Saga is an ongoing comic by acclaimed writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples that premiered in March of 2012. And it also may just be the space opera I have been waiting for since I first read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and thought to myself, “why can’t this be in space?” Joking aside (that series is fine just the way it is), Saga has the feel of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings without the scruples that prevented Lucas and Tolkien from acknowledging sex and the grislier aspects of life.
This first trade paperback covers this first six issues and what seems to be the first complete story arc of the series. The series opens with Marko and Alana’s child being born, quite literally, under fire. Marko and Alana are each members of (humanoid) species that have been warring for centuries and have a deep-seeded resentment towards one another. The war has long since been outsourced to other planets and other species in the galaxy, but Marko and Alana are each soldiers. Marko was a prisoner of war and Alana was one of his guards, they then fell in love and fled from both of their peoples. Determined to forge a life for themselves and their new child, the new parents are desperate to flee the war-torn world they are trapped on and see the galaxy, that is if they can avoid the freelancers (bounty-hunters/assassins) and a prince of the Robot Empire (humanoids with television heads) that are hot on their trail and out for blood.
Marko and Alana are like Romeo and Juliet without all of the delusions about life, they have both seen and dealt out death in spades and they are hardened to it. Marko, with horns on his head and an ability to wield magic, is a warrior that has chosen to give up violence and live his life peacefully. It is ambiguous what instigated Marko’s change of heart, but it led him to the woman he would later marry and bear his child (he turned himself in as a “conscientious objector”). A character chasing after the lovers describes him simply as a “force of nature” after seeing the damage he has done. Marko only unsheathes his sword once throughout the initial six issues, but the implication was quite clear: Marko is terrifying.
Alana was a bit of a screw-up before and after being drafted into the army, with low test scores and reputation for promiscuity she was sent to a brutal backwater planet where she met Marko. Possessing an abrasive personality and an impulsive streak, Alana, wings and all, proudly raises her middle finger to the world and runs off with her horned husband and new daughter. Alana, while hardened to life much like Marko, is more blusterous and less brutal than her husband. In the previously referenced incident when Marko unsheathes his sword, Alana, who had earlier been strongly predisposed towards violence, watches as he takes down multiple armed men swiftly, efficiently, and, surprisingly, passionately.
Prince Robot IV, a member of the royal family of the Robot Kingdom, which has been contracted by the home planet of Alana, Landfall, is our pair of fugitive spouses’ chief pursuer. Humanoid with a small television for a head, he has recently returned from a tour in the trenches, where he survived but was not successful, to his wife, only to be tasked with hunting down our pair of protagonists at all costs by his father. Mentally scarred from his time in the war, the prince possesses something of a violent streak, but is of ambiguous competence.
The Will is a bounty hunter hired by Wreath, the home moon of Marko, to kill the couple and bring back their hybrid child alive. The Will possesses a flexible moral code but certainly has one, and may be a more dangerous enemy for the duo than the robot prince. The Will’s partner is a creature known as the Lying Cat, a feline with the ability to determine the truthfulness of what is said. A colleague, and maybe more, of The Will’s is The Stalk, an arachnid-like bounty hunter with a fearsome reputation for bounty-hunting that she certainly lives up to.
Saga employs a considerable amount of narration done by Marko and Alana’s child, Hazel, from the future where she is still alive. This technique works well in that it allows for Vaughan to elicit an emotional connection early on in the story to this infant and not have her become the plot device newborns tend to be all too often. Hazel seems poised to take on the role of the character involved in, but not the cause of, sweeping world-changing events. She seems to be less like Luke Skywalker and more like Ben-Hur (which I just found out they are remaking, but that’s fuel for another discussion).
The scope of Saga is vast enough to make my epic fantasy loving, space opera adoring, comic-book reading hair follicles stand on end with excitement. Obvious comparisons include works like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, or even Dune (let the spice flow), but Saga is shaping up to be its own beast, which is truly how it should be when it comes to ambitious projects. There also seems to be potential for intriguing political commentary given that the endless war between the two races has taken the idea of subcontracting to its natural, and extreme conclusion.
Saga is a work that doesn’t shy away from the “dirtier” aspects of life. Characters curse and characters fornicate, and at no point does that seem unnatural. Prince Robot and his wife are introduced mid-copulation and it isn’t something unbecoming, its life. Vaughan’s willingness to address the subject is embraced (wrong term?) by artist Fiona Staples, who draws realistic bodies (both male and female) and whose nudes actually possess genitalia (if I was a southern belle would be fanning myself vigorously right now).
The artwork of Fiona Staples is one of Saga‘s greatest strengths and an ideal match for this vast, fantastical setting. Her characters are expressive and grounded in reality, yet far from out of place when something outlandish appears, like a specter and soon-to-be babysitter or spider-like assassin. Staples’ landscapes are vivid and suitably epic for this space opera, and her interiors are detailed enough to make a wooden spaceship seem natural.
Saga is cinematic and bold, and despite the obvious inspirations of better known works, stands firmly on its own two feet. I don’t know, I could just be a sucker for an ambitious science-fantasy epic, but to me, Saga is something potentially very special and is certainly a comic-book that is not to be missed by fans of either space-operas or Brian K. Vaughan.