The fourth volume of "Saga" begins in "Saga" #19, and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have taken full advantage of the brief break between issues to their advantage. With the final pages of "Saga" #18 alerting us that there would an in-story gap of several years between issues, Vaughan and Staples ease readers into the new status quo here, showing just where the main characters have settled. True to form, they don't let the issue end without a metaphorical bang.
Those expecting big, earth-shattering, physical moments throughout "Saga" #19 might be a little disappointed, but by now most readers know what they're in for with this series. Vaughan's story has a lot of conflict, but it doesn't involve explosions or magic or laser blasts. Instead, it's about a whole different sort of conflict. We're seeing the different classes of robots from the Robot Kingdom, as well as explaining the connection between that world and those of Landfall and Wreath that are still locked in their war. Up until now the robots (especially that of Prince Robot) have been just visually intriguing creatures, but here we start to see their connection to the other races of their solar system, as well as how their small dwarf planet has managed to survive even as war has spilled out throughout the celestial neighborhood.
More importantly, we're starting to see how the war has stretched its reach ever-wider. For a planet that has managed to play home to Marko, Alana, Hazel and company, the world of Gardenia is less than idyllic than it initially seems. Part of it is the unemployment, certainly, but much more important is the fact that the war between Landfall and Wreath is starting to touch Gardenia, too. It's a nasty reminder on just how problematic Marko and Alana's relationship is; if you can't escape the war between your two species, how are you ever going to find a place restful enough to settle down and no longer need to hide who you really are? It's an ominous tone that hovers over the issue, and one that is clearly leading into something much larger.
Vaughan doesn't lose track of the lighter side of "Saga" too, thankfully. Alana's new job is bound to get a few laughs from those who aren't too unaware of the world of comics (or fandoms in general); the comments about those who can't stop watching/reading things they hate is spot-on, but it doesn't come across as preachy. Likewise, Marko's fumbling in response to the woman in the park who's talking to him is adorable, as he says the wrong thing and then instantly realizes his error. It's a perfect way to raise the spirits and keep the book from ever being too grim.
Part of that lighter side of "Saga" also comes from Staples, whose art is perfect in how she has characters react. This is a book where expressions rule the roost, and Staples brings that home month after month. Hazel's big grin as she's bouncing on the castle, Marko's sudden wide-eyed horror when he realizes just what he's said, or Alana's co-star as she delivers the line about space madness... they're all golden. And of course, the bigger picture looks great here too. I adore the space mobile over the baby Prince Robot IV's crib, for instance, and the wooden spaceship and the big walrus are just a few examples of what is drawn so invitingly. If it wasn't for that pesky war or all the other horrific things we've seen in "Saga" you'd want to live there, because the art is just so inviting.
With a final page that will almost certainly make readers shriek in terror, "Saga" #19 just keeps bringing the hits. And if you haven't read "Saga" before, well, the first 18 issues are already helpfully collected into three paperbacks. No excuses. Just jump on in. You'll love it. Honest.