Despite all of the advertisements and commercialism, the holidays are ideally supposed to be about love. With that spirit in mind, there seems to be no better comic for this week than the 32nd chapter of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ masterpiece of a creator owned series. Having just ended their annual hiatus period last month, “Saga” is still getting back into the swing of things in setting up the status quo for their next arc, if not the rest of the series going forward.
It’s been years since the last climatic battle between our rag tag cast and the forces of the Coalition, which resulted in the hybrid girl Hazel (along with her grandmother) being captured and winding up lost to their parents. Those aforementioned parents, Alana and Marko, had split up for much of the previous arc only to be reunited in the aftermath of that conflict. Readers catch up with them, as they have yet another madcap adventure sneaking into a facility in the hopes of getting a lead on their lost daughter. As usual, it involves a bit of role-play, magic, bluffs, and showdowns with yet more strange people (in this case, some members of “Avatar: the last Airbender”‘s Fire Nation as aliens). This time, both their hopes and lust are rekindled, as they seem set to reunite with some old allies of convenience.
Even though the series isn’t named for them (and Hazel is its narrator), Alana and Marko have been the main protagonists for much of its run, so there is a tremendous satisfaction in seeing them united again. They obviously have a lot of chemistry together despite their differences, which has always made them a fascinating couple to read. In fact, if someone were to do a top ten list of great comic book couples, it would be a travesty if these two didn’t turn up. From their quips to how they work with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, Alana and Marko always bring out the best in each other or any scene they’re in together. Readers get to see how the previous arcs have changed them, as Marko is doing his best to renew his vow of pacifism while Alana’s using her acting experience on “the circuit” to good use. Fiona Staples’ art is always of the utmost quality and creativity, and she is able to make what could have been a routine raid avoiding some henchmen into an epic and imaginative visual adventure. A cameo by Ghus and Robot (who’s been demoted from “Prince” to “Sir”) is also a treat, as well as seeing the latter’s son “Squire” as a youth as well. Much like Hazel, he’s now old enough to be more than a living MacGuffin, and it should be fascinating seeing him develop as well.
This is one comic which always lives up to its title. Every issue is a “saga” and it has quickly become one of the most innovative and successful Image Comics in years. It also may easily be the most successful comic project of both Vaughan and Staples’ careers, and for good reason. It offers mature adventure, romance, and even violence without being exploitative or obscene about it. Most of all, it offers innovative commentary, brilliant characters, and a sense of what the current audience is sensing about their world despite it taking place in a completely different universe. 2015 has been a great year for the series which has captured the world by storm, and it looks like 2016 will be even better!
Below are honorable mentions. They would all make great stocking stuffers, but none are on par with the saga that is “Saga”. Gifts are expensive, but puns are cheap!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #53: Michael Dialynas tags in as the latest artist for this long running series as writers Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, and Bobby Curnow finally devote an arc to everyone’s favorite surfer turtle, Michelangelo. Having disagreed with the rest of his family over taking over the Foot Clan after the Shredder’s seemingly final defeat, Mikey has gone off on his own quest to be a hero. He’s found himself taken in by the “Mutanimals”, a group of apparently similarly interested mutants who are out to stop the bad guys without being killers. He seems to fit in well with the group, even aiding in their first mission together, but something doesn’t smell right to him. It has a lot to do with the group’s leader, Old Hob, being another of their old enemies. An ally of convenience against the Foot at best, Hob has his own agenda involving organized crime which Mikey is sure to dislike. Considering how most of the other Turtles have had their share of the focus for these dozens of issues – first Raphael, then Leonardo, and recently Donatello – it seems about time for the upbeat wearer of the orange mask to get his due. While he’s full of jokes and optimism as always, the writers are also wise to showcase his experience at being able to see through Old Hob when the others have not. Unfortunately, Mikey is a believer of “black and white” morality in a world that is full of gray. Dialynas’ art (flanked by longtime colorist Ronda Pattison) is terrific, able to handle scenes of both comedy and action with plenty of weird mutants as well as quieter scenes, such as a chat between Raph and Casey, or April and her mother, over current times. There are plenty of “Easter egg” references for longtime franchise fans to pick out, from Darius Dunn making another appearance to an homage to the Archie Comics’ incarnation of the series with a portrait of “Cudley the Cowlick”. Even Mikey’s decision to trade his nunchaku for a grappling line is a reference to the later seasons of the original cartoon show on CBS, when his weapons were abandoned due to concerns from soccer moms. 2015 has been an incredible year for this incredible (and often under rated) IDW series, and one can only hope that the next will be even greater!
