Like a lot of long-running series, the volumes of “Saga” can be broadly generalized as being about one particular thing. You can call vol. 2 “The One About the In-Laws,” while vol. 4 is “The One With Relationship Troubles,” with vol. 5 being “The One Where That Dragon Sucks its Own Dick,” and vol. 7 is “The One With an Actual Title.” I bring this up because vol. 8 makes it clear from the very first page that it’s going to be “The One About Abortion.” If you’ve made it this far into “Saga” then the fact that creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are going to do a story about such a tricky topic shouldn’t surprise you in the least. Given their track record, you may even have expected it from them. What you probably didn’t expect is their botched handling of the subject matter here.
Vol. 7 ended with the shocking development that, in the wake of the family’s abrupt exit from Phang, Alanna’s unborn child had died in her womb. Grieving for this loss almost immediately takes a backseat to a more pressing concern: How to remove the child’s remains from Alanna before her life is forfeit too. This leads them to the planet Pervious, home of Abortion Town! -- exclamation mark included -- and the hope that this can be over and done with ASAP. As is the case with many things in “Saga,” life winds up complicating every little aspect of this operation.
What’s good about this volume is what you’d expect from the series at this point. The family dynamics between Marko, Alanna, and Hazel are fun as always to observe and there are some surprise developments among the supporting cast that are all the more satisfying because of how natural they feel. Staples’ art is fantastic as always as she gives Pervious an amusing “Wild West” look to it and her designs for the new characters in this arc are appealingly weird. It was nice to see all sides of the abortion debate articulated here, and imaginatively so in the case of Kurti.
The problem is that while the main arc really wants to present a balanced view of abortion, it all falls apart because Alanna’s fetus is deceased. It’s not a matter of aborting a live fetus here, the thing in her belly is dead and will kill her if it’s not removed in time. While the reasons Alanna can’t go to a regular doctor are clear, and I can even understand why they’d want to get help from doctors specializing in these things, the termination of a fetus’ life isn’t the issue here.
It’s clear that Vaughan wants us to believe that Alanna is having an actual abortion, though. In the first few pages when she and Prince Robot IV arrive at Abortion Town(!), she never mentions the fact that her fetus is dead to the official that greets them. Things get even more awkward as the characters do acknowledge that the fetus is dead, but the narrative itself continues on as if it was actually alive and even a character in this story.
If Vaughan wanted to tackle this issue from a better angle, he should have had Alanna get injured and go into a coma at the end of the previous volume. After she’s examined by a doctor, Marko would find out that Alanna would have to have an abortion in order to save her life. Now that’s a situation that lends itself to the kind of character drama this series thrives on and provides a platform to examine this issue as much the writer deems necessary. What we wound up with… was a story that left me feeling like I could tell the writer of this series (as well as “Y: The Last Man”) how to do his job better.
This volume of “Saga” is also unique in that it contains two one-off issues that aren’t directly connected to the main story. I’d have to go back and check, but I think they may be the first of their kind for this series. They’re both good as we get to check in with some of the more interesting characters of the supporting cast in a way that’s closer to the title’s usual standards.
First up is The Will, who is currently being tortured by someone who has a very deep grudge against him. To the point that they’re searching his memories to find someone he loves (and who’s still alive) so they can kill them. Not only is this a clever way to get us caught up on The Will’s formative years, but I think I finally get what Vaughan has been trying to do with this character. He’s trying to upend the badass bounty hunter character type. Normally these guys (and they’re usually guys) tend to come off as the coolest characters in a series -- look no further than Boba Fett if you will. These characters usually care about no one but themselves, but in the case of The Will, he cared deeply about a couple and they’re both dead. Instead of flying off in a macho rage to avenge them, he’s let their deaths drag him down in a perfectly understandable way. I’m curious to see what the writer has planned for him next because I honestly can’t guess as to whether or not he’ll make it out of the series alive now.
Then we have Prince Robot’s son, Squire, and Ghus (along with those two tabloid reporters, but their involvement is negligible here) going on an “adventure” to find some badly needed food. It’s low-key by the standards of the series. There are some bits of light comedy and danger, with a little debate about the morality of killing thrown in for good measure. The most interesting bit comes from Hazel’s narration on the final page. It’s either unbearably saccharine if it’s meant in a figurative sense, or incredibly ominous if it’s meant to be taken literally. Ominous in the sense that there’s either going to be a death or divorce (with an all-new hook-up) in the title’s future to make it happen.
These two stories also reassure me that the quality of the main arc was more of a aberration than anything else. After all these years I’ve yet to read a truly bad story from Vaugahn -- boring ones, yes -- so I’m hoping that this volume of “Saga,” “The One About Abortion,” is just a one-off thing. If it isn’t, well, I guess I’ll see if that’s the case in the next volume.