactic fugitives and first time parents, Alana and Marko have finally settled into a groove. With Alana busy at all hours with her work on the Circuit and Marko watching Hazel as a stay-at-home dad, both take to different means to escape the monotony they’ve fallen into – a monotony not destined to last, thanks to a sudden shift in the Robot Kingdom. As always, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ “Saga” continues to be astounding with clever storytelling and spot-on expressions.
In what should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, Vaughan is a master of his craft and this installment is further evidence. Although “Saga” #20 reads like a low key kind of issue on the surface, Vaughan sets a lot of gears in motion and the result is brilliant. A single read simply doesn’t suffice; with so many layers and subtly laid foreshadowing, more and more of Vaughan’s deft storytelling skills shine through only upon subsequent reads. Even with such meticulous attention to detail and much less action that previous arcs, the temptation to just plow through the story is strong. In fact, about three-quarters of the way through, I found that I was so caught up in the story that I had forgotten to take notes.
The devil is in the details, as they say, which just goes to show where Vaughan draws his power. His dialogue is mesmerizing; even in this bizarre setting, the small domestic habits of his characters feel incredibly grounded and naturalistic. He has a fantastic knack for creating characters that are sympathetic right off the bat. While the narration jumps all around the galaxy, the transitions between scenes are nothing short of flawless, spinning key words that draw logical connects and make the story flow effortlessly. What’s more, he handles his meta commentary with impressive grace. That is, he is never overbearing, adding just enough of a wink to be noticeable.
Staples carries her end of the issue with just as much ingenuity. As a whole, this issue included far less outlandishness, which simply shifted the spotlight from her inventiveness to her figure work and, boy, did it shine. For instance, Marko’s look of abject horror when Hazel calls Ginny ugly and Ginny’s benevolent reaction are priceless, capturing his mortification while adding some sweet, clean humor to the scene. Likewise, toddler Hazel is simply adorable, capturing just enough of both Marko and Alana in her appearance and action to make it clear that she is really, truly their daughter. Additionally, in dialing back the weird factor, she also contributed to the feeling of monotony that predominated this issue, reasserting the idea that Alana and Marko have fallen into a more dull existence. That isn’t to say, of course, that Staples totally abandons her flare for the bizarre; she flexes her creativity with the Circuit’s crazy wardrobe department and a wonderfully bombastic drug trip scene.
Like George R. R. Martin, Vaughan and Staples consistently remind readers that no character is safe — and that we should be very, very afraid for what’s to come. “Saga” #20 is no different with a slow, ominous build, foreshadowing aplenty, and one of the book’s signature gut-wrenching conclusions. Even in its quieter moments, “Saga” still manages to knock it out of the park.