Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is finally back on comic shop shelves. The blockbuster space opera rivaled The Walking Dead for sales at publisher Image Comics from 2012 to 2018, and its longevity was nothing to sneeze at.
But in July of 2018, Saga #54 put a cap on nine volumes of the series with something that fans have come to expect whenever they least expect it: The shocking death of a major character. With Saga #55 on shelves, readers can finally pick up on the story of Hazel, the daughter of two star-crossed lovers, and her struggle to survive in a war-torn galaxy.
That is, if they even remember what happened three-and-a-half years ago.
After a lengthy hiatus, even devoted readers might be fuzzy on the details of Vaughn and Staples’ story; with all of Saga’s infamous twists, turns, branches, and surprise deaths, it’s downright reasonable. So if time is of the essence (or you just need a refresher) read on for Polygon’s recap of Saga #1-54.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for … all of Saga. Like, all of it. Except issue #55.]
Saga begins, famously, with a pregnant woman in labor exclaiming “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!” She’s Alanna, her partner is Marko, they’re deserting soldiers from either side of an interplanetary forever war between the Wings of planet Landfall, and the Horns of Landfall’s moon, Wreath.
Landfallians are a technologically focused society, and each member has a different set of wings. Wreathians are a magic-based society, and each member has a different set of one or more horns (also, they speak Esperanto). The power of the Landfallians and Wreathians is such that the entire galaxy has been forced to take sides in the war between the Horns and the Wings, or be trodden under in the conflict.
Alana has wings, Marko has horns, and their new baby daughter and our narrator, Hazel, has been born with both. Both of their former armies consider the family an abomination and a PR nightmare. And so, a small cast of characters are already arrayed against them.
Prince Robot IV, of the Robot Kingdom (a client state of Landfall), works for the Wings. He’s got terrible untreated PTSD and his head is a blank TV that flashes telling images in moments of shock. He just found out his wife is pregnant, but he can’t go home until Alana and Marko are dead.
The Will, a Freelancer, or registered bounty hunter, works for the Horns. He has a buzzcut and a cool cape, and works with a registered sidekick, Lying Cat. Lying Cat is a lion-sized, blue, hairless cat who can talk — but only to snarl “LYING” at anyone who speaks a falsehood in her presence.
The plot lines start to branch early on. The Will finds out that his ex-girlfriend and extremely efficient fellow Freelancer, the Stalk, has also been hired to hunt Marko and Alana, and he decides that competing with her would be fruitless and that he should blow the Horns’ expense account at Sextillion, the orgy planet, instead. But just as he’s trying to have a nice vacation, he stumbles upon a six-year-old sex slave and resolves to purchase her very expensive freedom.
So the Will calls the Stalk to see if they could work a partnership deal for the job, and in the process, overhears her confrontation with Prince Robot, during which the Prince kills her with an overzealous use of force. The Will vows to murder him.
On the run, Marko and Alana meet a ghosts — a floating, bisected, teenage girl with her guts hanging out named Izabel — who volunteers to help them get off world in exchange for traveling with them. She becomes Hazel’s babysitter.
Marko, Alana, Hazel and Izabel make it to a rocketship tree, dubbed the Treehouse, that remains their home for large portions of Saga. Shortly after takeoff, however, Marko’s parents magically teleport inside and nearly kill everyone before they realize their son is alive, he’s there of his own free will, and that they have a grandchild.
Rest in peace: The Stalk
Saga’s second arc takes place largely in unsettled space, spinning plot threads out and then teasing a final confrontation.
With the Stalk no longer on the case, Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn tracks down the Will. To get him to go back to hunting Marko and Alana instead of pursuing his vendetta against Prince Robot, she flimflams Sextillion into freeing the slave girl into the Will’s care. Conveniently enough, the little girl turns out to have the supernatural ability to track Marko and Alana’s Hearthian wedding rings through space.
Following a violent confrontation between the Will’s ship and our heroes, Marko’s father sacrifices his life to save the Treehouse, and Marko’s mother joins the band of fugitives. Leaving the Will, Gwendolyn, Lying Cat, and their child charge drifting in space, the Treehouse finally arrives at their original destination: the planet of Quietus.
There, they hide in the home of the reclusive D. Oswald Heist, a Landfallian author of subversive romance novels that secretly promote radical pacifism as a way of ending the war between the Wings and the Horns. It just so happens his work previously convinced Marko and Alana to defect.
Unfortunately, Prince Robot discovers Alana’s obsession with Heist’s work and arrives on Quietus not long after, in a scene where we finally meet the most important Saga character of all time: Ghüs, a kind-hearted farmer who looks like an anthropomorphic baby harp seal wearing overalls. Chapter 2 ends on a cliffhanger: Prince Robot holding Heist at gun-hand point as Alana, Marko, Hazel, Klara, and Izabel cower one floor above.
Rest in peace: Barr, Marko’s dad
Saga’s third arc rewinds slightly to show more of the lead up to the previous volume’s tense conclusion. It’s also the first time we’re introduced to Upsher and Doff, two fish-like men who are partners in journalism as well as romance.
