COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Saga #52 (Danger Approaches)

Bounty hunters and flesh eating monsters do not make for a fun day at the beach. With danger converging on all sides, Prince Robot will have to make some very hard choices. Can the families survive them?

Saga #52
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Cover Artist: Fiona Staples
Colorist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics

What You Need to Know:

On the run from an endless war, star-crossed lovers (and former blood enemies) Alana and Marko have found temporary safe harbor for their rocket-tree, their draggle-tailed friends, and Hazel, the interspecies daughter they’re currently in the process of raising. There are several bounties on all of their heads. In this issue, they’re camping in an abandoned intergalactic amusement park while they negotiate selling their story to reporters in exchange for help and a possible escape. This respite is about to be bloodily broken by the appearance of a Bounty Hunter and a very angry, very rich woman who owns a lot of knives, a lot of guns, and a selection of fabulous Tudor-style outfits. Seriously, her style game is absolutely on-point.

What You’ll Find Out:

The issue opens with Hazel, Prince Robot (a former enemy and current ally), Petrichor (Robot’s girlfriend), and Ghüs (a very fluffy badass) playing ‘Chicken’ in the shallows of an ocean world beach. The game ends when Ghüs knocks Hazel from Prince Robot’s shoulders and Hazel asks them to consider remaining with her family. Prince Robot explains that selling his story to the media is the only way to protect his son and remain with his girlfriend and states that they might be reunited ‘after the war ends.’

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The scene shifts to Marko roasting fish on the beach with a reporter from the media world. They have a conversation about whether it is possible to save the world through writing — whether poetry can make anything happen, or if it merely survives. The reporter believes that it can, but that since people die for ideas all the time, writers have to accept that they’re committing violent, radical acts by setting those ideas loose in the world. This wordy interlude ends when Alana emerges from their rocket-tree to say that Prince Robot’s son, Squire, has attempted to escape from Robot’s plan to separate the families and has done a runner through the spaceship’s toilet. Prince Robot and company appear just in time to hear this and the Prince gets angry. The group agree to search for the missing child.  

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The scene cuts to the aforementioned heavily-armed, exquisitely dressed woman currently searching for both The Will (the Bounty Hunter she coerced into leading her to the families) and a hostage to take so that she can complete her vengeance. She finds a note from The Will which reads, ‘Lanthe, I killed your stupid boyfriend, you skinned my sweet dog. We’re square. Leave this place now or I change my mind. — The Will’. She crumples the note in her fist and stalks through the long grass, ready for hunting.

Meanwhile, back on the beach, Prince Robot has found a note from his son which states that he plans on returning to the Robot Planet. Petrichor points out that the place is filled with broken rides and dangerous wildlife and Prince Robot admits that part of the reason that his son ran away was due to the fact that he’d struck the boy for disagreeing with him. Alana becomes enraged at this, shouting ‘Every time I start to forget what a horrible person you are you find a new way to become even shittier.’ and prepares to beat him to a mushy robot pulp. Marko interrupts her. He’s fully armored and carrying a platter of flares for them to set off when they find the kid. They split into groups, Ghüs distributes a variety of pointy, explody things ‘raided from the no-no closet’ and Hazel pinky-swears to remain in the rocket-tree until the adults return from their search.

At this point, the scene shifts again, this time to the lost boy, Squire, who is wandering through the grasslands around a broken roller coaster. He’s looking for transport off of the planet but instead, he finds a friendly looking giant rainbow snake creature which turns out to be part of a decidedly unfriendly flesh-eating monster. The monster tries, very hard, to eat the boy but as the incongruously-cheerful tentacles drag Squire to the ravening maw, three bullets pierce their leathery hides and Squire falls to the ground, rescued by a very rich lady with fabulous clothes.

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The final scene takes place as Prince Robot searches for his son on the cliffs overlooking the beach. He is cornered by The Will who has a grudge of his own to settle with the deposed Robot. The Will captures Prince Robot and prepares to kill him, but is stopped at the final moment when the Robot offers an exchange — his life for that of Hazel, the child wanted by the governments on both sides of the war.

What Just Happened?

There’s a lot to love about this comic, as a series and as a single issue. This issue is fairly plot-heavy and it’s probably not the best jumping-on point for new readers (I’d recommend any of the TPBs for that, though it’s still possible to begin at the beginning with this series and get caught up) but Vaughan maintains his usual careful balance of character-driven introspection, humor, and splashy action, so the fact that this issue exists primarily as a means to set the characters up for the confrontation coming in the next issue never really bothered me. The series has invested a lot of time into studying these characters, in giving them room to breathe and grow, and this pays off in reader investment. We’ve watched Prince robot do some absolutely appalling things over the course of this story. When his wife was dying, he was in a brothel using prostitutes to drown out his PTSD flashbacks. We’ve seen him murder people out of nothing more than his own sheer frustration. But we’ve also seen him spend several years working to regain his honor and raise his son. We’ve seen him fall in love with Petrichor (a transgender woman who was inadvertently rescued from a prison camp) and we’ve seen the struggle that he’s had to build a new family and provide safety for them. By this point in the story, it’s clear to the reader why he’s willing to sacrifice a child who he clearly loves in order to save his own family. That doesn’t make the sacrifice forgivable.

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At heart, this story is about broken people who are trying to form functional families and find some kind of meaning beyond the machinations of political bodies who use living, thinking beings as fodder for their wars and power struggles. Vaughan’s writing never drops that thread and Fiona Staples’ clean, uncluttered art is exactly as unflinching. In this issue, children suffer for the mistakes of their parents and that is reflected in the imagery. The issue opens with a spread of Hazel, perched on Prince Robot’s shoulders, while his face/screen displays the threatening jaws of a shark. It’s a scene of play, undermined and enhanced by the threat of imaginary danger. The issue ends with a page-sized close-up of the Robot Prince’s cracked face, his shattered screen, holding the image of Hazel, bound, gagged, and ready for delivery to her would-be tormentors. In fiction, as in life, children are most often threatened by the ones they trust to protect them. This issue conveys that point beautifully. Pick this one up.

Rating: 8.5 /10

Final Thought: This issue struck a good balance between character and plot, but although the writing was tight, it was impossible to disguise the fact that this issue was primarily intended as a bridge to the next part of the plot.

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