Sunday, November 11, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Saga

This image, and all others, taken from
 I'd been hearing a lot about a new trade paperback, and everything I heard made me want to read it. First, it was written by Brian K. Vaughan, who wrote one of my favorite graphic novels ever, Runaways. It was drawn by Fiona Staples, whose art had been one of the reasons I enjoyed North 40 so much. The plot of Saga sounded great, too: an epic story that combined elements of fantasy with science fiction, concerning a young couple from opposite sides of a war who must protect their newborn daughter. All of these things sounded good, but I was still surprised by how much I ended up enjoying the first volume of Saga.
 Saga immediately drops its audience into the middle of a story, as two fugitive soldiers are on the run from their respective armies. At first, the audience doesn't know much about the conflict, except that the soldiers on one side have wings, and soldiers on the other side have horns. The relationship between Alana, who has insect wings, and Marko, who has goat horns, is forbidden. Worse, Alana is giving birth to their daughter when they are found and attacked.
 The setting of Saga combines elements of traditional fantasy with science fiction. The characters may look like something out of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but they carry rayguns and fly spaceships. Some characters are ghosts, while others are robots with television-like heads. Like Prophet, another sci-fi series I'm really into at the moment, Saga does a great job of showing its audience enough details to give a sense of a larger world around it.
So far, the story of Saga has stuck pretty close to the plight of Marko and Alana, with connected side plots dealing with two other characters who are independently trying to find the couple. Nevertheless, we do get to see some other characters who prove that there are more people out there than the robots, the horned people, and the ones with wings. One of these characters is a Freelancer with a great twist on a classic monster design. Another is a ghost, whose design and personality seem straight out of Runaways, though as an alien.
One of the interesting things about Saga is that there are hardly any humans. Only one of the main characters so far looks human, and it hasn't been confirmed that he actually is. The impression I get is that Saga is what a fantasy world would be like if it were allowed to progress past the medieval period. In too many fantasy worlds, the technology is stuck in the late medieval period, eternally just before the advent of firearms. With no explanation for what is keeping the world in technological stasis, fantasy worlds love to have weapons and armor that are hundreds, or even thousands, of years old and are equal to or, often, better than the weapons created at the time the story takes place. In Saga, the audience finds a world that is alive and moving forward instead of frozen in time.
The storytelling and art in Saga are both first rate, but if I'm being completely honest, I have to admit that I preferred Vaughan's storytelling in Runaways, and Staples's art in North 40. It's close, and the storytelling and art in Saga  are still some of the best out there today, and I'll admit that it may just be nostalgia talking. Still, some of the characters feel flatter in Saga than the ones in Runaways, but it's still early and I'm sure we'll learn more about who they are as the series continues. There are a couple of panels where Alana is flying a spaceship that are particularly awkward, and in general I feel like the art is more rushed in Saga than it was in North 40. Hopefully as Staples gets used to drawing these characters, we will see the panels become more rich in details.

Nevertheless, I recommend Saga highly. It may not be perfect, but it's excellent. This is one of the best and most original comics I have read in years. Not only does it have an excellent story, characters, and art, but the price is low and it's creator-owned. That means you can afford to pick it up, and feel good while doing it. It sounds like Vaughan and Staples have a lot planned for Saga, and I can't wait to see what happens next!


  1. Yeah, I used to read Goblins, until it got waaaay too dark. I think a goofy D&D comic shouldn't take itself that seriously. The same can be said for the Order of the Stick.