Comic Picks By The Glick

Saga vol. 1

October 25, 2012

Regular readers will know that I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was first solicited.  In addition to his quality superhero work, Brian K. Vaughan gave us two of the best creator-owned titles of the last decade in “Y:  The Last Man,” with Pia Guerra, and “Ex Machina,” with Tony Harris.  After the latter series wrapped up, Vaughan took some time off to work on assorted TV and film projects before his space opera was announced last year.  Now, after the first six issues have come out to stunning sales and near universal critical acclaim, did I find it worth the wait?  Yes.

What, you were expecting more enthusiasm?  Well it’s not that good yet.

Our story opens with the birth of Hazel, who is also narrating it from some unspecified point in the future.  Her parents, Alana (she has the insect wings) and Marko (he has the horns) were originally on two different sides of a galactic conflict before they fell in love and decided to have no part in it anymore.  This has made them high-value targets to their former militaries who have sent not only their own troops after them, but are also employing a variety of “freelancers” to get the job done as well.  Now, stuck on the planet Cleave at ass-end of the galaxy this new family has to find a way to survive against odds that can charitably be described as “impossible.”

Vaughan has always been skilled at creating likeable, flawed protagonists as his defining works wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting if Yorick Brown had the confidence and charisma of Brad Pitt, or if Mitchell Hundred had the integrity and respectability of Lincoln.  Marko and Alana are no different as they bicker, make up and get a real thrill out of this great and sometimes very dangerous adventure.  It’s also refreshing to see a relationship where both partners are equally capable of screwing up or saying something stupid.  Be it Alana’s confession that she likes the taste of her own breast milk, or Marko telling his wife that his hips are much more womanly than his former fiance's.

The title also features an impressively eclectic supporting cast.  You’ve got Izabel, who now exists as a ghost after she stepped on a landmine, who winds up becoming the family’s babysitter.  Freelancers, “Saga’s” answer to bounty hunters, introduced here include The Will, the only individual in the book who looks like a normal human but is no less badass for it.  There’s also The Stalk, a spider-woman acknowledged by The Will as the best hunter in the galaxy even though he’s still bitter about the end of their relationship.  Most interesting, though, is Prince Robot IV.  It’s not just because he’s part of the species that has computer screens for heads, but he has also returned home after surviving one of the worst sneak attacks of the war with the intent to start a family.  Unfortunately, he’s effectively press-ganged by his unseen father into the hunt for the Alana and Marko to ensure his worthiness to the throne.  What makes him interesting is that considerably more guts and cleverness than you’d expect from someone born into royalty.  This is best seen in the last few pages of the volume as he figures something out that will inevitably make him a major player very soon.

Though artist Fiona Staples is new to me, she proves to be a very good fit for the material.  Her style isn’t very heavy on raw detail, but she makes up for that with a clearly vivid imagination.  There are a lot of weird, alien touches to the characters here that give the book a distinct look and a visit to the libidinous planet of Sextillion which features at least one image that you won’t be able to forget no matter how hard you try.  Key to a book that features strong characterization is the expressiveness an artist can invest in the characters, and Staples does that quite well here.  “Saga” is full of moments where the expressions of the characters leap out at you, with some of the most striking ones being as vivid as Marko’s rage against the soldiers who attack his wife, or as relatable as the “Oh god I don’t want to do this,” look The Will gets when he’s contacted by The Stalk.

The book isn’t perfect because in spite of its strong writing, characterization and art, the world itself doesn’t feel quite real yet.  Rather than an organic creation with its own rules and history, it feels like Vaughan and Staples have taken a lot of things about our world, thrown them into a blender and called it a day.  I can understand the need to not get bogged down in worldbuilding or the tech-heavy exposition common to sci-fi but the “Saga” galaxy lacks freshness or a real identity for itself.  Granted, this is only the first volume so there’s plenty of room for improvement in this area now that we’ve been introduced to the core cast.

It didn’t quite meet my lofty expectations, but it came closer than most have in the past year.  (I’m looking in your direction “Fatale.”)  I don’t think I need to sell this to Vaughan’s fans as they likely already have a copy of this, but anyone looking for some good character-driven sci-fi should consider picking this up at their next opportunity.

… Unless you’re Dave Dorman.  I don’t think Vaughan and Staples went with the cover image to annoy him further, but it’s funny to think that they did.

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