Being a member of the press apparently isn’t easy anywhere, even in outer space. Much like here on earth, it comes down to chasing the leads that bring you a paycheck versus the stories which could drastically upset the status quo. It is with this in mind that series creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples reintroduce readers to the amphibious journalists Upsher and Doff, who stumbled into the midst of everyone’s favorite star crossed couple (and their hybrid daughter) some time ago. Much like the previous issue, it introduces a third story thread which will inevitably be pulled tighter together with the others in subsequent issues.
Having been compelled by a spell from the mercenary “the Brand” to abandon their story involving Alana and Marko, Upsher seeks to pick up where his leads left off upon learning of her death from a competing newspaper. Initially hesitant to once again step off the beaten path of covering petty local politics – in space, politicians apparently fight each other physically – Doff soon becomes convinced to Upsher’s way of thinking as their investigation progresses and they get closer to their quarry. While Upsher sees the story of the galaxy in covering the existence of a child born from citizens from both Landfall and Wreath, Doff sees a kindred spirit in the child, considering that on their planet Jetsam, homosexuality such as theirs is still considered taboo. Unfortunately, they quickly realize that they’re not the only pursuers seeking out the whereabouts of Marko and Alana after all this time, and that their troubles hardly ended with the Brand’s death.
Considering the extreme length of time between appearances, the focus on this pair was essential towards not only refreshing readers’ memories of the pair, but to also reintroduce them as characters unto themselves. Much like with seemingly every issue, what sets “Saga” apart from so many other space operas is that Vaughan and Staples know how to create a completely fantastic intergalactic universe with a different set of rules and species which also taps into very familiar themes, dynamics, and visual images. Staples art and designs are so detailed and thought out that one can learn plenty about the various citizens of various planets simply by paying attention to how they appear or dress without needing endless narration boxes explaining things such as, “All citizens of Jetsam can breathe underwater” or so forth.
More importantly, the series lives up to its title not just in design or action, but in its extended cast who continue to reappear and develop in interesting ways. Marko’s friend Ginny shows up again, only this time we see more of her family. And, spoiler alert, the fate of “the Will” (the first mercenary who was after the lovers and the kid brother of “the Brand”) makes his triumphant (and violent) return. Left near dead years earlier, the Brand and several of his allies sacrificed much to bring him a means to recovery. He may have gained a few dozen pounds, but he still is as deadly as ever. It will remain to be seen whether he is “mentally ill” as Upsher believes or if he is genuinely speaking to someone that they can’t see. Readers know from Izabel that “Saga” is a universe where ghosts are very real, and the Brand has been seeing “visions” of his dead lover “the Stalk” for quite some time now. One can imagine that the rest of Will’s allies may not be far behind.
Things are still in “set up” mode for this arc, and will presumably kick up a notch in subsequent issues. However, even an issue of Saga which may not be as exciting or dramatic as its peak is still heads and tails (or webbed feet) above everything else that happens in comics for most given weeks. It is the series that has taken the world by storm, becoming Image Comics’ second best selling series in at least half the time it took “The Walking Dead” to become their first (and without the aid of a cable TV series). It easily has been the series of both Vaughan and Staples’ careers. With it in all likelihood now reaching (or slightly past) its midway point, the series is still easily in its prime with the best yet to come. One can easily imagine this series being remembered just as fondly in the future as “Sandman” is now.
Below are honorable mentions. They may involve ninjas, mutants, superheroes, and squirrels, but they’re just not up to the gills of the above this week.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #54: Michelangelo is in for the fight of his life against the hulking bruiser Hun in the conclusion of his focus arc by writers Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, and Bobby Curnow and artists Michael Dialynas and Ronda Pattison. Left with nowhere to go after turning his shell on his family for choosing to lead the Foot Clan, Michelangelo quickly fell into “the Mutanimals”, a squad of mutants led by their “ally of convenience”, Old Hob. He was quickly welcomed by the squad, especially by his pal Slash (who idolizes him), but Mikey was hesitant to trust Old Hob’s convictions. His instincts turned out to be right as he’s discovered that Hob is involved in arms deals with Hun, leader of the “Purple Dragons” gang (and the mutagen enhanced abusive father of his pal Casey Jones). The end result is a brawl which splits the team in two and quickly earns the ire of Old Hob. Seeing the various loyalties of the assembled characters play out is great stuff, and the action scenes as depicted by Dialynas and Pattison are exceptional. But perhaps the greatest moment is seeing another formidable figure from the long animated history of the TMNT return. In this case, it is the intrepid and often dangerously pragmatic Agent Bishop, who was one of the greatest additions to the franchise brought forth by the criminally underrated animated series from the 2003 “4Kids TV” era. His appearance here showcases how the wealth of material in the Turtles’ history works in their favor along with the fact that the series’ creators aren’t content to merely rely on elements from the 80’s or 90’s to keep their universe healthy and innovative. This remains one of the best monthly franchise comic books in the direct market, as well as one of IDW’s best comics, period.
All New All Different Avengers #4: Double shipping this month is Mark Waid’s new take on Marvel’s biggest superhero team. The curious thing about this incarnation of the team is that Marvel’s editorial board very much consider this a flagship title to the Avengers line, yet the squad itself remains barely official within the universe itself. As this issue showcases, they’re essentially a band of heroes who teamed up recently to fight an alien who Iron Man has decided to keep in regular rotation at a hanger in New Jersey. A very weary Edwin Jarvis is coaxed out of retirement to serve the team once more, although even he sees his presence more as traditional obligation than anything functional. Before things get too awkward, a super-villain attacks Atlantic City and provides the capable action set piece for the month. Mahmud Asrar (“Dynamo 5”) provides art for this series for the first time since the “free comic book day” issue, and once again demonstrates why he is one of the hottest new artists to hit superhero comics in years. Overall, this single issue seems superior to most of the previous three (which easily could and should have been condensed to two). Everyone has met so now Waid can get on past introductions or raging alien warriors and onto more interesting dynamics. Ms. Marvel and Nova continue to bicker, with Miles Morales (Spider-Man) often caught in the middle. The Vision is still creepy and distant (much like his “white suit” form during his 90’s “Avengers West Coast” days). Iron Man is trying to keep everything together despite his wealth once again being temporarily apart from him. And Sam Wilson (Captain America) learns first hand how impulsive the new Thor is (likely due to her mortal form, Jane Foster, battling a losing battle against breast cancer during her downtime). Easily the strongest issue of the run so far, it bodes well for the rest of the volume.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4: Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi continue their madcap time travel saga pitting their titular heroine (and her best friend Nancy, and her new friend Mary, and other random co-eds from Empire State University) against a 1990’s era Doctor Doom while stuck in the 1960’s. Learning that their altering of the time line has resulted in a future ruled by Doom, as well as knowing that there’s no way to defeat him outright, Doreen seeks to steal his time machine instead. Naturally, this goes poorly and results in more high jinks, more over the top lectures by Doom, and one surprise ending. The art by Henderson remains fantastic with the humor overflowing from one panel to the next. It is a bit of a shame that with the exception of the Norse demon squirrel Ratatoskr (who partly served to fuel a team-up with Thor and Loki), Squirrel Girl has relied on villains from other heroes’ galleries without ever finding some of her own much as she has her supporting cast. However, that is a mere quibble when the rest of the series is as consistently fun as this is.