Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan – Comics Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews his first title for Image Comics, penned by New York Times bestseller Vaughan and acclaimed artist Staples.
“Wonderfully vibrant, Saga is an amazing journey of love, war, honour, and principles. Science fiction has never been so vibrant in a comic before.“
I’ve tried long to get into an Image Comics title, mostly ever since I got a NetGalley account. But even though the various titles I requested sounded appealing on a first look, I never felt motivated enough to actually read them. That changed when I picked up Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga Volume 1 this past weekend and raced through it. The cover art is just plain gorgeous with its palette of creams and oranges and reds and that was the main reason why I read it, the cover art was a huge draw. As with my experience of Ron Marz’s Artifacts series for Top Cow, my first taste of Image Comics has been fantastic and I’m very keen on getting more.
Saga is a very typical story at its absolute core: two lovers from the opposite sides of a conflict are on the run from their former allies and they have amazing adventures in a fantastical setting. Vaughan dresses it all up by adding in several science fiction and fantasy elements alike, such as the race of Robot people who have TVs for heads, forests made out of Rocketship-trees, strange alien races, bounty hunters, etc etc. On top of this, his principal characters are a mixed race couple, and their daughter has the best of both worlds. Saga could very well have been a very typical, bland, and uninspiring book, but Vaughan’s script and Fiona Staples’ artwork just sets it completely apart in a category of its own. For someone who is primarily used to reading comics about superheroes, mutants, and vampires, Saga is a breath of fresh air in an industry overflowing with more and more of the same old thing just dressed up differently, quality notwithstanding.
From page 1, what is the most striking thing about this book is the banter between Alana and her husband Marko, both deserters from their respective armies from the planet Cleave and its moon Wreath, respectively. Theirs is not the banter of a tired, old married couple, or the sweet innocence of those in love for the first time (and in their teens!). It is mature, modern, and engaging. They talk smack with each other often but their love and affection is always first and foremost. They don’t go into name-blames, but take things as they come at them and they deal with whatever happens. Its all about trust, oodles of it. If the entire book could be just these two sitting in a white room and talking shit to each other, I would seriously read that. Vaughan doesn’t shy off from using curse words or general adult tones, even some toilet humour, and the general feel is that none of these instances are crass or unwholesome. They fit the mood and overall tone that he is going for.
This is something that stays true for all his characters, whether it is the teenager ghost girl who has no lower body, or the Robot royal agent who is tracking down the two deserters, or the mercenary The Will who is brought on as a retainer by the people of Wreath for the same objective as Prince Robot IV. Vaughan writes his characters in the most natural and contemporary way he can. You get Robots having sex, Marko delivering his own daughter in a repair shed on a shithole of a planet, The Will suffering from a broken heart, The Stalk out for nothing but money and money and money, Prince Robot IV reading a romance magazine on a toilet seat and so on. Natural? Contemporary? Those are the only two words that come to mind when I think of all these situations, many of them downright hilarious while others are quite light-heartedly serious. His characterisation is just superb.
The story itself – Alana and Marko trying to get away from the stupid war between the people of Cleave and Wreath while keeping their daughter alive – is just as engaging as Vaughan’s characters. There is drama aplenty throughout the book. The principal characters find themselves in the most ridiculous and intense situations and they always get out by the skin of their teeth. Old flames, old prejudices, old hatreds, everything comes to the fore here. A secondary narrative about The Will and his abortive attempt at bringing in Alana and Marko manages to shock and stun as well. When he arrives at the pleasure destination Sextillion wishing for nothing more than cooling his heels and enjoying the high life after getting his Wreath retainer, there is a shocking scene involving a… pleasure girl. Suddenly, its not all about heroism against all odds or love, its about standing up for what is right, what is morallym ethical. And I love that aspect of it.
Fiona Staples as the primary artist, and Fonographiks’ letters/design, are highly impressive with each single panel. Starting with the cover, which I’ve already praised, Saga is a very visual experience in a format that is all about that very aspect of it. Each panel does a great job of helping the reader understand the themes and moods and tones underruning Vaughan’s script, making Saga a very cohesive whole. Staples often doesn’t hide her pencil-work all that much with her colours and inks, an interesting and curious departure from the norm that at first made me unsure about the whole thing, but made me fall in love as the story went on and Staples delivered panel after panel of absolute awesomeness. Conor McCreery/Anthony Del Col’s Kill Shakespeare and Ron Marz’s Artifacts are some of the most gorgeous comic books I’ve read this year and Saga is definitely up there with them in terms of how striking the art is, panel to panel.
The art is also bold in that, just as with Vaughan’s script, Staples doesn’t shy away from showing adult content, like two Robots having passionate sex in one of the panels for the first issue of the six-issue collection. Its the “small” things like this that make a comic book stand out from its peers. There’s no gratuitousness in these scenes for me. They make me connect with the characters all the more in that I get a feel for their personalities right off the bat with such scenes.
Overall, I found Saga Volume 1 to be a fantastic read. Vaughan and Staples are definitely on my radar now and I’m looking forward to digging into more of their work, and of course, the inevitable follow up to this book, since it ends on such a great cliffhanger! If you want some original sci-fi with traditional fantasy elements thrown in for good measure, then Saga is the book that you should check out before others.