Robot 6

On the epic saga of ‘Saga’ #12

seal kid

This week’s new comic book releases included such noteworthy publications as  the final issue of Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly’s drama based on UFO folklore, Saucer Country, the latest installment of Marvel’s line-wide crossover-event series Age of Ultron, the one-issue return of some of Marvel’s fan-favorite Runaways characters in the tie-in Ultron #1, the latest issue of the best superhero comic book on the stands, Hawkeye,  and the final issue of the Mark Millar-written comic-as-movie pitch series Secret Service, maybe better known as “What Dave Gibbons has Been Up to While DC Published Before Watchmen.” And those were just the serially published comic book-comics.

The comic I heard the most about this week by far, however, was Saga #12, the latest chapter in Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ deservedly popular space fantas. And the reasons this particular issue was so talked about? Early in the week it seemed as Apple had rejected it for distribution for a couple of images of gay sex (although Wednesday afternoon, comiXology CEO David Steinberger said the move was actually due to his company’s mistaken interpretation of Apple policy).

I’m a somewhat-casual consumer of comics news these days, and yet I encountered iterations of this story over and over this week. And in the time between the story’s initial reporting and Steinberger’s clarification, I’ve seen stories on numerous comics news sites and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s blog. A Google News search for “Saga #12″ and “Apple” brings up 9,370 results, the top two being for The Washington Post and NPR, so obviously the mainstream media bit on the story as well.

Having actually read the comic book, though, the content that earned the mistaken, temporary pre-banning was so small and inconsequential, I probably would have missed it. (Note: Some images below may be not safe for work.)

Do you guys all know who Prince Robot IV is?

prince robot cover

If not, he’s the second-coolest character Staples and Vaughan created for the series, behind Lying Cat (a huge, gray Sphynx house cat who is partner to the bounty hunter The Will and is a sort of biological lie detector; she talks, but the only word she says is “lying” whenever she hears someone lie).

Prince Robot IV is a robot from The Robot Kingdom, and appears as a human being with shiny gray skin from the neck down, while his head is a television (complete with rabbit-ear antenna). The blank screen of his face can project images, usually when he’s experiencing a strong emotion, or receiving communication. He dresses like a World War I-era European aristocrat. And, in the first issue of the series, he has on-panel heterobosexual sex with his wife.

prince robot 401

Well, the first page of Saga #12 is a splash page, showing a horribly wounded Prince Robot IV limp and collapsed in the arms of a soldier, while blue blood (get it?) pours out of a neck wound and puddles behind him. On his monitor, which is about one square inch of the page, is an image of someone performing fellatio. Looking closely for exactly these purposes, I think it’s more than likely a man sucking another man, but it’s so small there aren’t a whole lot of visual clues there.

robot 4 wound

This far into the story, a single image, I thought maybe this was Prince Robot IV’s way of calling someone, probably whoever shot him, a “cocksucker.” On the next page, in the very next panel, we see the same scene from a slightly different angle, and the image on Prince Robot IV’s face monitor‚ which is now slightly smaller, is a tight close-up of three penises ejaculating above the open mouth of the character.

When a medic runs up, the soldier cradling the wounded prince shouts to her, “Blueblood attached to our unit took a round in the neck! He’s fritzed!”

I know little about robot royalty biology, but I guess the images are a symptom of the the Prince being “fritzed” — when fritzed, something like gay human porn can appear on their monitors. I guess.

And that’s it. From the third panel on, there is no gay sex, nor any sex of any kind. There are no genitals of any kind — not human nor alien, male nor female, flaccid nor turgid.

The rest of the scene plays out like something out of a WWI story, as a gas attack — magic, not mustard — rolls in and violently, painfully kills the poor volunteer medic. It’s a flashback to Prince Robot’s time in the war, which he’s dreaming about.

