Saga, the gorgeous colloid of Brian K. Vaughan’s words and Fiona Staples’ art, is a space opera comic for people who toked up on Star Wars as children and are ready to inject something more serious. Yes, Saga has sex and ambiguous moralities and feces and swear words and, spoiler, giant auto-fellating salamanders. But there’s one big difference between Star Wars and Saga that gets overlooked and that’s death, or, more specifically, vastly different approaches showing it. Anakin wheezes out a few last words of reconciliation to his son, Qui-Gonn gets a quiet scene with Obi Wan, and Yoda gets his deathbed Muppet moment.
The good folks in Saga get their brainpans skewered or ventricles blasted out with nary a sayonara. It’s the lack of closure that kicks you in the heart. Saga Volume 5 is bleak and beautiful. There are no Muppet moments.
Vol. 5’s collection of chapters, though no shorter than the other books, reads faster than the previous installments. Where we were able to linger for a bit with Marko and Alana and Hazel previously, with the writer Oswalt or on the planet Gardenia, we’re on the downhill now. Events come at the reader fast. So does a metric ton of violence, which means more characters schlepping off to the great white gutter space in the sky.
Though death pulls no punches, Saga still manages to read more as farce than tragedy. That’s amazing considering the memorial worth of protagonists laying in their own ink. Isabel, the spectral babysitter bonded to the soul of Hazel, wasn’t that much more than a kid herself when she was claimed by an anti-personnel mine; her body is a floating half, guts flapping in the wind. And valiant self-sacrifice cuts both ways here with one death that feels utterly and unsparingly meaningless. With apologies to Mr. Spock, this volume features the most glorious suicide by spacecraft engine repair to ever grace a fictional universe.
If you are a loyal Saga reader, you can feel the end is coming. Vaughan, for his part, says he has the conclusion mapped out and it definitely feels like the narrative is reeling the characters toward their fates. Saga is still funny 30 chapters later, but Hazel’s story about her parents ain’t a comedy.