I can’t even. How is it that this comic keeps getting better? I thought I loved it and then find there are new capacities to the love I can have for it. I don’t know how I’ll live until Vol. 5 comes out on September 15. Goddess give me strength. Image, give me a galley!
Spoilers ahead, good people!
Okay, so this volume focuses squarely on the challenges a family faces to stay together and stay close. The opening pages of Vol. 4 give an echo of the opening pages of Vol. 1. But instead of Alana giving birth to Hazel, we have Princess Robot giving birth to her son. Upon being told that she has a son, her screen shows an exploding star, a wonderful visualization of a new mother’s epiphany. Prince Robot IV is still missing, so her crocodile nurse presents the baby as Prince Robot IV. But Princess Robot is having none of it. She refuses to believe her husband is dead. She will hang on to her family until the end.
Likewise, Alana and Marco are beset from all sides by attacks on their family. In fact, Hazel heartbreakingly narrates that this is the story of how her parents split up. By this volume, I am heavily invested in Alana and Marco and their family. So each complication they faced wrenched my core. Vaughan handles the “mundane” challenges exceedingly well, and the cliches of drama are hung with a lampshade: Alana notes, as she takes the drug Fadeaway for the second time, “God, this is the first scene of every boring cautionary tale ever.” Yuma tells her not to believe everything she learned in school, but her drug use will be a catalyst for a major misstep, just not in the cliched way.
Marco’s temptation towards infidelity comes in the form of another stay-at-home parent. She meets Marco and Hazel at the park and offers to teach dance lessons to Hazel. Marco’s not seeing much of Alana at this point, since she’s working for an entertainment that merges soap opera with superheroes in a virtual reality theater. Marco and the dance teacher bond, then maybe something more. I couldn’t help but label the woman as the purple harlot in my head. That’s not very gracious of me, but her threat to Alana and Marco really hit me in the core.
But the family is also still under attack from the war-oriented forces as well. Freelancers, Gwen, journalists, the warmongers themselves are all still tracking them, and its harder to be on the run while staying still. A new player in all of this is Dengo, a working class robot stiff, black and white with antenna to indicate his lower status in society. Dengo’s got a beef with the robot royals for class injustice. His four-year-old son Jokum died of a gut infection from bad drinking water. The doctors couldn’t do anything for a commoner without insurance, so Jokum died of uncontrollable diarrhea. Dengo notes this is almost comical, except that it’s absolutely horrific and happens with some frequency according to the funeral director. Dengo’s going to use the new princeling to change the fate of commoners. He kills the Princess and takes the princeling off planet. He’s a fascinating character, clearly sociopathic based on the trail of bodies he leaves, but also sympathetically motivated. A mind-blowing panel depicts him with a cartoon show on his screen to occupy the baby slung in a carrier across his chest while he holds a man’s decapitated head by the disembodied spine. Dengo seems like a monster, and yet his actions don’t seem very different from those of warmongers and soldiers. And, like many of the characters, he acts in the name of family.
The art continues to wow. When Alana doses Fadeaway for the first time, the panels are used to show her transformation in perception. The robot’s screen images aptly encapsulate their thoughts and emotions–my favorite was when Princess Robot hears she has just birthed a son and an exploding star appears on her screen. Staples’ art is continually upping the effect of the narrative in beautiful, gruesome, and clever ways.
So now we have the complexities of family, marriage, war, class, vengance, and redemption. Plus unique vision, genre mash-up, and humor. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples just keep making this title better and better. I can’t wait to devour Volume 5.