Story continues below

root 4 go on

He is the focus of the entire issue, as Vaughan reminds us that Robot has a very good, very personal reason for pursuing our heroes Alana, Marko and Hazel, and Prince Robot confronts the writer of the anti-war treatise disguised as a super-weird, trashy romance novel that helped bring the star-crossed lovers together in the first place. It’s a tense, dramatic scene, with a heck of a cliffhanger ending, and plenty of opportunities for Staples to design and draw cool characters, from ones with large speaking parts like the author Robot questions, to that little seal guy at the top of this post.

After I finished reading it, I had to go back and look for images of gay sex, because I thought I recalled mention of at least two instances, but I had already forgotten one of them.

In other words, and this should come as little surprise to any of you, the objectionable images in this comic book are no big deal. They might present some wider issues of some import well worth or attention and discussion, like a pop-couple double standard that still sees gay sex as somehow more shocking or daring than hetero sex (of which there has been plenty in Saga so far),  the importance of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund as reassuring security blanket nervous retailers can take comfort in knowing is there for them, the importance of buying your comics in paper form from a brick-and-mortar shop rather than relying on an electronic, third-party vendor with different standards than both the creators and the readers, or that no matter what the Supreme Court justices might be discussing at the moment, it’s always 1988 somewhere.

What I found most interesting about this story is that it’s at least the second time in Saga‘s 12-issue lifespan that someone objected to an image in the book, resulting in a great deal of online coverage and discussion of Saga. Remember when Dave Dorman got the vapors over the image of a mother breastfeeding her infant child on the cover of the first issue?

In a sense, the “There’s No Such Thing As Bad Publicity” sense, such discussion couldn’t happen to a better comic book — because there aren’t any, or aren’t that many, better comic books than Saga. Vaughan, Staples and Image Comics couldn’t really ask for more coverage of the 12th issue of their book, just as all that talk of breastfeeding increased the already-impressive amount of conversation about a new project from talented creators like Staples and Vaughan all those many months ago.

And yet it’s clearly not like the creators are courting controversy. In both instances, the objectionable — or is “objected to” a better way to put it? — content was clearly incidental, rather than  a point of focus.

The objections, particularly in the case of the breastfeeding, were pretty out of left field. Staples surely knows her readers by this point, and she  surely knows they are OK with an image of dudes jerking off into someone’s mouth on the face-screen of a television-headed, wounded robot prince in a smart jacket, and she  likely wasn’t thinking past them to say, comiXology or Apple, and what comiXology’s or Apple’s policies were regarding what sort of imagery can appear on the face-screens of computer-headed robot princes that appear in comics they deliver. It’s hard to imagine any reasonable person second-guessing something like the breastfeeding of a baby as a source of potential controversy.

The last day or so probably included a lot of stress for a lot of folks at comiXology and Apple regarding Saga #12 and public perception, and certainly Vaughan and Staples and Image Comics had some cause for concerns, and even more certainly lots of folks who write about comics had quite a few concerns, but let’s look at the bright side: Everyone was talking about a great comic that (just about) everybody should be reading.

So here’s hoping we keep talking about Saga — hopefully for different, better reasons.



Why is there no warning for content on this link?

i have the first TPB of Saga and await the 2nd. That being said, the idea that those who initially prohibited selling issue #12 online due to the gay fellatio et al is not nearly the same as the breast feeding

This “controversy” was an honest mistake to interpret online content standards set up by apple. This is hardly the same as someone insulted by seeing the breast feeding of a newly born baby. hardly.

if the object of the article is to EQUATE breast feeding as no more “shocking” as fellatio and visa versa, then the article’s author is sadly mistaken: The author is saying that an orange is a hammer, which it is not.

Both acts involve the human body, and parts of the body that can be used for or in sexual acts, but they are clearly NOT the same type of “misunderstanding” or “bodily act.”

if Saga’s creative team and this article are saying that breast feeding is a “similar” sexual or shocking act….or no more sexual than fellatio et al… and visa versa, then they are all sadly wrong.

I personally feel the artist & the author did their own form of misunderstanding & false outrage about why their content was removed/banned from ONE PART of the online service. to turn this into anti-homophobia propaganda on the part of Vaughan was simply sensationalist.

