– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
Forget Star Wars, Superman or even Doctor Who, as this week, New to Comics delves into the opening of one of the most bizarre first chapters of a comic-book we’ve ever seen. There’s magic, space-ships, ghosts, spider-lady assassins, TV-headed robots, foul mouths and a surprising amount of nudity all wrapped up in Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga: Volume 1.
Published by: Image Comics
Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Art by: Fiona Staples
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Saga has been described as Game of Thrones meets Star Wars. It’s a cosmic odyssey, wrapped in a family melodrama, wrapped in a fantasy epic. It’s also been said to be evocative of other classic stories like Lord of the Rings and Romeo and Juliet. It’s a pretty bizarre mish-mash of genres, but its home at Image Comics means it can essentially do whatever it wants, as the character and world are owned and dictated primarily by its creator, and as such, isn’t like characters like Spider-Man and Superman at Marvel and DC Comics, respectively, where writers essentially have to return things more or less to the status quo when they’re done with them, so future writers aren’t hampered by extreme storytelling choices.
The comic is still running today, meaning its stories have now spanned six years, and in those six years, the collected editions (the first of which we’ll be looking at today) have managed to outsell another popular Image comic that is undoubtedly better known to the general public – The Walking Dead (we’ll probably get to that one day, don’t worry).
Vaughan claims to have initially come up with the ideas for Saga during his childhood, inspired by things such as Star Wars, Flash Gordon and seeing the Silver Surfer for the first time. As he grew older and had children of his own, Vaughan began to cement the ideas he’d been developing his whole life and creating protagonists to drive the story forward:
“I realized that making comics and making babies were kind of the same thing and if I could combine the two, it would be less boring if I set it in a crazy sci-fi fantasy universe and not just have anecdotes about diaper bags … I didn’t want to tell a Star Wars adventure with these noble heroes fighting an empire. These are people on the outskirts of the story who want out of this never-ending galactic war … I’m part of the generation that all we do is complain about the prequels and how they let us down … And if every one of us who complained about how the prequels didn’t live up to our expectations just would make our own sci-fi fantasy, then it would be a much better use of our time.”
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
The story of Saga follows Alana and Marko, a married couple hailing from two warring races. The conflict originated on the planet Landfall, from which Alana and her winged brethren were born, as they engaged the occupants of their moon, Wreath – a society of horned individuals who use magic to combat the Landfallians technology.
The tale is narrated by Hazel, who looks back at the events of her life, starting with her birth on the seedy world of Cleave. With newborn baby Hazel in tow, Alana and Marko go on the run from their respective races, who wish to bring in the deserters and destroy any proof of their kinship, so as to not create confusion in the two warring factions.
However, with the war having been moved away from the planets of Landfall and Wreath to avoid the destruction of their own societies, the conflict has instead spread across the Galaxy, leaving the couple, their young daughter and their newfound allies with very few options.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
Not much to say here – it’s an original property, completely controlled by the original creator, with no links to any other comic-books in any way other than having been inspired by them. And what with this being the first issue, there’s no history to catch up on. Like Preacher, this is the perfect jumping-on comic-book for potential readers who are perhaps looking for alternatives to super-heroics.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
Pardon my language, but this comic is fucking bizarre (although, if you don’t like swearing, this story probably isn’t for you). Just so strange. Seeing that Vaughan started mapping this world as a child makes sense because there’s so much random creativity firing on all cylinders here. There are horned animal men with magic powers. Robot people with TVs for heads. Giant cats that can tell if you’re lying. Dismembered ghost teenagers. Tree spaceships. Spider-women. And a whole brothel planet (alright, that last one was probably introduced during the adult stages of development).
It’s quite interesting just how much is going on here, and although I’ve read a lot of comic books in my time, from your standard superhero fare to stories about magicians, time-travellers, extra-dimensional heroes or lone males in an all-female society – everything here seems so new and wondrous and brimming with potential. The art reflects that in a sort of simplistic style, but with content that comes at you out of nowhere.
What makes this particularly compelling is the writing. One of my favourite comic-books is written by Vaughan, and that’s partly down to the way he explores seemingly unimportant side characters (like a man with a TV for a head) and brings them wit, charm, and the beginnings of a deep, personal connection. Each character feels fully fleshed out, which is especially impressive considering that this story isn’t solely focused on Alana and Marko, instead of jumping between them and other characters like The Will; a deadly bounty hunter with a conscience, or Prince Robot IV; that aforementioned TV-headed dude – who, while intrinsically tied to the tale of Alana and Marko, see the beginnings of their own, separate stories that frankly, I want to see more of.
Saga is a comic-book I’ve had in my possession (in digital format, anyway) for a long time, and was always hesitant to jump in to. But now I’ve finally made the leap, I feel the need to commit to this galaxy-spanning tale that I have no doubt, from the very first volume, will be worth reading.