SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)
I’m so late to the party that the weekend is over and everyone is back to work on Monday. I like to write SF reviews to introduce new books to people who might not have read them yet, but SAGA is already so popular and well known that the only advantage to discovering this series so late is that I can read the first 5 volumes straight through without having to wait!
The story moves so propulsively you have to force yourself to slow down. The characters are so likeable that even the contract killers and military robot royalty are sympathetic. And the dialogue written by Brian K. Vaughan is so infectiously fun, snarky and charming that I kept laughing out loud. It’s a space opera, yes, and a story of star-crossed lovers caught in the middle of a protracted interstellar war. And they have a brand-new baby. Their arguments, fears about parenthood, and discussions of the future can be appreciated by anyone. And both science and magic work in this universe. Then there are ghost nannies, bizarre aliens, wooden spaceships, wildly anachronistic objects like paperback romance novels, kid’s cereal boxes, and camcorders connected to CRT TVs, a creepy sex planet, and that’s just the beginning.
What holds it all together is the amazing, wonderful, and perfectly matched artwork of Fiona Staples. It’s gorgeous, clean, precise, expressive, colorful, and memorable. It’s not often that the writing and artwork can blend so seamlessly and complement each other this well. I can’t praise it highly enough, especially the framing narrative by Hazel (the lettering works so well).
SAGA is a great reminder of what the comic medium can do that novels, my normal bread and butter, cannot. The story engages your mind and eyes, and I actually discovered a third dimension that I highly recommend. There is a quirky young musician named Grimes who makes quirky electronic pop music. I didn’t know about her but my daughter kept talking about her so I listened to her most recent albums Art Angels (2015) and Visions (2012), and I swear they are the PERFECT soundtrack to this comic series. So much so that when I read SAGA I start humming my favorite Grimes tunes like California, and when I listen to her albums I have this crazy urge to read SAGA.
SAGA has been described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones and Romeo and Juliet, and while I don’t think that is entirely accurate, it has some elements of truth. Marko and Alana are certainly star-crossed lovers, and the space opera elements are Stars Wars-like (but MUCH more bizarre and adult-themed), and the Game of Thrones element would cover both the convoluted story and complex characters, along with the frequently excessive violence and sexual bits. Just like Game of Thrones HBO series, I feel like the story would be just as good WITHOUT seeing guts flying, heads being crushed, and a constant barrage of naked flesh. So I don’t feel like SAGA needs all of that, since the story is so great, I respect the artistic vision of Vaughan and Staples. Still, they could dial it down and I can’t imagine anyone putting the comic down because it’s wasn’t violent or sexually-explicit enough.
Volume 2 takes up the story without skipping a beat. Alana and Marko are faced with Marko’s parents Kiara and Barr, who suddenly appear on their tree spaceship. Almost immediately Kiara and Marko are forced to go after the ghost teen nannie Izabel (one of my favorites), leaving Alana with her father-in-law. Their first meeting does not go well in a way anyone can sympathize with. But eventually Alana and Barr find more common ground, and their relationship is very sweet. The expressions on their faces are so real and natural, you just have to acknowledge Fiona Staples is an amazing illustrator.
Meanwhile, our intrepid freelance bounty hunter The Will and his lie-detecting cat deal with the aftermath of events of Volume 1. We are also treated to some flashbacks of Marko’s youth. Even more interesting is a flashback to the fateful first meeting between Alana and Marko as guard and prisoner. Their first sparks and chat about A Night Time Smoke is so incredibly funny – as is Alana’s attempts to get her fellow guard to read it.
We also meet Gwendolyn, the feisty fiancé of Marko who is definitely NOT happy about his elopement with Alana. Pairing up Gwendolyn and The Will is the odd-couple to end all others, and their exchanges are spot-on. They are accompanied by Slave Girl, who joined them after The Will succumbed to his conscience in Vol 1.
There is a little excursion back to Sextillion, more flashbacks to Alana and Marko’s early days on the run, and The Will and Gwendolyn continue their pursuit. There is another scene involving Lying Cat in space that almost brought a tear to my eye. Again, SAGA really makes the most of the comic medium. It also does something that is very difficult to pull off – it’s got an amazing sense of humor and fun that doesn’t shy away from the cruelty and horror of war and death.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this series is it’s resolute focus on its characters, despite the galactic war backdrop. You want to know what happens to everyone, both the “good” and “bad” characters, and yet the chase across worlds creates endless opportunities for weird planets and side-stories. This is how space opera should be done. The only limitation is really the creativity of Vaughan and Staples, and they’ve shown no signs of slowing down yet.
I’m a newcomer to Brian K. Vaughan’s SAGA, but so far the story is living up to its name, with all the inventiveness and scope of any Star Wars film — though also with a heavy dose of graphic violence, gore and nudity.
Marko and Alana are star-crossed lovers from a warring planet and its moon, trying to scrounge out a living and care for their newborn daughter while avoiding those from both sides of the conflict that want them dead. As living proof of unity and love between their species, the two are deemed too dangerous to live, especially as the war has long since spread to numerous other planets, moons and star systems.
Among the bounty hunters searching for them is the unlikely team-up of an assassin known as The Will and Marko’s ex-fiancé Gwendolyn (who initially get distracted from their mission by The Will’s desire to free a young girl from sex-slavery) and Prince Robot IV, a television-headed royal charged by Landfall’s Secret Intelligence to not only kill Alana and Marko but bring back their child for experimentation.
Meanwhile, Alana has to meet the in-laws when Marko’s mother and father track them down; they’re none too pleased to find their only son has married one of the enemy, though greatly interested in their newborn grand-daughter. With a plan to find sanctuary with the reclusive author of a romance paperback that first brought Alana and Marko together, the little family and their allies make their way through space, searching for a place to call home…
There’s really no end to what you can find in SAGA: a cat that can discern the truth, the pink ghost of a teenage babysitter, a gaggle of witches with their heads on upside down, a moon that’s actually an egg about to hatch, a tree that doubles as a fully-functional rocketship… A lot of the story’s success comes down to the artwork of Fiona Staples, who not only realistically depicts all these weird and wonderful sights, but gives all its characters a real sense of emotion and weight. With that human touch, we never forget that among all the alien strangeness, this is a story about a young couple’s love for their child.
As with the last instalment, some of the images seem designed to shock rather than story-tell (in this case, the full-frontal sight of a naked giant) and I’m not sure why there isn’t a readable translation of Marko’s native language, but on the whole SAGA is a comic book that lives up to its name, with a surprise on nearly every page.