Short & Sweet: Saga, Dark Engine, and Sandman!
Brian K. Vaughan
Saga #23 is an issue about betrayal. The big betrayal, of course, is Alana’s co-worker Yuma selling out Alana’s family in order to save her own cowardly skin. This event turns the screws of Saga’s overarching plot, but pales in comparison to the domestic drama brewing between Alana and Marko. Both feel betrayed by their spouses and are still reeling from their ugly fight last issue, and the family is terribly unprepared when danger shows up at their door.
Brian K. Vaughan is still the master of the cliffhanger, and his plotting is imbued with suspense and crackling tension. When Marko takes refuge with Ginny, the dance instructor he’s attracted to, there’s a real possibility that he may betray Alana further. Many writers play it safe with their characters–Superman would never cheat on Lois Lane, right?–but Vaughan doesn’t. (Anyone who’s read Y: The Last Man knows he won’t hesitate to have his main characters fuck up their personal lives.) As Marko and Alana learn, they can’t take anything for granted, especially not their marriage.
The artwork by Fiona Staples continues to be fantastic; Saga is as much her baby as Vaughan’s, and each page is bursting with wild creativity. I’m still amazed by how she can wring so much emotion and feeling out of faceless robots with monitors for heads, but that’s the magic of Saga.
In the second issue of Dark Engine, we are given no answers. It starts again with the dragon waiting for Sym in the nightmare corpse of a monster that he calls home. He goes in search of answers, and falls into darkness.
The bulk of the story flips between the warm background colors of the family that found Sym on the shores of the river at the end of the last issue and the cold interior of the tower where she was made. The alchemists watch one of their own explain the rather nasty and Aliens-like method a local creature uses for procreation. It was these spores they carry, the “hundred thousand deaths” waiting in the lungs to be expelled, that was the kiss of death that wiped out most of humanity. We get a glimpse of the alchemists cruelty, sharp as the knives they use to slice the dead creature’s lungs, but it pales in comparison to the man who holds Sym. He brutalizes his own family and tricks the pilgrims who come to ask her for mercy for their dead. They debate what Sym is, but agree that she is no mere woman. The pilgrims bring their gold and valuables before drinking a hallucinogenic tea. One of the man’s children usher them into the presence of a goddess, and they begin to scream.
The art is more restrained in this issue as well, with only a few points of the lush madness that drove the first issue. The coloring is deep and gorgeous, and the abrupt switch to an icy climate in the last few pages is accomplished with a palette shift, and the last page is full of bright red flying viscera against a cold blue sky.
This may not be a comic for everyone, but I’m eager for the next issue.
J.H. Williams III
So far, I’m really digging the hints of what’s to come and Dream’s journey with cat Dream. As a reader of the original series, there’s a lot to pick and tease at here. Which is why this issue gave me the chills, with its nods at events to come much, much later.
It begins with a lyrical, beautiful description of the awe-inspiring participants and observers of the “war that will be the end of everything”. That is what Dream and cat Dream are walking towards, as it seems it was a star going insane and killing one of the personifications of Dream that started all this. The colors are just as pretty as the words, rainbow gradients that set off the unchanging palette of all the Dreams: white, black, and fire. However, the linework doesn’t quite work for me. It is very precise and delicate, and I think this is a story that calls for a little more looseness, a softness of line that a few of the panels have.
First the two Dreams run into the Ladies who oversee Fate, and Atropos tells the human-shaped Dream that the path he’s taking leads to his death. Death looms over this issue, where brigands try to kill him, dead fathers are found, and finally, the threat of death makes Dream laugh. This laugh is terrifying, and it makes incomprehensible creatures flee. The Dreams pick up a companion to travel with, and tell a story about Dream’s history that is never told. They make it to the City of Stars just in time to realize they may be too late.
It’s an odd thing to base a prequel on the notion that there will be a world-ending war. You kinda already know it didn’t happen, or the other books wouldn’t work, right? Gaiman is pulling it off, though, and I can’t wait to see this mad star, and find out who or what is Dream’s father.