Monday, December 17, 2012

Penny Reviews: Saga #1-7

Like Irredeemable and The Manhattan Projects, Saga benefits greatly from being an original series by an experienced writer working for a comic book publisher outside of the big two. Brian K. Vaughan—known for his work on Runaways, Y: The Last Man, and Ex Machina, amongst many others—is writing on a premise you're familiar with: two lovers from opposite sides of a great war try to escape the chaos which has engulfed their world.

Of course, in this case, the world consists of the entirety of the galaxy, and the lovers in question have created a child that's the first hybrid between the two principal participants of the war. Both Alana and Marko are former soldiers, and the story begins with the birth of their child, a year after they've deserted their own armies for one another. News of the child upsets the authorities from their home planets (Landfall and its moon, Wreath) enough that they're upgraded from "embarrassing nuisances" to "targets," and the story begins in earnest.

The narrative threads of the beleaguered parents, and their two hunters—one from either side of the conflict—tag in and out in perfect synch with the miniature cliffhangers that keep you eager to read the next chapter. The challenges of the universe are such that even seven issues in, only two of these players have so much as spoken to one another.

It's not that Vaughan is stretching things out; Alana and Marko have enough conflicts with ghosts, bounty hunters, being first-time parents of a newborn in a war zone, and living the life of the sort of people who eloped after knowing one another for twelve hours. The drama from the physical dangers they face is old school: problem, tension, solution. It's kept fresh by twiddling with the local magic rules, but the emotional drama works better and it always works because it feels real.
Vaughan is a father himself, and amidst the giant war-tortoises, arachnid headhunters, and rocketship forests, there's a real story about the trials of being newlyweds with a baby. Trust is an underlying theme, one that's all the more important because of the longstanding enmity between their two races and the short time they've known each other. There are hints that each one is using the other, but just as you begin to top that hill of realization, there's a moment of foolish human vulnerability that makes you believe these two are just too stupid in love for that to be the case.  Whether that's writing to make consistent, flawed characters for us to love or a buildup to break our hearts is yet to be seen.

And those convincing character shifts wouldn't be possible without the art by Fiona Staples. Saga is a heady brew. "Realism" in comics remains a contentious topic of discussion, but here we have a world of breastfeeding and sex planets presented without any fetishistic flourishes. It sounds damning for a sex planet not to be titillating, but it's not sexy because it isn't meant to be, and yet it's still as unapologetic and bare as an entire planet devoted to sex would be.

For the socially conscious: yes, while universal events like childbirth and robot defecation are noteworthy for their unflinching artistic inclusion, the incredibly violent art is no less exemplary. People are cut down brutally, elementals are destroyed in explosions of fire and blood, and ghost children bear inconvenient wounds from their untimely deaths.
Most important are the expressions of Alana and Marko because so much of who they is told to us in their faces and posture. Everyone here is feeling, whether it's confidence, regret, solitude, fear, or anger and there's quite a bit of middle ground that gets thrown up in the exact visual language you need to understand it.  Even the robot mercenaries who boast televisions screens for faces have that space used to build character.

What makes Saga tick is that Vaughan and Staples are telling a universal story of life, death, and conflict. They've snuck smartphones and wedding rings and forgotten wars and a hundred other things that indelibly stamp the world of Saga as our own in the spaces between heartbreaker guns and crash helmets. And if that's not good science fiction, I don't know what is.

1 comment:

Derek said...

I was interested in these comics and now I am sold! Added to amazon wishlist.

Great Post!