In my opinion, the writer & artist aided in blowing their own situation out of proportion. I mean really, the standards as to why comic books are banned on that particular online site were posted and I dont see how you equate the heterosexual sex act shown above as the same as the gay fellatio images when no genitalia or ejacualtion were ever being shown. AGAIN this article’s author is misunderstanding and misrepresenting the visual pictoral facts.

Lets cut to the chase: if it was a heterosexual performing the fellatio or ejaculation ona female face, it still would have been banned and subsequently reinstated. The online content provider also has standards for banning too much violent content as well yet i cant ell you how many people came up with the same old stale comparisons about how “americans accept so much violence but not graphic sex…yadda yadda…” in this case the content provider bans BOTH, SEX & VIOLENCE, if they cross a certain standard they wish their service/site to have.

I also want to know if this was what Vaughan & Staples were trying to prove all along, that sex and violence are really that much different or shocking? like this article’s author says “from this scene on no more porn was shown”.

so what was the point? “lets just show some gay porn here” …i mean comic book fans always appreciate books that have meaningful plots and hate when the plot makes no sense.

I ask the question then: “what was the use of graphic porn” meant in the scene that caused all of this controversy?” it doesnt make sense where it was used.

Why the creative team felt they had to input the sexually explicit graphic image in the story, gay or straight, even though this comic book is known for its creative use of adult content, is what I dont understand and is a lowering of the creative talent this book has shown since issue one.

….are the creative team simply trying to cause controversy as well as lowering the comic buying public’s tolerance/acceptance of graphic sex acts and how they are represented in comic books?

all the other uses of graphic sex (without showing genitalia or ejaculation) in the series made sense, storywise. Personally this use of the graphic sexual images seems pointless to moving the story forward or the quality of the book’s creativity up until now.

Also to use such an image (and it could have been female genitalia, for me it doesnt mean a thing if its male or femal sex organs) at that point of the story, seemslike outrage simply for outrageous sake.

lets be real: for the most part we were reading an HBO True Blood/Game of Thrones type of book. Sex was graphically shown but not focusing on genitalia or ejaculation.

With the use of these images the authors are willing to go to per per view x-rated material to tell a tale, even if its to simply show a scene of a main character who is seriously injured.

again it all seems pointless to me to the overall high quality of the series.

There’s that George Carlin line about swearing that I think applies here, Dark Rabbitt…”‘Well, my argument is that you don’t need paprika or oregano or a few other things to make a stew, technically, either — but you make a better stew. If you’re inclined to make a stew of that type, ‘seasoning’ helps.” Game of Thrones doesn’t show penetration and ejaculation due to the choices of its directors and the channel (and probably some of the actors), Vaughan and Staples chose to show them, and clearly it does change the scene doing it that way, or feel no need to call it out on its pointlessness. Me, I came to comics a long time ago because it seemed at the time to be the one visual medium where you can tell a story AND do things that would not fly on television or in movies, and now that HBO and Showtime have moved into territory formerly occupied only by comics, it has finally become time for comic books to push the envelope on what is acceptable once more. To modify an old saying from the Jargon File, “If you want Marvel, you know where to find it.”

Joe, good points but are comics to “shock” “push the envelope” or tell interesting thoughout stories to try and get more readers on board to keep a great american past time viable?

i dont think the creative team on Saga is going to end up pushing any barriers that havent been already pushed or broken down before, unless its to have confrontation with apple and comiXology in order to generate interest in the series.

What made Saga so cool for me was/is it pushed but didnt go thru the overall plot concept, which still keeps the stories interesting and me coming back for more.

to restate: : “…comic book fans always appreciate books that have meaningful plots and hate when the plot makes no sense.” this doesnt make any sense what Vaughan & Staples did. I dont get it. why court controversy? is that really what all the ground breaking comic books did? court “controversy”?

Since you use Carlin to make apoint, he didnt just court controversy…

…..Carlin told very interesting stories that had a punchline that made sense for what came before it. They were briliantly designed & crafted. He is famous not simply for using vulgarity but vulgarity that made a point as well as told a story.

