Since the very beginning of SAGA, we’ve known that the nations/planets (they are seemingly unified under one government) of Wreath and Landfall have been at war. It’s the central driving conflict and it’s why Alana and Marko’s baby is such a big deal. The reader has seen glimpses and fragments of it, but never really gotten a good SENSE of it, mostly because it hasn’t been entirely integral to the plot. This issue opens and eschews the often-used “shocking/weird splash page” (there’s another one later, don’t you worry) in favor of explaining how the galaxy got to where it currently is. Brian K. Vaughan has already done such an incredible job establishing this universe that it’s never felt like this was going to be a thing that NEEDED to happen, but now that it is, it only enriches and even more carefully defines where this is all taking place. But it’s not all flashbacks and exposition, it’s been months since Marko and Alana were separated and they now find themselves both in the presence of very different members of the strange race of robots. We also get a single, truly heartbreaking line from Hazel’s wonderful narration. Vaughan very quickly re-establishes where these characters are and what their state is, wasting next to no time catching up or restating. This is a series that must be started from the beginning, but it’s incredible enough that it’s hard to list that as a downside.
And incredible is the word of the issue as Fiona Staples’ art is very simply that. The gorgeous colors of the flashbacks, all tinted with a very slight blur to make them just heady enough to remind the reader that it is, indeed, an image of things gone by. The linework is everything it needs to be: smooth and subtle during calm, or even happy, moments and jagged and coarse through the rest (which is most) to say nothing of the rest of the color palette. It’s sharp and bold, but also one of the most diverse palettes in comics today. It’s amazing how one person can so seamlessly switch visual styles within a single issue and do it so seamlessly.
While it’s great seeing how this whole war got started, we don’t get a great sense as to the WHY of it all nor is there a sense of how these two worlds were so able to press-gang (as the issue puts it) all these other races into a serving a war they had absolutely zero stakes in. It seems to give the impression that they were from conquered worlds, but there’s only a vague notion that Landfall (and its moon) are powerful enough to do this and that part seems glossed over.
A slight omission isn’t even close to being enough to derail this issue's momentum. This book’s popularity has soared to unforeseen heights, and it’s easy to see why with issues like this. While it remains difficult to recommend as a jumping-on point, it remains a perfect reason to go back and start in on the previous volumes (just get all four at once, you’ll save yourself three subsequent, panicked trips back to the shop) to see what, indeed, all the fuss is about.