Saga (Vol. 7) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)
I had to wait nine months for Vol 7 of Brian Vaughan’s Saga, and about a year for Vol 6, after reading the first 5 volumes back-to-back. Saga is my favorite current comic series (actually, the only one I am following at the moment), and if you haven’t read it then go out and read Vol 1 right now. If you like intelligent, snarky, sometimes profane space opera centered on a pair of star-crossed lovers who have a little girl named Hazel and an amazing supporting cast of bounty-hunters, humanoid robots, reporters, and various others all caught up in a galactic war between Wreath and Landfall, you will not be disappointed.
In Saga Vol 7, the story resumes as Marko and Alana are finally back together and Hazel is growing up quickly. Being from opposite sides of the conflict, they are an affront to both and their mixed child is considered an abomination that could undermine the biases that keep the two sides hating each other. They remain on the run from both sides, allied with a former enemy and a former prisoner who harbors a secret. When their ship runs low on fuel, they find they need to make an emergency stop on a comet called Phang. Much of the action takes place on this giant rock, “an exotic land of boundless diversity, home to thousands of different tribes, sects, and species…almost all of whom despited each other.” Phang has long been a battleground mainly because of its rich fuel resources, and much of its local populace lives a precarious existence while civil conflict continues. The parallels to certain geopolitical regions in the real world are painfully obvious, down to the stream of refugees produced by the fighting. Saga has never held back from making strong statements about war, racial prejudice, sexual orientations, and uses its violent content in part to push a strong anti-war sentiment, a recurring theme of the series.
As always, the story is carried along with multiple narrative threads, including that of Alana, Marko, Prince Robot, Petrichor, and Izabel on Phang, where they encounter a group of refugees who look like harmless prairie dogs. They are surprisingly innocent but devoutly religious, living in the ruins, and the overlays with images of adults and children living in the rubble of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq are certainly deliberate. After all, most civilians just want to live a decent life and avoid getting killed by either side, right? So why do they always end up caught in the crossfire. Our protagonists end up forming familial bonds with them, and Hazel forms a particularly close friendship with a young prairie dog male named Kurti. They’re just two kids growing up in a hostile and cruel world, but like all children they retain an innocent and accepting view of the world around them.
A separate storyline follows bounty hunter Gwendolyn, a little girl named Sophie rescued from slavery, Lying Cat, and even The Will makes a cameo. They are seeking to make an alliance between elements of both sides, but this storyline is fairly underdeveloped and feels more like a placeholder for events likely to happen in future volumes.
Meanwhile, Marko and the gang have to deal with a ruthless new bounty-hunter named The March, who seems to getting more work since The Will has been on sick leave. And the comet is quickly approaching a very lethal celestial object that is certain to lead to doom unless they find a means of escape…
I flew through the chapters of Vol 7 just as quickly as previous volumes, but as I said in my reviews for Saga Vols 5 & 6, the pace of the story has slowed a bit and the new characters are not quite as fresh and the twists and shocks that were so effective in Vols 1-4 have also lost a bit of their impact. Once again, the series remains very intelligent and is not content just to provide escapism. Vaughan clearly cares very much about the often harsh cruelties of the real world and has found a way to explore them in a quirky and action-filled space opera format unlike any other, so I will continue to follow the fates of his characters, and will be moved when not all of them survive. The ending of this volume is quite tragic and fades to black in a way only possible in comics.
The seventh volume in the story of Marko, Alana and Hazel, two defecting soldiers from opposite sides of an intergalactic war and their hybrid daughter. As they traverse space in their treehouse-rocketship, they’re hunted by bounty hunters and assassins from both their homeworlds — though at the same time, they’ve managed to pick up a surprisingly number of friends and allies.
Although comparisons to STAR WARS are easy, rest assured that despite both sagas being set in “fantasy space” against a backdrop of war, they’re very different in content and tone. STAR WARS is essentially a story of good versus evil, the Rebellion against the Empire, whilst there’s no way to discern the good guys from the bad guys in SAGA. This is a war in which innocence has long-since been obliterated, and Alana and Marko have no interest whatsoever in fighting for peace. They just want a quiet place to raise their daughter.
Here they end up staying for a protracted period of time on a comet known as Phang, rich in fuel and so of particular interest to both sides of the war. Our immediate family is happy enough, especially when they begin to share their resources with a tribe of alien-meerkats, but fellow travelling companions Petrichor (an escaped transgender prisoner) and Prince Robot IV (an exiled aristocrat from an enemy planet) are finding unhealthy ways of dealing with their cabin fever.
And unbeknownst to all of them, Phang is on a collision course with a Timesuck (best described as a sentient black hole, though its design is something you have to see to believe) which means imminent death.
In a separate subplot, The Will — one of the family’s original pursuers — tracks down his old cohorts Gwendolyn, Sophie and Lying Cat, though by this stage several years have passed and they’re not all the people they used to be. Finally, there’s one more mercenary known The March thrown in, who promises to cause plenty of trouble for our protagonists.
As though to make up for the relative lightness of the previous volume, Brian K. Vaughan leans heavily into themes of death, despair and nihilism in this instalment. A regular character is killed off rather pointlessly, and a group of sentient creatures are written as having faith in a higher power seemingly so Vaughan can make a point about how deluded they are. It’s certainly not a cheerful story by any stretch of the imagination.
As ever, Fiona Staples brings the story to life with her amazing artwork, and I was amused to discover that (after a break in the last issue) she’s back to adding one requisite “shock panel” that will make any reader wince. In the past it’s been graphic violence, sex, murder, nudity or childbirth — here it’s an android relieving himself in his quarters (to put it as delicately as possible).
This isn’t my favourite volume in the series, but it provides a valuable stepping stone to the next, and several interesting character beats. In particular, Hazel is no longer a baby anymore, but a small human child that can form thoughts and ideas of her own. As the whole thing is narrated by an older (unseen) Hazel from a much later point in time, SAGA is gradually taking shape as the story of her growth from child to adult, and all the learning curves she experienced on the way.