Chaucer did it in the middle ages,

Carlin & even some of Alan Moore’s work did it in the late 20th century,

Vaughan had also done it in Y the Last Man.

Sage, with Vaughan & Staples, were doing it and are now starting, possibly, to loose their way…

…does telling the truth or promoting a point of view thru a comic book plot, need to be shocking to tell a story or a point? or does the writer and artist try to imply that “hey nothing shocking in this scene folks, please move along and dont judge the fellatio…”

…or do they want people to enjoy the craft of their art? Unfortunately to “enjoy” something means you have to “judge” it if you “like” it.

I never thought Saga was a “shock” value kind of series. it has been making alot of great points by coming off very realistic as well as fantastical in the graphic arts & short story medium of the comic book. Thru fantasy it discusses real life.

I for the life of me cant see how the fellatio scene plays into the realism or even fantasy of the book unless the point is that x-rated material exists in society and we want to use it in comics too, with alot of fantasy going on around it. But that isnt really very new in comics or in any other entertainment medium for that matter. It usually, though not always, created works that didnt have much impact on the art form they resided in.

….Also to that I say, “fine” but how does it relate to your story and characters movitations, plot, etc.. something any caring comic reader wants to see/enjoy.

also, if you go the x-rated route it seems childish to be “shocked” that you might get banned for going against a content providers guidelines.

if the creative team simply wants sex and fun for sex and funs sake, then comics should have stayed stuck in early1960s DC era-type books accept add more flesh. If Saga is simply satisfied with becoming early 21st century version of early 1960s era DC comics thats fine.

But nonesensical plot points and alot of colors and body parts flying around was not why I came to read Saga in the first place.


Since you brought up Carlin, what Saga did in issue #12 is far from what Carlin did with his “7 dirty words” routine. Saga was initially doing what Carlin was doing, but again, breastfeeding is not the same as fellatio. As the below article from the Atlantic magazine relates, Carlin had his points to make about the “7 dirty words” yet he was “friendly in its delivery,” as well as used good rhythm” which translates into comic book form as “good plot points” and a variety of other comic book literary methods to what makes a stimulating and creative comic book story.

dont fall into the same trap that was the very reason Carlin broke the barrier down in the first place, as explained in the below link:

A decade earlier, Lenny Bruce had been blacklisted from performing in U.S. clubs because of his profanity-laced routines. Bruce, a tremendous influence for Carlin, was driven to destruction. Carlin saw this firsthand after sharing the back seat of a police car with Bruce the night Bruce was arrested on obscenity charges during a Chicago show in 1962, accused of saying (at least) “fuck” and “tits.” Carlin, who was at the show, was arrested, too, for refusing to show identification to the police. With this memory in mind, Carlin helped mold the “Seven Dirty Words” to be morally challenging yet friendly in its delivery. The message was directed at not just the corporate control of the entertainment industry, but also the sterile society that refused to rethink its own attitudes and values toward language.

“It was rebellious on a sort of profound level and it also had a kind of jubilance to it,” says Tony Hendra, one of Carlin’s closest friends and author of Last Words, the New York Times-bestselling “sortabiography” on Carlin. “For him, that’s what the piece meant. I think for others in the larger community of comedians who were trying to be themselves and trying to be more relevant, it was definitely a kind of brilliantly funny, brilliantly daring piece in its time.”

“The bit had such a good rhythm to it,” Patrick Carlin, George’s brother, says. “It was just beautiful. It was a perfect, perfect thing and offensive all the way. It showed the stupidity of picking seven words out of thousands and how they can’t be said.”

To George Carlin, the routine’s driving force and message weren’t in the ideas behind the seven words, but rather the words themselves. For the first time, someone was doing a convincing enough job of cajoling an audience into thinking that these words weren’t really so tasteless after all.

“He kind of took the door that Bruce opened and basically put a door-jam in it,” says comedian Lewis Black, who cites Carlin as one of his prime influences. “[Profanity] allows comedy to go further. For me, he provided a comfort zone.”


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