One of the best things about getting into comics (other than comics themselves) is going out, discovering all the great works already produced and reading them all in one glorious marathon. Being able to read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Garth Ennis’ Preacher or volume after volume of Bill Willingham’s Fables for the first time is a life-altering experience. I wish Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga was finished so I could dive deep into it and not care if I ever came up for air again. Though that would mean it would be over, and this is one ride you never want to end. Have you not been reading this gem? Where have you been?! (Also, shame on you!)
Written by the charming Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, CBS’s Under The Dome) and drawn by the ridiculously talented (and Canada’s own) Fiona Staples (Done to Death, North 40, Secret History of The Authority: Hawksmoor), Saga is the story of Alana and Marko, two Soldiers trapped in an epic war between their home worlds – Alana’s Landfall, the most technologically advanced planet in the galaxy, and Marko’s Wreath, which is Landfall’s only satellite, a moon whose inhabitants have a mastery over magic. Knowing the destruction of either world would send the other spinning out of orbit, both Landfall and Wreath outsource the war to other planets in the system, keeping their respective home worlds relatively unscathed. It’s on one of these worlds, Cleave, where our protagonists meet, fall in love, desert their respective armies and run away, eventually creating a child together (Hazel), who narrates the series. She is by far my favourite character, more on her in a bit. This is where our saga begins.
Together, Vaughan and Staples colour their universe with a plethora of wondrous characters.
The bounty hunter
The Will is an amalgamation of every wary anti-hero, appears to have seen everything, and is rather desensitized to the horrors of the universe. He is partnered by possibly the greatest character find of the past year, The Lying Cat, who as the name suggests, is a feline lie-detector. They are this generation’s Han and Chewie, with a slightly darker, sinister, depraved edge. He was hired by The Wreath to track down Alana and Marko, to keep the news of Hazel’s birth from demoralizing the troops at home and abroad.
His Royal Highness
Prince Robot IV is a member of Robot Kingdom, and like The Will, he is charged with tracking down our heroes, though on behalf of Landfall. With a pregnant wife at home, he is unable to return until his mission is complete. He is slightly damaged from an earlier battle and suffers from a robot version of P.T.S.D which causes certain images to flash upon his screen/face – sometimes controversial ones.
While in the forests of Cleave, Alana and Marko stumble upon an unlikely babysitter for Hazel; Izabel, who is one of the “horrors” of the forest. She was a teenager who stepped on a landmine, and through the unknown forces of her planet, became a kind of spectre. Those familiar with Vaughan’s work on The Runaways, will find Izabel’s sassiness familiar and comforting. She sticks around with the family in hopes of escaping Cleave with them.
Our humble narrator
With the wings of her mother and the horns of her father, Hazel is the product of love, but also the catalyst to ruin the well-organized war between Landfall and Wreath. While baby Hazel does not do much, future Hazel is our story’s narrator, and is quite possibly my favorite element of the entire series. She has such an honest view of the events – very blunt and direct. I eagerly await the day when we finally catch up with her in the future to see what she has become.
There are several more characters involved in this epic, but it is best to read and discover them yourself, as some will shock and surprise you. With the first volume following Alana, Marko and Hazel trying to escape Cleave and the dangers it holds, the second volume brings Alana face-to-face with one of the most frightening things in any universe: the in-laws.
Vaughan takes his love of epic stories like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, adds a bit of tragic romance from Romeo & Juliet, and blends it together into a delicious cosmic comic smoothie. The dialogue is what you would expect from a Vaughan book: witty and sharp, mixed with humour and real emotional elements. After becoming a father for a second time, Vaughan said he wanted to write a story where family, and what it means, was the main theme running through the narrative. This is a rather surprising revelation considering this book is by far one of the most vulgar mainstream comics on the shelves today. With graphic language, open scenes of sexuality, and a healthy dose of nudity, Saga is not quite the book for a younger crowd. Where the likes of Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis may go overboard with the usage of these for shock value, Vaughan crafts it in such a way that it fits the story and doesn’t seem to be excessive. In his storytelling, Vaughan opened some deep, dark vault within his mind and unleashed some seriously garish imagery, which is why it was a stroke of genius when he chose his artistic collaborator.
For those of you who have not followed Fiona Staples’ meteoric rise in the comic industry over the past few years, boy have you missed out. Though one can see the influences in her work (from Fraser Irving to Ben Templesmith), Fiona takes it and makes it her own. Years from now, people will talk about “The Fiona Staples Style”. She can go from seriously grotesque characters (particularly the naked giant ogre/cyclops in chapter 9 with his, ahem, “club swinging”), and then change it up completely, softening the work for intimate moments between Alana and Hazel. Staples’ character work is inspired, with each having their own distinctive look and flow. She not only draws the entire book digitally, she also inks and colours it. She is such a dynamic force in the industry, we can forgive a slight hiatus here and there for her to catch up and stave off insanity. The talent doesn’t just end there. Staples brings something to the book which is nearly unheard of in modern comic books – hand lettering. Although the speech bubbles are your standard digital fare (not to downplay the excellent work of letterers at Fonografiks and Steven Finch), Staples uses her child-like script to make Hazel’s disembodied narration a part of the art itself; a stunningly beautiful effect.
One of the best parts of the series is that Staples and Vaughan have created some very strong female characters that stand on their own, and are not damsels in distress – or worse, women in refrigerators – which is so prevalent in comics these days. Even The Stalk’s “costume” makes sense and does not feel exploitative. They show both a sense of strength and vulnerability at the same time. You know, well-written characters. It’s why you buy comics in the first place – or at least should be.
I will not lie (check with the cat); the cliffhangers after each issue are truly agonizing. Waiting a month for another chapter is painful, so reading this in trade paperback form is a good way to go if you’re impatient – though the wait between collections is even longer, so you’ll have to find other quality books to fill the void in the meantime. Since you may have missed out on the multiple printings of the first twelve issues, start with the New York Times/ Diamond Comic Distributors Best Selling trade paperback Saga Volume 1, and follow it up with Volume 2 while Saga is on hiatus until August.
Now is your chance to catch up on this fantastic journey through space, and to sound a little sappy, your soul. You owe it to yourself.
Saga: Volume 2 (collecting issues 7 – 12) is available in comic stores everywhere. Issue #13 is scheduled to drop August 14th, 2013, courtesy of Image Comics.