Fiona Staples’ and Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga is the rare comicbook that I am always sure to read on the day of its release. With most others books that I follow, I like to drop in and out or let the storyline build up a little and then read several issues in a row. But with Saga things are different. I can’t stand to fall behind and I find myself getting antsy on the day before it is scheduled to drop. I just have to know what happens. Vaughan’s stories are that good, and his characters are even better – complex, innovative, real.
Saga is also one of the few books that I read digital panel-by-digital panel. I live in a small town without a comic shop so the ability to download comicbooks directly to my tablet on the day of their release has changed my comicbook-reading life. Though I know that the turn to digital is a real threat to comicbook shops, the new technology has allowed me to return to the comicbook reading habits of my youth. I’ll admit, however, that I do miss the tactile qualities associated with reading ink and paper books. I suppose that is why I almost always read my digital comicbooks in the old-fashioned way, page-by-page rather than panel-by-panel through automatic transitions.
Saga is different, however. There is something about Staples’ layouts that make me want to let the tablet do its magic and lead me picture-by-picture through the story. Her work possesses a cinematic quality that most other artists would love to capture, and the panel-to-panel transitions bring this to life. Staples’ art, as much as Vaughan’s writing, propel these stories into new and unchartered, yet always compelling, spaces. And her characters, from the horribly exotic to the stunningly beautiful, are impossible to forget.
As a matter of fact, I think that I have developed a schoolboy crush on Staples’ strong and beautiful Alana. Hardly an issue goes by that she doesn’t stop me in my tracks. And I’m not talking about the scenes depicting nudity and sexual situations, but rather the scenes in which we are given a close-up of Alana’s wide-eyed and courageous face or a glimpse of her passionate profile. I’m reminded me of what I have always thought of as one of Bob Dylan’s very best lyrics. I’m sure you know the one. It’s from Tangled Up in Blue and the narrator is mesmerized by a dancer in a topless bar. It is not her nakedness that has his attention, however.
She was working in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer.
I just kept looking at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear.
Alana is not in the spotlight of the latest issue, however.
This time around the story focuses on her husband, Marko, as he struggles to come to terms with his separation from Alana and the very real threats that confront his family. Though it was clear from early in this series that their Romeo and Juliet love affair was never going to be easy and that the child born of their forbidden love was always going to have a hard time, it was possible during the first issues of this series to imagine that things might turn out otherwise, that these two passionate young lovers could beat the odds and, if not save the world, at least save themselves.
Things have not turned out so well, however. The family is in shambles. Empires are hot on their trail. Madness and politics are two very real threats. Set against the backdrop of thoroughly realized alien civilizations (which share the strangest of traits with our own wonderful little world) and populated with bizarre (yet, human) characters, the latest issue of Saga puts aside much of the interplanetary intrigue in favor of an exploration of Marko as a human being, a husband and father, and a soldier. It is remarkably well-done and sets up a potential transformation of the character and the storyline with profound implications for the future.
Stories like this are often a drag on a series, an easy and quick way to transform a character’s motives or passions that often fails to be persuasive. Staples and Vaughan, of course, pull it off. This issue’s spotlight on Marko is revelatory and tantalizing. This series is filled with action, sex, pathos, wonder and humor and this month’s installment is no exception. Even though much of the action in this issue occurs in the form of flashback and hallucination, it is clear that what happens here is important for this story and for this rag-tag family of heroes and anti-heroes.
I’m already anticipating the next issue. I’m going to read it the day of its release, panel-by-panel.