Story by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples
Letter by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Saga returns, this time with a story about favorite fish men gay couple, Upsher and Doff as they continue their search for Hazel and her family.
As ever, the highly talented Fiona Staples makes a gorgeous cover. A very powerful element to this cover is the mood of tranquility. This is a given with the underwater scenario (unless a shark popped up for chow time). The use of green here, a color already associated with harmony, makes the reader feel peaceful in this tranquil world. Upsher and Doff complete this tranquility. Their holding hands is such a simple, yet evocative gesture. They’re at peace, floating carelessly, their love radiating like the sun. It’s a heart-warming image, no doubt to be undercut by danger.
The interior art continues to tickle art-loving funny bones. Staples has an uncanny way of making fantastic scenery feel relatable. The giant metal orbs in the scene with spaceships flying out might look out of this world, but inside they’re really just airports. Yeah, yeah nerds. You’re crying “hipster scifi!” But that’s what makes Saga unique from all the other sci-fi out there with onesie clothing and chrome houses. This is our world, but full of aliens.
Speaking of aliens, Staples truly proves in this issue how she can make them human-like. Despite Marko, Alana, and Hazel being aliens, they are recognizably human. In this issue, Staples focuses on the more alien characters. They’re a far cry from xenomorphs, but their peculiar skin colors and bodily appendages make them more foreign to the reader. Staples is able to make a connection by showing the aliens in their day-to-day lives. They wear suits and ties, they wait forever in airports, and jump on trampolines. It’s trivial stuff, but familiar. It’s stuff that the reader recognizes and, therefore, adds commonality between them and the extraterrestrial freaks they’re reading about. As mentioned above, this element of familiarity might either make readers love or hate the series. For those that love it, it’s why they keep reading.
As with the past two issues, Brian Vaughan is catching readers up with their favorite characters. Instead of just a recap, we see what they’re up to in the present and get hints that all the separate story lines are leading up to a dramatic intersection. In this issue, Upsher and Doff continue their investigation of Hazel and her parents. The issue really highlights their profession as much of their dialogue and action involves investigative reporting. It’s actually similar to the last issue in which Marko and Alana are searching for clues, but here the investigation feels prolonged. It’s a slower pace, but feels more rewarding like a mystery novel, even though the reader already knows what the investigators are figuring out.
Also like the Marko and Alana issue, Upsher and Doff’s relationship is a big part of the story. They keep it mostly secret, given that their home world is homophobic. However, they still have moments of love and affection. These moments highlight a new theme in Saga: queerness. LGBTQ+ characters have always existed in the series, but they’re playing a greater role in this newest arc. Part of this is the affirmation of their identities through intimate moments.
There is an explicit sex scene between Upsher and Doff. Like with the nudity of the trans woman Petrichor from #31, this scene is not meant to fetishize the characters but affirm their identity despite opposition. Upsher and Doff’s strongest resistance is to, even in secret, love themselves and each other. It’s a very powerful theme that can even relate back to Alana and Marko, two heterosexual characters that continue to love each other despite superpowers that want them apart. It will be interesting to see what direction Vaughan takes this theme next.
It’s not all sunshine with Upsher and Doff though. Their quest for the fugitive family puts them at odds with each other. Upsher sees them as the story of the century to further his and Doff’s careers. Doff, on the other hand, sees what they’re doing is no different than how their society punishes people for being in an unconventional relationship. Upsher says that is ridiculous, and that Alana and Marko’s freakish relationship is nothing like theirs. Upsher’s hypocrisy shows that even a marginalized minority can be bigoted to another marginalized minority. This might complicate how readers feel about the couple. Are they misguided or selfish? Just like every other character, Vaughan gives them flaws that make them more real and interesting to read.
Saga #33 is a solid read for fans. The pace might seem slow, but it definitely pays off. Readers who are LGBTQ+ or allies will definitely get a kick out of the increasing importance of queer characters. Plus, another fan favorite character returns, although maybe not how readers expected. Yet another great issue of a great series.