How an Idea Becomes Real (Saga Vol. 1)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Lettering & Design: Fonografiks
Coordinator: Eric Stephenson
I started my comic book journey young. I, like most kids in the 90s, grew up with X-Men: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series. The former drawing heavily from the X-Men comics of that same time. Those shows are what got me interested in comic books. But I wasn’t a fan or an avid reader until a very dear friend handed me the first volume of Johnny, the Homicidal Maniac (don’t judge me). From there I found Squee, I Feel Sick (Yes, it’s a lot of Jhonen Vasquez; I like him), Lenore, and a comic that was given out for free in the early day of San Diego Comic-Con, titled: Martin, the Satanic Racoon. As I got older and my tastes evolved slightly, I gravitated towards titles like The Sandman and The Walking Dead.
The comics I pick up tend to range from the specifically weird to “Oh, really? You read that? Kay…” So when Saga: Vol 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples opens with the narrator telling the reader “This is how an idea becomes real,” followed by one of the main characters shouting, “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!” I knew I was going to be in love with this series.
Saga sets up itself as a typical Romeo and Juliet romance, at first. But it’s really three different stories. The first is that of our star-crossed lovers and new parents, Alana, who is from the planet Landfall, the largest in the galaxy, and Marko, who is from Landfall’s only moon, Wreath. Landfall and Wreath have been locked in an endless proxy world, moving from planet to planet in the galaxy and giving the natives one choice, pick a side or die. To be fair, there’s a good chance they’ll die either way. Wars like this are often messy, the innocent suffer. And Saga doesn’t shy away from that. Two minutes after their nameless daughter is born, in fact Alana and Marko find themselves trapped between two sides of a war they want no part in.
The second storyline deals with the antagonist, Prince Robot IV, son of the seated king of Landfall. IV who is tasked to “deal” with Alana and Marko before anyone finds out about their marriage or their baby. But IV is reluctant. He’s just gotten back from “one of the biggest sneak attacks in military history” to start a family with his wife when he’s called away to chase down a deserter and an escaped prisoner of war. Quickly, and quietly. To do that, he has to go to the place Alana and Marko were last seen, a small rock far away from Landfall, the planet Cleave.
The third storyline follows the Will, a freelancer, a neutral assassin for hire. The first time you see him he yells at Vez, an old woman with some kind of connection to Wreath because she made him kill an innocent animal as a test. I like the Will for two reasons: the first is that he’s an animal lover and I have a soft spot for those. They can be a serial killer but if they also rescue and rehabilitate Pit Bulls, I’m like “Maybe they’re not so bad.” And the second is that he’s everything I want in anti-hero/anti-villain type. He’s got the gruff exterior. He’s unflappable in the face of real danger. And he’s got lie-detecting cat for a sidekick. He’s been hired to kill Alana and Marko and bring their child to Vez. She informs him that not only will he be given unlimited funds to track these two down, but that he’s not the only freelancer on the case. But when Will finds out it’s his ex-partner the Stalk, he takes his unlimited funds… and goes to a brothel space station: Sextillion.
With everyone gunning for them, Alana and Marko know they have to get off Cleave if they are going to have any chance of raising their daughter, who we find out through from the narrator they eventually name her Hazel. She’s actually narrator of this story; the story of how her parents did everything they could to keep her safe. And poor Hazel has been alive for 72 hours and she’s already survives an explosive stand-off, is set on by an assassin, and is almost killed again when a squad of Landfall soldiers find her parents as they try to get to the Rocketship Forest. At one point Marko even comments, “Her life has mostly composed of firefights.”
They managed to escape on a wooden spaceship with a little ghostly aid to go see the smartest man Alana knows. And they’re hopeful despite being hunted by two armies, and the Stalk, since the Will is on Sextillion bored out of his mind at all of the “safe” play he’s seen so far. Though, when he’s taken below for something a little less safe, he doesn’t like it at all. His reaction leaves him in a bit of hot water with no options. Or maybe just one. But I’ll have to wait to find out when I pick up Vol. 2.
