Monday, April 25, 2016

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (artist)

Genre: graphic novel, science-fiction
Pages: 160  
Published: 2012

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. 

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults. 

Note: This review is for volume one, but my opinion of the series has been influenced by the fact that I've just finished volume two.

Strangely enough, I had harbored a vague desire to start the Saga series ever since it started appearing at the top of "Best New Graphic Novels" and "Best Sci-fi" lists on Goodreads a few years ago.  I think most of my initial hesitation stemmed from the fact that the cover of this first volume is a bit odd; it features alien breast-feeding.  (Admittedly, the cover for the forthcoming Book One collection is even less subway-commute-friendly). 

 In retrospect, I am so glad I overcame my shallow scruples.  Truly, never judge a book by its cover!  Saga is one of the most sophisticated, psychologically complex, ridiculously readable, and funny series that I have read in my long career as a bibliophile.  After finishing this first volume, I returned to the bookstore and splurged on the next four volumes--an unheard-of thing for me, since I tend to avoid buying brand-new books for my library unless I absolutely have to own them.  Well, I absolutely had to purchase the Saga series, because I quickly realized that these are graphic novels I will want to reread and flip through again and again.   

Our protagonists are Marco and Alana, a recently and happily married couple.  Unfortunately, their love is star-crossed to say the least: their two home planets (Marco's home world being a moon, technically-speaking) have long been locked in a fierce war and Marco and Alana, as former soldiers, have both betrayed their respective armies and planets by deserting and running away together.  
At the start of the series, their little family of misfits on-the-run gains a new member when Alana gives birth to a baby girl, Hazel.  I adored the evolving, complex, and genuinely lovely relationship between Marco and Alana and especially their early adventures in parenting the newborn Hazel.  Unfortunately, most of the rest of the cast of Saga are not feeling the love, and so the new family must constantly flee from danger.   

The governments of Marco and Alana's respective planets are eager to kill the lovers before the masses find about their treasonous and interspecies relationship (both sides are indoctrinated from a young age to loathe and dehumanize their enemies), and they are also keen to get their hands on Hazel.  Among the seemingly endless assortment of characters who seek to murder Alana and Marco and kidnap their child are the prince of a robot kingdom (no Prince Charming, he; he has a television monitor for a head, a frightening case of PTSD, and an arm which can transform into a cannon), an assassin (endowed with the strange moniker "The Will" and always accompanied by his beloved Lying Cat, a large feline who can detect when a person is lying), and another fierce contract killer with whom the aforementioned assassin is hopelessly in love.  This anatomically interesting individual (pictured left) is called "The Stalk."  As much as I enjoyed Alana and Marco's storyline, I also loved every panel featuring the two assassins.  Admittedly, intergalactic assassins have been an enduring interest of mine ever since I first saw the sangfroid, awesomely-outfitted Boba Fett in Star Wars.  These two are really well-developed characters, especially The Will, and once Saga is complete, I totally think that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples should create a spin-off series featuring the assassins, the organization who gives them contracts, and their adventures before they begin hunting Alana and Marco.  

While the series is so original that it largely eludes comparisons, Saga does incorporate some of the same elements which can be found in the immortal Star Wars--morally ambiguous and intensely likable characters, spaceship pursuits across the galaxy, diverse alien species, and, not least, its sense of humor.  

My favorite character--if I must pick just one--is certainly Alana, whose wit also provides much of the comic relief of the series. 
This young woman is fiercely protective of her family and a tough fighter, but also obsessed with this one book where not many things actually happen, but the characters hang out and talk about philosophy and random things.  It sounds a bit like An Imperial Affliction, the book with which Hazel is obsessed in The Fault in Our Stars, only not about cancer and less depressing.  As a book lover, I related to this.  Also, again, Alana is funny.  Her dialogue is riddled with ironic quips and the kind of snarky remarks that everyone else only wishes they were able to think up on the spot.  (Personally, I usually come up with that perfect wry observation or comeback in the middle of the night five days after the occasion in which I might have employed it.  *Sigh.*)   I adored Marco as well, and Hazel--who, despite being only a few days old during the actual action, is the narrator of the story--but Alana and The Will (one of the assassins) were really the stand-out characters among a stand-out cast of characters, for me.

Finally, the art of this series is really spectacular.  While Vaughan's writing brims with sheer humanity and his plot focuses on universal themes of love, warfare, family, and blurred moralities, Fiona Staples depicts a colorful, outlandish galaxy in which few things are familiar or comfortable for the reader.

  While some of the panels may seem bizarre or off-putting to the average reader who flips through the first volume's pages, the story and the characters are such that I feel they will immediately captivate anyone who gives this graphic novel a fair chance. 


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