I can’t believe Saga has now been with us for a year. I can still remember the sheer thrill of that first issue, a strong contender for best single issue of any comic book in 2012. I read the comic, and instantly read the whole thing again. It immersed us in a world I instantly fell in love with, and that love has only grown, to the point where Saga is undoubtedly my favourite current comic on shelves, filling the void left by Scalped. It’s a very hard comic to review, however, as there are only so many ways you can say Brian K Vaughan is a storytelling genius and Fiona Staples’ art stunningly brings this world and its characters to life. But with Saga #12, the creative team truly excel themselves, closing out the title’s first year with one of the best chapters yet.
This issue confirms what had previously been but a sneaking suspicion: that while The Will was the guy who made the immediate impression on me as show-stealer, Prince Robot IV might just have creeped up on me and emerged as my favourite Saga character. And this truly is his issue, with pretty much the whole comic focusing on him as he pays a visit to the homeworld of D. Oswald Heist, the author of Alana’s trashy romance novel. The ensuing conversation between the pair is a masterclass in conveying plot and character through dialogue by Vaughan, as two people convering in a room takes on Inglourious Basterds levels of suspense and intrigue as each character gives away (or conceals) important things about themselves through what they say or how they say it.
Their topics of conversation range from the morality of war to some commentary on fandom and the nature of creating fiction that some readers are sure to read as more than a little metatextual. But the overall arc of the discourse is to paint a picture of Prince Robot IV as a fascinating, deeply damaged character. Vaughan does a stellar job of having him court out sympathies throughout the issue, as we see him hounded by pressures both external and internal, and find some poignant common ground with this gruff author he has ostensively sought out to interrogate. But just as we’re poised to end the issue thinking of Prince Robot IV as a thoroughly likeable, misunderstood soul, Vaughan pulls the rug out from under us and the character turns on a dime into something quite different, challenging our previous conclusions. The narrative has a few surprises up its sleeve, and it’s definitely worthwhile going back and rereading the whole issue with a knowledge of what’s coming, and see how the dynamics are altered as a result.
As usual, Fiona Staples triumphs with beautiful visuals. She is always adding new strings to her bow and finding fresh ways to impress me, and this time round the latest facet to be discovered is an affinity for wonderfully realising adorable anthropomorphised characters. Plus, as has been alluded to, much of the “action” here is a conversation in a single room, but Fiona Staples manages to make this feel engaging, with the placement of the characters and how they are framed from panel to panel adding further layers of depth to the complex interactions going on.
Of course, there’s one sequence in the issue that has seen Apple controversially ban Saga #12 from its Comixology app. I don’t really know what to say about it other than it’s there. It’s not a big part of the story, and it’s not even blatant or immediately obvious: I never noticed it on first read despite specifically being on the lookout for “NC-17 content” after a friend told me about it. The same friend had to point it out to me when I went back to him saying I hadn’t seen anything. Right now my problem with it isn’t that its gratuitous, but that it doesn’t feel particularly relevant to the story. Though I do trust Vaughan enough to hope he’s going somewhere with this, and I will happily retract my concern if this takes on a deeper significance later. But it’s a very small part of the issue, and it’s a shame it’s resulted in the whole thing being censored.
Saga #12 is another masterpiece from Team Saga, almost recommendable as a standalone read due to a narrative so tight and dialogue so sharp it could be a one-act play. But of course, I couldn’t in good conscience recommend this without suggesting, nay demanding, you throw yourself into the 11 issues of magnificence that preceded it. Saga ends its first year in style. If the years to come maintain this quality, the series will find itself up there amongst the all-time comics greats by the time it comes to its conclusion.
Saga #12 is released in comic shops everywhere tomorrow.