Now, I’ve been a fan of Brian K. Vaughan’s work since Runaways. His stories tend to be a brand of cynical optimism that speaks to me. It’s very “Grimbright” for lack of a better term. Where one person’s actions could be characterized as meaningless but the overall tone is optimistic in spite of this. His writing style blends very real world dilemmas (pacifism vs. protecting one’s family, the fallout from senseless war, the loss of innocence, the reconciliation of one’s past, etc) with fantastic elements, such as magic, ghosts, and space travel. And Vaughan does this in a way that doesn’t bog the story down and isn’t depressing but is still thought-provoking and indeed meaningful. Plus his snarky sense of humor is something that I’ve always enjoyed.
Fiona Staples wasn’t someone I was familiar with until her work on Saga. And I figured out her connection to the new run of the Archie Comics because I watch Riverdale. That being said, I want to check out her other titles because her art is stunning. The artwork of a comic can make or break a series, and Staples adds the just the right kind of spark that brings this all together. Her style is very clean and her choice of muted earth tones for most of the book makes those the panels where she does use color or full-page splashes really stand out. And anyone who can tastefully draw an all-female orgy has my vote, no question.
There are so many things to love about Saga. The story is character driven; every single person has a rich personality and is three-dimensional. Marko and Alana’s partnership is that of equals. They balance each other. I believe in their romance. And I’m pulling for them every step of their journey. They are a true “Battle Couple.” I find myself even loving the two freelancers (assassins for hire) the Will and the Stalk despite them being hired to kill Alana and Marko and steal little baby, Hazel, who is precious and must be protected at all costs. Each character is real and their relationships are so effortlessly woven together that they seem tangible and relatable despite the fantastic setting.
For me, Alana is the standout character of this first volume. As a fangirl who has a healthy love for comics that’s the first thing that I look for; a strong female lead. And Saga certainly has that with her. It’s easy to fall into cliche, overused tropes with a character like Alana. But Vaughan avoids this by making her layered and complex. She’s a soldier but she’s also a conscript. This isn’t her fight and falling in love with the quote-unquote “enemy” made her see that. She also loves romance novels (I woman after my own heart) but she’s still a “shoot first ask questions never” kind of person. She loves so fiercely. She protects her family at all costs. She has a wide range of emotions and isn’t locked down to one single trope. Each of her choices within the story doesn’t leave me giving her “side-eye.” In fact, I understand them. I understand her. She’s relatable even if the situation she’s in isn’t. After reading this Alana has been added to my list of favorite characters of all time, right up there with Ellen Ripley, Kara Thrace, and Princess Leia Organa.
Marko, her partner doesn’t fall to the wayside because of her strength either which can and does happen in stories like this. He rises to the occasion. He shows himself to be every bit as capable as his wife. He’s just as willing to make sacrifices for his daughter so she doesn’t grow up in this war that has left him somewhat scarred. I understand him too. And I can see how he struggles between the soldier he was, and the father he wants to be. I feel for him. And Vaughan once again avoids cliche by also making him layered. In fact, there isn’t a single main character that isn’t complex. Even the Prince Robot IV, although irritating and whiny is intriguing to me as the main protagonist of this first volume.
To be honest, there is little that I disliked about Saga: Vol. 1. That’s how good this is. Though there is one character I wish I got to see more of but their departure is something that made a previously annoying and ineffectual villain immediately someone I absolutely hated. Just like with Hela in Thor: Ragnarok; if she hadn’t have killed the Warriors Three at the start of the film, I wouldn’t have been rooting so strongly for Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, and Krog (I love him) — I mean, the Hulk to stop her. So it’s something that at least to me was used effectively in the latest installment of Thor and here in Saga. No death is wasted for pure shock value. Each serves a purpose and is used well here. That being said there is one predictable plot twist that I saw coming. But it is very minor and honestly has a rewarding and immediate payoff, so I’m fine with it.
That being said, be warned this series deals with mature subject matters. There is at least one scene that was slightly triggering for me. It ends on a goodish note. It’s just something to be aware of. Saga is not a series for small children. There’s sex, violence, adult language, and adult themes explored in this story. So it’s not something I’d recommend to my little nieces and nephews. But my grown ones? I’d give them Saga to check out. There are important concepts that are explored in these pages and it’d be a shame if they didn’t at least read the first volume.