Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples never intended for Saga to be gone this long. When they announced that the beloved Image Comics series would go on hiatus in 2018, it was expected to last about a year. Until… it didn’t. And now Saga is back to pick up the pieces it left behind, adding a fascinating twist to one of its biggest shocks.
Saga #54, all those years back now, left the series on a bleak note: Marko, one of the series’ primary protagonists, was murdered in a brutal scrap to save his daughter Hazel and wife Alana, and their motley crew of friends and associates picked up in the chases along the way, from the clutches of bounty hunter the Will. It was a shocking note to temporarily conclude the series on even if Saga’s creators had stuck to their original year-long plan, but given the extended period fans have had to sit with the grief of losing one of the series’ protagonists — half of its messy, complicated heart — it’s only become more and more shocking. As Saga returned this week with its long-awaited issue 55 and entered the beginning of its end, it was hard to imagine just how it would handle both the textual cliffhanger of Marko’s death and the wider metatext of the series’ long absence.
Well, not entirely hard. We’ve known since the announcement of the series’ return late last year that we’d be dealing with some amount of time skip, allowing in a way Saga’s focal characters to have sat with the time that we as readers have sat with its absence. But that also gives Saga #55 a fascinatingly melancholic air, one that asks us to consider the possibility that Saga does not want nor need to immediately deal with the grief it concluded with three years ago, because perhaps, like we have, it has had time to pick itself up and carry on. “This is how an idea survives,” Hazel’s ever-present narration states to open the issue. “It grows and changes… often far beyond the intention of its creators.” That surviving idea is intentionally readable a number of ways, referring to Hazel herself, to Saga, to Marko’s own legacy in the series, in death. That some times, people we know just simply change over time, move on in some ways and hold back in others, but always try to keep on going.
Even if Marko’s death is not directly addressed in Saga #55, the shadow of it lingers throughout the issue. It’s informed in the way we encounter both Hazel and Alana, years later — who’ve they’ve become in their continuing life on the run as targets of both Marko and Alana’s people. Hazel’s a little older, a little wiser and more street smart, and no longer quite the innocent young girl we knew years ago, rebellious and not always so willing to listen to her remaining parent. Alana, now trying to scrape together a career as a drug runner, has this fascinating push and pull between being more hardened in some ways in her isolation, and softened in others, as she still yearns to find a way to find peace, away from the ever present conflict between Wreath and Landfall, and simply be a mother to now not just Hazel, but the similarly-orphaned son of Prince Robot IV, Squire.
Saga #55’s breezy pace as it re-establishes a new status quo and also manages to throw in a terror attack, two police-stand offs, and an encounter with pirates flying around in a giant, rather literal skull-and-crossbones ship is both appreciated and almost unnerving. It moves so quickly, and never dwells on the past — it doesn’t see the need to recap what came before, in spite of its long time away, trusting its readers to have been invested in this journey enough to know all that. But that speed and levity also catches you by surprise with just how intently it pushes aside any lingering air of grief the series might have sat with over Marko’s death. It has no time to look back, only run forward, and asks you to join or get left behind in turn.
It’s as refreshing as it is a little sad, if only in the realisation that Saga already gave us the time to move on — instead of us waiting for it, its story was simply waiting for us to catch up before it raced on ahead.
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