[30 September 2013]
What kind of a smart aleck calls their book Saga? Populates their book with characters with horns, butterfly wings, spider legs, one eye, and TV sets for heads? Has a cat that tells you if you’re lying? Has a girl with half her body missing and her entrails hanging out? Floating sharks? A hack writer who pukes all over an infant with joy? Are we meant to take a title like this seriously?
Well, no. At least not too much. Brian K. Vaughan’s and Fiona Staples’ much-acclaimed series may be about another interplanetary war, but it is also shows us the common, sometimes ridiculous, everyday lives of its cast. For these characters, wartime is everyday life, and so even though our heroes Alana and Marko continually are on the run, family in tow, for their unusual interspecies copulation, we typically get to see them all at their most natural. In this issue, they have travelled to the home of Alana’s inexplicable literary idol, D. Oswald Heist, for… well, some reason or another. Alana naturally geeks out, while her mother-in-law is not as taken with this strange, old Cyclops, at least not initially. But Heist and Klara end up bonding over the brokenness of their respective lives, and like many such moments in Saga, it is treated with humor and sensitivity.
The figures who are chasing our crew are not exactly the most well-adjusted souls either. Freelance bounty hunter The Will (to use his full name) is flip-flopping on whether or not to pursue Alana, Marko and their ‘half-breed’ child, much to the annoyance of his companion, Marko’s ex-girlfriend Gwendolyn. Further, he is having visions of his ex-girlfriend The Stalk, with awkward though somewhat amusing results. Gwendolyn for her part seems to have calmed down a bit on the crazy in this issue, although she is still very much focused on finding her ex. Their other companion, six-year-old Sophie, formerly known as Slave Girl, is still coming to terms with her past as a ‘sex slave’. Her issues come to light in a (mostly one-way) conversation she has with t-shirt fan favorite Lying Cat, which leads to one of the series’ most tender moments–slightly cheesy, but still executed simply and beautifully. We also check in with the journalists Upsher and Doff as they check in with Alana’s old family, and we learn why she probably feels better off as a fugitive with her new one.
Despite the lightness in tone and subject matter this issue, Fiona Staples’ art is as straight-faced as ever; this is comics, but it is still meant to be a solid piece of fantasy rather than reminiscent of your Saturday morning funnies. Once again the cover is excellent, showcasing the strength and focus of Gwendolyn and the wide-eyed wonder of the newly freed Sophie, set against an improbably large moonlit backdrop. Without being overly expressive the characters’ reactions and movements tell us just as much as the dialogue does, and add to the sense that these could be your family and friends several galaxies removed. Alana’s wedding snap is the scowl of a thousand angry goth girls, while Klara’s initial contempt for Heist is captured in the rolled eyes of many a matriarch. Saga rivals fellow Image titles Chew and The Manhattan Projects for the most engaging cast in comics right now.
As its own title suggests, Saga has a lot of elements that readers have seen before, in one form or another. Alana and Marko are the latest in a long line of versions of Romeo and Juliet, while sci-fi is littered with wars, princes, and bounty hunters. But even if we have seen these types of characters and stories many times before, we haven’t seen these particular characters before, and we haven’t seen this particular story. Vaughan and Staples have done a fantastic job to date in making that point matter, and making their readership invested in how events for this particular group work out. Message-wise, it is not as ambitious as Vaughan’s Ex Machina, or even Y: The Last Man. But Saga is no lightweight–instead it is a great reminder that, under the right craftspeople, one family’s story can seem every bit as important as the fate of an entire world.