SAGA #51 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
SAGA #51 lulls us into a false sense of security or tries to anyway. Even though SAGA readers know that tragedy simply follows any happiness in this book, that doesn't make this twist any less painful. The plot is great, the art is incredible, and the character work is solid. SAGA hasn't dipped in quality yet, which is incredible for being over 50 issues.
94 %
Aw, Come On

We just cannot have nice things. It’s a fact of reading this series. Whenever good things start to happen, it all falls apart. We can’t even watch a group of friends enjoy a day at the beach and an encounter with a mystical creature without an underlying sense of dread. SAGA #51 is no exception at all. What starts as a series of seemingly mundane scenes, ends in freaking tears. If you want to know what that means, read on, but know that spoilers are ahead.

Some Mundane Delights

SAGA #51, of course, starts with some terror. Squire has an awful nightmare reminding him that his dad is not a good person. Sir Robot — formerly King Robot — runs into his son’s room to provide some emotional support. Squire explains that The Will, a bounty hunter who killed Queen Robot, told him that his father murdered someone. This is the source of Squire’s nightmares. Sir Robot explains that the person he killed was a monster. Squire asks to see that moment because perhaps it could quell his fears. Sir Robot initially gets very angry but apologizes for his reaction.

Episode 79: Brian K. Vaughan’s and Fiona Staples’ SAGA

We then see Hazel and Ghus at the beach. Hazel is pretending to drown in the water while Ghus sunbathes, warning her about “crying wolf.” He says that he knows Doff is holding her up, making it impossible for her to drown. But at that moment, Doff walks up, saying that he got out of the water a while ago. They all realize that Hazel has learned to swim. In their celebration, a huge Mustached Kingfish jumps out of the water. Doff explains that he’s wanted to get a photo of the creature for a long time. They all take in the beautiful sight before we jump to another scene.

Marko apparently has been writing a book. Even though it’s not expertly written, Alana is extremely proud of her husband’s storytelling. It’s absolutely adorable. But these touching scenes, of course, mean that a painful scene is coming. This is SAGA after all.

SAGA #51 Breaks Hearts, As It Always Does

Petrichor and Upsher, meanwhile, have a deep discussion about the deal they’ve made. Petrichor and Sir Robot tell their story in exchange for new bodies, and consequentially, a new life. But Petrichor is skeptical. She explains that she doesn’t really trust journalists after seeing coverage of the ongoing war, which she has fought in and seen first hand. Upsher tries to explain that The Hebdomadal and Jetsam — his paper and planet, respectively — are completely neutral. At that moment, the phone rings. The people from the Hebdomadal explain that the story will indeed be front-page news and that the materials for Petrichor, Sir Robot, and Squire’s transformation will arrive that evening.

SAGA #51
SAGA #51 page 2. Courtesy of Image Comics.

Then bad things happen. As Doff follows the Mustached Kingfish, he runs into Ianthe, another bounty hunter who has trapped and forced The Will into servitude. When faced with the choice of giving up Marko, Alana, and Hazel, or dying, Doff takes noble action. He dives at Ianthe, who shoots and kills him. But as she pushes his body off of her, she realizes that his last act was to grab her remote and free The Will, which is bad news for her.

Let’s All Cry

Losing Doff absolutely sucks. He was the kind of character we were really rooting for, which means, of course, he wasn’t going to last much longer. Even so, his loss hurts and will surely be felt for a long time. Especially when Upsher finds out. That is going to be no fun and painful for anyone.

And yet, every time writer Brian K. Vaughan does this, it catches us off guard. Maybe we have a feeling the characters we love will die horribly, but we never can predict how that will happen. That’s expert writing at its finest. It’s quite similar to how Robert Kirkman approaches death in THE WALKING DEAD — it’s not necessarily surprising, but always emotionally effective. Pulling that balance off is difficult, and this is definitely well done.

SAGA #51
SAGA #51 page 8. Courtesy of Image Comics.

We do have that bit of hope, though, now that The Will is free. Doff’s death may have meant something and could potentially save the lives of our favorite fugitive family. Which is how SAGA #51 succeeds and is not just a masochistic read.

But My God Is It Pretty

The fact that something so horrid happens in such a beautiful landscape is not an accident. It’s a wonderful act of dissonance that can only come from collaboration between writer and artist. And Fiona Staples absolutely shines throughout this issue.

The scape is obviously gorgeous, but the shining moment in SAGA #51 is the Mustached Kingfish. The design and colors of this creature are superb. You can literally see it glistening and leap off the page. We are just as in awe of this fish as the characters are, and we want to follow Doff as he chases it.

Staples also masters a child’s mind via a startling first page. The juvenile art of The Will saying, “Your daddy is a bad man,” is jarring and effective. The image looks exactly like something a child would create, which makes it the perfect reflection of a child’s mind. You almost wouldn’t recognize the image as The Will if you didn’t know it was him. That’s not an easy thing for an artist to depict, and Staples does an excellent job.

SAGA #51
SAGA #51 page 12. Courtesy of Image Comics.

Another of Staples’ strengths is facial expressions, as always. The ability to make a blank television screen emote is truly incredible and I will never know how she does that. But she also works wonders with eyes. As Alana reads Marko’s story, we only really see are her eyes, and they say it all. She also gives Doff a determination we’ve never seen from him as he jumps on Ianthe. The expression is all in his eyes, and it’s remarkable.

An Accomplishment

SAGA #51 is a damn good issue, but it’s clearly setting up something even better. There isn’t an abundance of character work, save Doff’s literal jump into heroism. But with his death will surely come more development for Upsher, and for everyone around him.

What SAGA Can Teach Us About Modern-Day Relationships

The pace of the issue is perfect, easing us into heartbreak as if we want it. We want something to happen, and if it’s sad, so be it. This book has yet to drop quality after 51 issues, which makes SAGA one of the best series out there.

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