Never let it be said that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples can't foreshadow disaster. Ever since the fourth storyline of "Saga" kicked off back in #19, the final page of the issue promised that bad times were ahead. And sure enough, the previous two issues continued that trend, as everything began to point towards some sort of bad moment on the horizon. Here we are at "Saga" #22, and this is when everything hits the proverbial fan -- although perhaps not how you saw it coming.
What's nice is that there's more than one plot thread converging here; the television show, the playdate parent, the Robot royalty, Heist's novels, even the journalists all have pieces of this issue that are clicking into place. Vaughan is making "Saga" live up to its title, with a virtual mosaic of story ideas that all come together to form one massive and far-reaching tale. None of them feel rushed or overwhelming though, and in fact it's such an expertly managed pace that it makes each of the parts feel that much more fulfilling and whole.
Conflict between main characters can be hard to handle, and it's to Vaughan's credit that the blow-up between Alana and Marko feels believable and realistic. Both sides have valid concerns based on the information they have, and the secrets that they've kept are the sort of ones that I wish we'd see more of in comics. So often a secret held back by one side of a relationship feels ridiculous -- why wouldn't he or she tell the other person? -- but here I feel like it's an example of someone who understands how people's emotions really work. Neither Alana nor Marko is trying to hurt one another, but you can also see why they kept their mouths shut; if anything, it's to avoid this exact sort of confrontation. And really, that's part of why "Saga" is such a good comic; it's one thing to plot out all sorts of far-reaching ideas, it's something else to populate it with realistic and interesting characters that you can empathize with.
Staples' art is as excellent as ever. It's nice to see how well she can handle some of the little things here and make them sing just as much as the bigger, flashier moments. Alana's outfit for the show, for instance, both makes her look distinctly different even as you can recognize her if you know that you're looking for Alana. That may sound obvious, but it's surprising how few artists can make a partial mask and a wig act like a real disguise while also keeping the transformative effects realistic. (It's almost akin to seeing Christopher Reeve transform his face in the original "Superman" film using just a pair of glasses and realizing that yes, it really can work.)
That's not to take away from when Staples does draw the larger moments here, though. When the shoot-out occurs, it's sudden and violent and startling, thanks in no small part to Staples' art. Shots here are explosive and gruesome, and she doesn't sugar-coat the deaths of these characters. It makes the promise at the end of the issue that much more understandable; after seeing what happened to the people around you, and in such a vivid fashion, you'd probably be offering up something to save your own life, too. It's a great contrast to the opening moment where we see a creation deity fart out the entire universe, but it's no less memorable.
So where do we go from here? Both main characters have some cracks in their previously polished facades; neither one of them is entirely in the right, and both have made some big mistakes. Honestly, I have no idea, because the possibilities are numerous. Here's what I do know, though: I'm dying to find out. Once again, Vaughan and Staples deliver everything you hope for, and then a little bit more to boot. Highly recommended.