Travelling Man's Blog

Review: Saga Volumes 1-5 by Travelling Man
October 6, 2015, 9:00 am
Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

saga volume 1Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

Lettering and Design by Fonografiks

Published by Image

Volume 1-£7.99

Volumes 2-5-£10.99 each


Alana and Marko have just had a baby, Hazel. They have all the problems young parents always have; lack of sleep, endless amounts of time spent looking after their baby, learning to read her moods and what she wants, the whole nappy issue and, of course, the armies that want them both dead.

Okay, maybe not JUST the problems all young parents have.

Alana’s a native of Landfall, Marko, of its moon, Wreath. Their worlds have been at war for so long the entire galaxy has been caught up in it. That’s how Alana and Marko met. How Hazel showed up? Well, that was more a spur of the moment thing.

That’s the core of this story. As David Byrne put it; two fools in love, so beautiful and strong. It’s an amazingly simple, completely universal story that hits pretty much its entire audience square between the eyes. If you’re not a parent the romance will get you. If you’re not in love then their frantic struggle to get their lives under control will be familiar to anyone who was ever 23. If you, somehow, missed that year then the comedy and action will get you instead. Also, I’d like to borrow your time machine.

saga volume 2But the genius of the book is in how it uses that simplicity to craft a story that’s absolutely colossal. Every plot strand that’s introduced is folded around Alana and Marko but they reach across worlds and families to bring in a huge cast of supporting characters. Some of them are villains, some are heroes and most of them change sides more than once. All of them, like the world’s least lucky new parents, are complex, realistic, likeable people. Which, given the amount of characters in this book who have TVs for heads is quite an achievement.

Because make no mistake, this isn’t just an SF series, it’s arguably the definitive western SF comic of this century. Vaughan has talked at length about how long he’s been developing this story and it shows on every page. The world building isn’t just subtle it’s almost instinctive, folding new revelations in as Marko and Alana need them but making it clear they were there along. Volume 4 for example sees Alana briefly work for The Circuit. Somewhere between a rolling soap opera, professional wrestling and superhero comics, The Circuit is mentioned previously and baked in in such a way that you feel like you know it before you get there. Conversely, volume 5 features a moment where Alana tries to trade off her brief celebrity and finds out her character is still in the show and being played by another character. This isn’t a universe powered by the leads, it’s one that’s happening regardless of whether they’re present or not.

That’s also shown by the way the narrative splits in later volumes. As well as Alana, Marko, Hazel and a variable number of grandparents, the series digs into the consequences of their relationship and, crucially, Hazel’s existence. Hazel shouldn’t be possible, but because she’s alive she’s an immensely valuable asset for both sides in the war. Superficially, that’s horrifying; a child being used as a political tool. But there’s more complexity to it than that. The war is everywhere and Hazel is something unprecedented and new. A means to either end it or win it. No one’s right here but no one’s fully wrong and Vaughan excels at that sort of moral complexity.

saga volume 3Even the villains of the piece don’t get off easy. The Will, a bounty hunter sent after the fleeing parents, is entirely too principled for his job. In fact, his plot, and the people it drags in, may be my favourite part of the series.

The Will is Jason Statham on a bad day, or maybe a very good one. Relentlessly competent, a little over principled and entirely too self-aware for his job he’s a good guy who’s done bad things and really isn’t sure how he feels about that. Partnered with Lying Cat, a huge cat who serves as a feline lie detector, he sets off intent on bringing Alana and Marko in. Then things go wrong. Then they go wronger.

saga volume 4How The Will, and the group he accumulates, reacts to this is one of the book’s strongest points. Again, it shows how no one is clear cut and, again, it allows the book to show off its greatest strength; simplicity.

This is a book defined in every way by taking the smallest things and exploring them in the most detail. Alana and Marko, the needs of a new baby, the impact it has on their family. All of these things are the centre of a vast story of galactic intrigue, horror and war and none of them are ever lost sight of. This is a book with a simple, immensely strong central dynamic that a vast amount of colossal ambitious ideas are hung off. All of them work. Every single one.

That’s down to the stunning art that. Fiona Staples’ is extraordinary in a way that on its own, like Vaughan’s script, would make this an excellent book. Together they make it an era-defining one. Both have a clear eyed view of the central dynamic of the book; Marko, Alana, Hazel and the humanity, compassion and occasional ugliness of family life. Staples is one of, if not the, strongest character artist working today and the subtlety and realism she brings to the characters is consistently astonishing. More so when you remember that Alana and Marko’s babysitter is the ghost of a bisected teenage freedom fighter.

The duet between the art and script is better here than in pretty much every other book on the market. There’s a scene in volume 4 where Alana has done something stupid, irresponsible and entirely understandable. Marko confronts her and the fight they have goes from comedic to awkward to disturbing to violent in the space of two pages. None of its tidy, none of its elegant, none of its acceptable but it’s all understandable. They’re two young, terrified parents under incredible and constant stress. When they lash out, they lash out against each other and the consequences of that simple fight echo down through the script and art to the end of volume 5.


saga volume 5That willingness to explore every corner of the central characters is what makes the book truly exceptional. It’s always honest, often very funny and crammed full of the most creative profanity in modern comics. But beyond all that it’s also always understanding. This is a book about complex, difficult people in a near impossible situation. Many of them die, often cruelly, precisely because of that impossibility but they’re all memorable, lovable and most of all, familiar.

That’s why Saga is essential. Not just because of the comedy, dizzying visual invention or truly amazing art. But because in the end this is a story about people we’ve known or people we’ve been. And if they can win, perhaps, so can we. A modern classic in every sense. Do yourself a favour and pick up volume 1 now.

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