Reposting to include Rebecca’s new review.
Saga (Vol. 9) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)
It’s been nine months since I read Vol 8 of Saga, which is something special. It’s the only comic series that I follow, and the characters are as vivid, complicated, lovable, despicable, cruel, and conflicted as any I know. This is a space opera that tackles the most difficult and relevant topics of our own society, doesn’t hesitate to shock readers, flip the script, and most frightening of all, doesn’t hold back from killing off major characters that we are deeply invested in. It’s a cruel message, that even the best people trying to just live their lives and maintain their ideals can be snuffed out by those with less scruples, and that those that have used violence in the past can rarely escape the consequences, even after having turned to a peaceful path. This volume will leave you stunned, gutted, and struggling to recover. Not only that, but writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have said they will be taking an extended hiatus after this volume. It may be a good time to re-read the entire series and consider the first nine volumes as a major story arc that comes to a stunning ending here.
In Vol 9, Marko & Alana, their daughter Hazel, Prince Robot, his son Squire, Petrichor, Ghus, Upsher & Doff, The Will, and Ianthe continue their tense cat & mouse chase. While the “good guys” are taking a breather, Upsher & Doff pitch the idea of sharing Marko & Alana’s story to their tabloid in exchange for a big payout that will let them (possibly) escape from all their pursuers and enemies and just be a “normal” family, one not under the constant threat of death from rival galactic empires that both have an interest in extinguishing them. At the same time, Prince Robot has his own plans on how to achieve happiness for himself, Squire, and Petrichor. This extremely unlikely trio makes for a fascinating family unit, and the whole series is so good at mixing up very different characters and forcing them to face brutally-difficult decisions in the midst of harrowing circumstances. How Vaughan manages to keep the banter clever, humorous, and yet completely honest is an amazing accomplishment. There are no false notes, just a continuously shifting tone as we go from quiet moments of brief happiness to sudden, wrenching, and violent deaths. It’s quite an emotional roller-coaster, so be prepared to be thrown for six and put through the wringer – it’s hard to imagine any fan of the series getting through this volume unscathed, and I was once again so impressed by how Vaughan and Staples use the story panels to create unbearable tension. I use Comixology and have it set so you read each panel without seeing the next, so there were moments in the story when I just didn’t want to move to the next panel, knowing something awful was waiting, but being unable to stop myself. It’s a perfect use of the medium, and the artwork is clean, expressive, and gorgeous as always.
Our little mixed-species family are hiding out on an island that doubles as an abandoned amusement park with an exiled robot and his son, two aquatic journalists, and a talking seal. A variety of people are still hunting them, either for personal or political gain, but for now they’ve found a little slice of peace in a galaxy at war.
Naturally, it won’t last long.
At this stage, there’s really no point in starting the series anywhere but Volume 1. If you’re a newcomer baffled by the above synopsis, I promise you’ll be lost if you crack open a volume this late in the game. For long-term readers, this one is a gamechanger, as befits the last volume before a long hiatus.
Vaughan and Staples have never held back before when it comes to violence, nudity or shocking deaths, but they up the game this time around, with plenty of psychologically disturbing stuff about how people deal with pain, mind-control, vengeance, and hate. It’s not pretty, and I’m almost tempted to say they took it a bit too far (it’s the old Game of Thrones argument — how much is too much?)
But if you have made it this far, then you should know what you’re in for. This is a saga about a universe at war, and all the inevitable suffering that goes with it. As always, Staples’ artwork brings to life some of the strangest and most bizarre alien creatures, infusing them with personality through their body language and facial expressions.
As this is the last book we’ll get for a while in the SAGA series, it’s important to remember that Hazel has always been the protagonist of this story, her older self providing a “voiceover narration” as she looks back over the early years of her life. Given the way this volume ends, I’m looking forward (however long it might take) to see how she’s affected by the changes in this storyline, and how her life moves forward from here.
Like MONSTRESS, the perfect, seamless melding of art with story is a large part of what makes this a standout for me.
Yes, Saga represents the perfect union of story and artwork, I’ll have to add Monsters to the TBR list!
Surprisingly, I didn’t misspell the name; it’s MONSTRESS. (aka “female monster.”) Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda create it.