They investigate a pair of Hearthian and Landfallian defectors rumored to have fallen in love and fled with their baby. But they get too close to the truth, and a Hearthian operative hires the freelancer the Brand to execute them. However, instead of killing them, the Brand shoots them with a magic serum that will kill them if they ever told anyone about Alana and Marko.
The arc also finds the Treehouse crew meeting and befriending Heist over a week of peaceful days. Before Prince Robot caught up with them, Heist encouraged Marko and Alana to find cover working in the Circuit, a kind of professional wrestling-meets live stage theater-meets day time soap that’s broadcast intergalactically over virtual reality.
The Will, Gwendolyn, Lying Cat, and the slave girl — who the Will names Sophie — spend most of the chapter stranded on one of those Star Trek planets that’s full of a mind-altering parasite. After Sophie stabs the Will in the neck, Gwendolyn decides that finding Marko and getting him to magically heal the Will would be faster than finding an emergency room.
And so all of Saga’s plot lines converged on Quietus, violently. Prince Robot gets hit in the head very hard and wanders off alive, but even less stable than usual. In a moment of mistaken intention, Gwendolyn stabs Heist through the head, killing him. Alana knocks Gwendolyn out cold, and Marko, Alana, Hazel, Izabel, and Klara escaped Quietus.
After she revives, Gwendolyn drops the comatose Will off in a hospital, where doctors contact his sister: the Brand. His real name is William, and hers is Sophie. Gwendolyn, little Sophie, and Lying Cat head off for parts unknown.
And then the entire series jumps forward about eight months.
Rest in peace: D. Oswald Heist
Chapter 4: This is the story of how my parents split up
That’s what Hazel’s narration announces early in this arc, and for everyone who loved watching Alana and Marko’s love, it was chilling. We pick up with our heroes on a planet called Gardenia, where Alana is working long days as the character Zipless on the Circuit, and Marko is a full-time dad, trying to give a walking, babbling Hazel a full childhood without blowing their cover.
Both parents are stressed by the circumstances; Alana gets hooked on the hallucinogenic Fadeaway, and when Marko finds out, they argue — ending with him throwing a bag of groceries, and her ordering him to get away from her. In that brief separation, the rest of the plot collides with them.
Back in the Robot Kingdom, Prince Robot’s wife gives birth and is almost immediately murdered by a peasant robot named Dengo, who kidnaps the baby robot prince and absconds to Gardenia, looking for Circuit players. Dengo’s plan was to force some hapless actors to help him broadcast a message about the oppression of the Robot Kingdom’s lower classes, using Prince Robot’s son as a prop.
Yuma, Circuit set designer, Heist’s ex-wife, and friend of Marko and Alana, sends Dengo to the treeship as a better way of getting the galaxy’s attention — and to save her own life. In the ensuing scuffle, Alana tells the tree to blast off, leaving Marko behind.
Prince Robot, drowning his sorrows at Sextillion, hears the news of his wife’s death, and his son’s birth and kidnapping, and is ordered to finally come home. After a brief visit, he naturally sets out to find his son, and arrives on Gardenia just in time to watch Marko watch an unstable revolutionary fly away with their families hostage.
Rest in peace: Princess Robot
This is the chapter where Ghüs finally, finally, becomes a main character.
The B-plot follows the Brand, Gwendolyn, Sophie, and Lying Cat on a quest to make an elixir that will bring the Will out of his coma. After a significant amount of adventure, they do, but the Brand dies in the attempt. Gwendolyn revives the Will, but upon learning that his sister died, he curses them both out and is left alone.
The Chapter also has twin main plots. Marko and Prince Robot hunt down the Treehouse with the help of the adorable Ghüs, who has a supernatural ability to track Hazel’s pet walrus-cow, Friendo. But they are attacked by Prince Robot’s own forces, who have been ordered to assassinate him for being a royal embarrassment, and crash land on the planet the Treehouse is hidden out on.
On the Treehouse, Dengo messages the Revolution, a resistance group/terrorist cell comprised of people whose cultures were harmed by the war between the Wings and the Horns. But he Dengo becomes disillusioned with their plan to trade Hazel to the Horns for the release of prisoners (and also they decide to kill him). Dengo frees our heroes, but due to a misunderstanding, Klara and Hazel are still on the Revolution’s ship when it teleports away.
On the remote and icy planet, Marko and Alana reunite, Ghüs and Friendo reunite, and Prince Robot blows Dengo apart. The Prince also meets his son for the first time.
In the arc’s final scene, we leap forward in time again, to Hazel at elementary school age, in the nursery of a Landfallian prison.
Rest in peace: Yuma, the drug dealing, set painting plant lady, Dengo, and the Brand
In Saga’s sixth arc, Vaugh and Staples break Hazel out of prison. Thanks to some quick thinking from Klara when the Revolution’s ship was captured, she and her granddaughter were placed in a Landfallian detainee center for “enemy noncombatants.” Here, Saga picks up a new character, Petrichor, a transgender prisoner from Hearth who was caught in the particular rock and a hard place of having her gender recognized by her Landfallian captors, but not by the more bigoted Hearthian prisoners in the women’s wing.
