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November 26, 2013

TMoRP Day 22 – Saga by Vaughan and Staples

Okay, Saga.

I’ve been putting this blog post off for days. Partly because I’ve been both busy and exhausted, but mostly because I just don’t know if I can do this thing justice.

Saga is a monthly (-ish) comic from Image Comics by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist). It’s billed as an epic space opera, but the interplanetary conflicts, majestic science-fictional (and science-fantasy) concepts and larger-than-life characters are quite secondary to the romantic relationship drama of the two lead characters, Alana and Marko. She has delicate bat-shaped dragonfly wings and combat boots; he has curly ram horns and a magic sword. They are madly in love and on the run. They come from worlds that have been at war for so long that they now outsource the conflict to vassal states, such as that of one of the more colourful secondary characters, expectant-father Prince Robot IV.

As the series opens, Alana is giving birth to their (impossible) baby, a daughter named Hazel. Hazel narrates the story, presumably from sometime far in the future. Virtually everyone else wants to kill all of them, for defying the war, for engaging in forbidden love (or miscegenation, as most of society would have it) and for giving birth to a child who might possibly represent a path to peace for the galaxy.

There are bounty hunters, ghosts, magic, giant tree-spaceships, people with televisions for heads, trashy romance novels, horror, sex, violence, humour and (in the very first scene) the miracle of birth, complete with swearing and a sword fight.

Saga is a very adults-only book with a wonderfully operatic backdrop for the flight of the lovers – and their pursuit by mercenaries, super-spies, parents-in-law and murderous ex-lovers. Marko and Alana are great characters – brave, devoted and competent but also flawed and capable of exceedingly poor judgment – but the book is elevated by the many fantastic secondary characters, especially the relentless bounty hunter The Will (the profession of bounty hunter appears to confer singular titles, for some reason) and Izabel the dismembered teenaged ghost, who acts as Hazel’s baby-sitter. And Marko’s parents, who are senior figures in the Wreather military establishment. And Lying Cat, The Will’s pet/partner, who is an emaciated hairless cat who can tell when someone is lying. Lying Cat gets all the best lines.

Saga is beautiful. Fiona staples’ art is sumptuous. Just look at this cover:

Breastfeeding mothers are badass

Breastfeeding mothers are badass.

Vaughan has described Saga as being his vehicle for creating concepts that can’t be realised in television or movies, and Staples’ art more than delivers on the often bizarre grandeur and grotesqueness of the setting. A recent issue featured a for-want-of-a-better-term upskirt shot of a deformed giant’s scrotum, which was both a feat of remarkable technical drawing and easily as horrible as it sounds.

Oh, I should mention, there’s a lot of sex in this book. Some of it is just explicit but otherwise ordinary, but some elements like the existence of an underage sex-slave whom The Will attempts to rescue, is confronting and unpleasant and skirts the line into exploitation. It didn’t cross it for me, as the material is presented as objectionable by sympathetic characters and is treated without sentimentality. Your line may be drawn elsewhere. There was also a controvery surrounding the sneak-insertion of a gay porn money shot into a couple of panels in a recent issue. I found that pretty hilarious but again you may not agree.

This is a story about war, about love and about the strength of social and family ties in the face of unimaginable pressure. The dialogue is sharp, the art is breathtaking and the story is so bursting with potential that it could go anywhere. It’s clear (from the name and the setup) that Vaughan and Staples have every intention of making Saga a landmark SF&F epic to equal Star Wars or A Song of Ice and Fire. They might never achieve that lofty ambition, but based on what we’ve seen and the accolades rolling in – several Eisners and a Hugo, not to mention best-sellerdom – they haven’t fallen short yet.

Look, there are already two very reasonably priced trades (Saga Volumes 1 and 2) available, which I recommend without hesitation.

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