I, like other fans of Brian K. Vaughan’s work, was delighted to hear that he would be returning to comics in the form of a creator-owned series at Image. I had seen the preview, I had read the stories of the breastfeeding cover non-controversy, and I was right excited. It was then that I encountered this blurb:
Star Wars-style action collides with Game of Thrones-esque drama in this original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers...
...and, I could feel my eyes glaze over. Maybe it’s my contrarian nature, maybe it’s my brief stint as a digital marketer making me allergic to hyperbole, but that sounded like nonsense. It felt a little like someone browsing the San Diego Comic Con panel list and taking note of popular topics until they had some references that stuck. It rang false, or at least a little plastic. It wouldn’t deter me from reading what was a highly anticipated book, but it did make me laugh that they felt the need to use such nonsense when promoting the book.
After closing the final page, I see exactly what they meant. Damn you, faceless marketers. I’ve become too accustomed to the taste of crow.
Saga #1 is really something to behold. It’s a departure from Brian K. Vaughan's earlier popular comics (gendered apocalypses and heroes-made-politicians in his more popular works, Y:The Last Man and Ex Machina respectively), moving into the world of raw space fantasy.
And I do mean Raw, Space, and Fantasy. When I hear something referred to as a "Space Fantasy Epic," or some-such, I expect something akin to Star Wars, with evil empires and young upstarts with vaguely incestuous feelings. However, if I was foreign language student and faced with a phrase like "Raw Space Fantasy," my translated scenario would be something very close to Saga.
Case in point: Page one depicts a laser-pistol toting brown-skinned woman with fairy wings giving birth. Welcome to the best comic of 2012.
Before I actually dig into how good the comic is, I want to adress a meta-point. Saga #1 is $2.99, which is on the cheaper side of normal comic prices. On top of this, it's 44 pages long, with no ads. That's just smart, marketing ploy or otherwise. Rightfully so, this isn’t just one of the best #1’s I’ve ever read; it’s one of the best #2’s.
I’ve already gone too far without mentioning Fiona Staples, who (in the afterword) Vaughan describes as the co-creator of Saga--and I more than believe it. Each character (including the fornicating Robotic Royalty--do I ever love this book) seems purposefully drawn, adorned in specific insignia that aren’t wholly explained but I am very curious to learn about. Vaughan is teasing me with some of his dialogue, too. To quote a horned character in the later half of the book:
...Foot Solider Marko chose to renounce his oath and betray The Narrative by... fraternizing with an enemy combatant.
“The Narrative?” Capitalized like that, too? Vaughan, you always do know what I’m in the mood for. (To make things even spicier, this line was spoken to a character known only as “The Will.”)
Aforementioned Marko and his enemy combatant wife, Alana, are the Romeo and Juliet of Saga, quite literally star cross’d lovers who find themselves giving birth to a unique baby, born of two warring worlds. One, a terrestrial science-fictional faction lead, seemingly, by robot/human hybrids. The other, a lunar society of magic users. This isn’t just war, friends--this is genrecide. And it’s so good. At the end of these 44 pages, the details of this war are left specifically absent, but (if there is any justice in this world) Saga will be given a long run to fill in all the blanks.
Staples is a master of form, here. I was not familiar with her work before reading Saga, but I can’t think of a more fitting introduction. She has a fantastic sense of what, in a given panel, you should be looking at. Check out this panel here.
Notice how she leaves out any extraneous background detail. This could sounds like an insult, but it really isn’t--Staples, on top of producing exquisite linework, knows precisely what to leave out of a background to zoom in on what is really important. Her artwork is similarly so consistent throughout the varied forms that this book throws at her. She’s asked to draw Gator Butlers, Angel Soldiers, Wrench Monkeys and horned, winged infants that look like they belong together. She pulls it off wonderfully.
What’s more, she (and Vaughan, and their letterer, Steven Finch) manage to pull off a very discordant vibe in the overall tone in the nature of the storytelling. The entire book feels like a fairly tale; magic, fairies, and childlike narration. Despite this, the subject matter is overtly mature; the opening line, “Am I shitting?” is distinctly not childlike. This is not a child’s comic book, to be clear. However, it is dressed like one, and that discord gives it a very certain taste.
TL;DR: Buy Saga. It’s a steal at only $2.99, and it’s one of the finest comics you can find.