Both Petrichor and Hazel’s kindly nursery teacher find out that the four-year-old Hazel has horns and a beautiful set of four feathered wings, and between them and Klara, they hatch a very half-assed plan to get her out. Fortunately, Marko and Alanna are working on a much better one.
After conscripting Prince Robot (who started calling himself Sir Robot) to help them with getting through Landfallian security, Marko teleports into the prison and out with Hazel. Klara insists on staying behind to help the other women there. Petrichor, however, leaps at the chance to escape, and with the whole family back on the Treehouse, is the first to tell Alana and Marko they are expecting a second child.
Meanwhile, with the death of the Brand, Upsher and Doff are free to investigated Alana and Marko, and the two journalists follow the trail straight to the Will. The Will might be hooked on drugs that made him hallucinate his dead loved ones, but he’s still dangerous enough to threaten to kill Upsher and Doff if they don’t help him with his revenge quest on Sir Robot.
But with Sir Robot off helping Marko and Alanna, the Will only finds his son, Squire, on the backwater planet they’d been hiding on. Fortunately, the Will’s hallucinations convince him not to kill the kid, and he leaves Upsher, Doff, Squire, and Ghüs alive.
Rest in peace: Nobody! Nobody major dies in this one!
In the seventh arc of Saga, our heroes are marooned on the war-torn comet of Phang for six months without fuel, a time in which a lot of stuff happened.
Hazel has her first kiss with an anthropomorphic meerkat boy, Izabel is killed by a Freelancer called the March, and Marko breaks his vow of pacifism to kill the March right back. Sir Robot gets really high and nearly kills Alana, himself, and Marko, in that order. And Alana is thrown against a wall in the Treehouse during a sudden takeoff, killing her unborn baby.
But while our main characters live out the small picture, the Will, Gwendolyn, Sophie, and Lying Cat return for the big one. The Will has mostly sobered up, but after his agent fired him for unreliability, he seeks out Sophie and Lying Cat, wanting to get his old partner back and take Sophie on as an apprentice. But after observing Gwendolyn use backchannel diplomacy to hand a WMD to her enemies for use in ending the fighting in Phang, Sophie elects to stay on Hearth and learn politics.
The last we see of the Will in this arc, he has fallen off the wagon again and is attacked by a mysterious masked assailant who claimed that the Will had murdered someone they loved.
Rest in peace: Izabel, Kurti and the rest of the meerkat people, and Sweet Boy the St. Bernard dog who shot tranquilizer darts from his nose
Chapter 8: A brief cowboy interlude
Far be it from Saga to immediately pick up on that cliffhanger with the Will. Instead, we follow the Treehouse group’s quest to get Alana a safe abortion for her stillborn child on an Old West styled planet called Pervious.
Alana, Marko, and Hazel travel across Pervious on foot to find the only doctor on the planet who performs third trimester abortions, accompanied by the magic illusion of their potential second child, Hazel’s brother — a side effect of the stillborn fetus’ Hearthian gift for magic.
Meanwhile, back at the Treehouse, Petrichor is menaced by a trio of violent anti-abortion bandits, but is saved by Sir Robot, who Alana had temporarily kicked out of their home following the whole “encouraged the death of our babysitter and got really high and pulled his gun-hand on everyone” thing. Petrichor and Sir Robot kindle a feisty sexual relationship.
Elsewhere on Pervious, the mysterious assassin who attacked the Will turns out to be Iolanthe, an anthropomorphic star-nosed mole. The Will killed her fiancé in a throwaway scene way back in Chapter 2, and her plan was originally to kill everyone he loves before she kills him, so she’s used a magic VCR to watch all his memories. In the process, she discovered the existence of Marko and Alana and Hazel, and decided to hunt them down instead.
In the final issue of the arc, Squire, Ghüs, Upsher, and Doff reunite at the Treehouse, and all of our major characters were back together again. A perfect time for everything to immediately get very bad.
Rest in peace: Kurti, Hazel’s temporary ghost brother
The main plot of Saga’s final pre-hiatus arc begins when Upsher and Doff offer to write Marko and Alana’s story, which would allow them to enter their publication’s magical witness protection program. Marko and Alana decline, but Sir Robot jumps at the chance to secure safety for himself, Squire, and Petrichor. He offers the story he picked up of the Horns and the Wings collaborating to destroy the populated comet of Phang.
Squire, however, hatches a plan to run away rather than go into hiding, and the Treehouse group split up to look for him. Which is exactly when Iolanthe, who had pressed the Will into working for her with stun restraints, catches up with them.
Things get complicated. Iolanthe murders Doff. Upsher kills Iolanthe. A Landfallian spy squashes Doff and Upsher’s story through blackmail and murder. The Will frees himself and finally gets his hands on Sir Robot just as Marko happened by. The Will tears Sir Robot’s head from his body, and he and Marko fight.
And in the final pages of Saga #54, the Will kills Marko. Cue a three-year hiatus.
Rest in peace, at least as far as we know: Doff, Sir Robot, and Marko. NOT Iolanthe.
https://www.polygon.com/22900748/saga-recap-ending-what-happened-before-issue-55 What happened in Saga before Saga #55: the complete recap