Saga, Volume 5, Issues 25-30 by Brian K. Vaughan
Saga Vol 5 represents a noticeable shift in tone in the ever-evolving series. Until this point the story has managed to wonderfully balance the tribulations of Alana, Marko, Klara and Hazel; The Will, Lying Cat, Gwendolyn and Sophia in pursuit, Prince Robot IV, and the renegade terrorist Dengo. Some of my absolute favorite moments of Vol 4 involved Alana’s acting career and the hardships and temptations faced by Marko as a stay-at-home dad. I also found the story of Dengo incredibly relevant to today’s world in depicting the mentality of a terrorist who believes that murder of innocents is justified in pursuit of a larger goal.
All the storylines continue in Vol 5, but perhaps because of the incredibly high quality of storytelling in the preceding volumes, I felt a slight but undeniable drop-off in my enjoyment of this one. In particular, I missed the interactions of Alana and Marko as circumstances have split them apart, and The Will and Gwendolyn are also separated. We get a lot of insight into Marko’s struggle with his violent past, but don’t learn as much about Alana. Most disappointingly, the dynamics of The Brand, Gwendolyn, and Sophia are not as interesting without The Will to serve as counterpoint.
The tone has also become much darker and the humor has diminished as war and terrorism take front and center. Specifically, the character of Dengo and his motivations for going on a killing spree are given greater depth. I actually felt that was the strongest part of this volume – Dengo horrified me as a ruthless killer in Vol 4, but as we learn more about his motivations, while they certainly do not justify his actions, they do make them more credible. When I see the almost daily terrorist acts around the world on the news, I am again reminded that Saga is very much about our own world and not just an escapist space opera fantasy.
However, the introduction of The Revolution wasn’t as compelling as I had hoped. While it’s interesting that they were fighting against both Wreath and Landfall, their motivations and actions were not given enough detail to make me care about their fates. The story’s criticism of the victims of war, particularly civilians, women and children, while certainly a legitimate point to make, felt a bit heavy-handed at times. I respect the fact that the entire Saga series makes a strong condemnation of the futility of war and its insidious tendency to pit people against each other in an endless zero-sum cycle of revenge, but the message sometimes overwhelmed the momentum of the story arcs.
Finally, the quest of Gwendolyn, Sophia, and The Brand to find a magical cure to help The Will was frankly pointless and descended into crude territory purely for cheap shock value. Saga has never shied away from blindsiding readers with sudden and horrific scenes of violence and sexually explicit jokes and situations. But it’s always seemed to be a natural extension of the story up to this point, whereas this whole quest felt fairly superfluous and the gross-out bits just…gross.
I realize I’m being a bit harsh here on this extremely creative comic that I still love and feel very invested in. The artwork by Fiona Staples continues to be fantastic and captivates the eye and mind. I also recognize that all stories and characters have to go through periods when the reader may not like the directions they take, since we are putting a mirror to real life here. And without a dark and troubled road, the light at the end would not be visible. However, I felt there were moments that were forced and even Hazel’s brilliant narration was not quite as charming as before. There is still plenty of potential for Saga to pick back up in future volumes, and it remains such an incredible font of creative energy that nourishes fans tired of so much generic genre product, but I thought this volume was a bit less amazing that its predecessors.
By this point, it’s impossible to leap into the story of Brian K. Vaughan’s SAGA without heading back to the first few issues: the story is too dense and complex to keep track of what’s happening without a proper build-up.
Alana and Marko are two soldiers from a warring planet and its moon, whose conflict has spread out across the galaxy, enlisting thousands more species into the fray. Yet the two of them have fallen in love and married, and now search the universe for a safe place to raise their daughter Hazel.
An easy comparison to make is to STAR WARS, and yet an important difference is that while that franchise deals with a clear-cut battle between good and evil, the ongoing war in SAGA is simply bad in itself. There’s no indication of how or why it began, only that it was outsourced to hundreds of other planets and is the cause of untold death and suffering. Alana and Marko have no delusions about stopping it, just avoiding it at all costs.
That’s a problem considering their hybrid child is of great interest to their home-worlds of Landfall and Wreath. Several assassins and bounty hunters have been sent out after them, though at least one has become a temporary ally. Prince Robot IV and Marko have reluctantly formed a team in order to track down their respective families, both kidnapped by a lowly janitor called Dengo whose own family has died as a result of the endless conflict.
Thanks to him, we’re introduced to a third branch of ideology: a group known as the Revolution, who will go to any means necessary to end the fighting — and that includes killing Alana and Dengo, and handing baby Hazel over to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, Marko’s ex-fiancée Gwendolyn and the sister of a bounty hunter known as The Will have also joined forces to save their mutual friend/brother — all they need is a certain ingredient from a dragon living on a dangerous planet to make the necessary elixir.
The theme of Volume Five is “sacrifice” — what it’s comprised of, who makes it, and why. For the most part it has to do with the sacrifices parents will make for their children, but with the backdrop of war ever-present in these characters’ lives, it certainly takes on a more harrowing meaning than the simple loss of time, energy and sleep.
As ever, Fiona Staples’s artwork is incredible. Landscapes, people, creatures, vessels, facial expressions — SAGA wouldn’t be half as powerful without her input, and she’s just as much a storyteller as writer Brian Vaughan. As ever, this issue contains at least one panel that reminds you this is NOT a graphic novel for children (in this case it’s a dragon that’s…er… “relieving” itself) and plenty of visual mysteries to ponder (such as the presence of a sentient tiki-like creature which speaks with several voices. It’s a part of the Revolution’s crew, but what exactly it is or who it’s comprised of is never fully explained — it’s just another part of this bizarre alien world).
As befits its title, SAGA keeps getting bigger: deepening its characters, expanding its boundaries, and complicating its story. Don’t miss out!