New Avengers #4: The rest of the team head into space to save their comrades in the latest wild adventure presented by Al Ewing and artist Gerardo Sandoval (with Dono Sanchez Almara on colors). Their teammates Hulkling and Wiccan have been whisked to space by a band of Kree-Skrull hybrids called “the Knights of the Infinite” in the hopes that Hulkling (a fellow hybrid of royal blood) will unite their shattered empires. Unfortunately, the knights only number less than a dozen, and everyone has been pulled into a trap by a weird tentacled space demon named Moridun. The action is fast paced and the subplot is cleverly inserted, as well as some memorable banter from the cast. Sandoval’s art remains one of exaggerated poses and models, which will amuse fans of Humberto Ramos or similar pencilers of the 90’s, but may turn away those who are not. On the whole this is an entertaining team book, with Ewing wisely picking up on subplots introduced by previous writers for his cast for narrative ore – especially as Hulking’s space ties haven’t been utilized much for roughly a decade – yet something remains missing from this series to prevent it from reaching true greatness. Recreating classic aliens to better imitate current video games may work in the short term, but it may date the book as much as references to Vietnam or the Beatles dated comics in the silver age.
Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat #1: A new launch in time for Christmas, one of Marvel’s oldest heroines gets to headline her own series for the first time since 1967. Created by Ruth Atkinson, Patsy Walker first appeared in “Miss America Magazine #2” in 1944 and would go on to appear in numerous “teen humor” comics over twenty years (much like another golden age creation of Atkinson, “Millie the Model”). Unlike Millie, however, Patsy Walker was properly reintroduced into the Marvel universe outright in the 1970’s, ultimately becoming a costumed heroine as Hellcat and spending much of her time with the “Defenders” franchise. She’s been everything from a teen heartthrob, a super-heroine, a demon, the lover of the son of Satan, an Avenger, and the sole defender of the state of Alaska (seriously). Despite all this, most modern Marvel fans may confuse her for Marvel’s other feline inspired heroine, the Black Cat (who Patsy still pre-dated in the whiskers department by three years). For this new series, writer Kate Leth, artist Brittney L. Williams and colorist Megan Wilson are using her recent appearances in Charles Soule’s canceled “She-Hulk” series into a springboard to propel her into the modern “Tumblr” generation. Being more into lower key heroism like stopping bank robbers or helping pedestrians rescue theater tickets from storm drains, Patsy stumbles into Ian Soo, a recently empowered Inhuman who is confused about his new powers and is just looking to make rent then be either a hero or a villain. Having been fired (or “laid off”) from her position as She-Hulk’s investigator, Patsy has a whirlwind day where she meets up with an old childhood friend, comes up with a new business strategy, and decides to work retail to fund it. The manic energy and contemporary dialogue (the phrase, “for serious” is used at least twice) may remind people of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”, which shares the same editor. It stands to reason that fans of one will likely be fans of the other. The art by Williams is entertaining and vibrant, although the transition from “normal” to “chibi” could put off some people. Leth’s script does a great job of filling in everyone about Patsy’s complicated history (which includes both her “teen humor” era and weirdo superhero era) as well as her powers while also introducing her supporting cast without bogging anything down or losing anyone in exposition. While fun, it also reads like a book which is eager to be embraced by “the Tumblr generation”, and it’s unknown whether that is enough people to keep a book outside of cancellation territory, “for serious”. Squirrel Girl’s title was nearing that range before its first relaunch (after a mere eight issues) and it could be optimistic to assume Hellcat may outlast her. The shame of it is that Patsy Walker really does offer a semi-magical super girl who could easily be made into a delightful franchise for young girls in much the same way Sailor Moon or “DC Super Hero Girls” are, only there is no way the soccer moms of the Bible belt would embrace someone named “Hellcat”, sadly. Leth has a great voice for Patsy, even if her definition of her powers seems vague (for example, Hellcat’s ability to “sense mystical energy” seems to be translated into “sense anything the plot demands”). As the year comes to a close, this is a fun new launch for Marvel, and it would be great of one of their oldest heroines proved to have legs for a long running ongoing series once again.