by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Fiona Staples (art), and Fonografiks (letters & design)
The Story: Two lovers of warring races welcome a child into a futuristic world torn apart by strife.
The Review: I read quite a few comics. At least 9 new singles and a trade, usually more than that… What Saga offers, however, isn’t just a comic or just another part of your weekly stack. Rather, Saga is an experience. In only one issue, it has introduced characters we care a great deal about by issue’s end, a fully realized and unique world, and the beginnings of what looks to be one massive story. That latter point really is a Brian K. Vaughan hallmark and is readily seen in the first issues of Y: the Last Man and Ex Machina.
Vaughan elegantly balances introducing his narrative’s world, plot development, and character work; frankly, it’s amazing, even in a double-sized issue, just how much he gets done on all three fronts, which are, by issue’s end, equally well developed. You will care about characters, their world, and be dying to get to the next episode of the plot. Essentially, in one issue, Vaughan accomplishes what takes other new series up to a full arc to manage.
The world Vaughan creates is sure to please sci-fi fans and has all the hallmarks of an epic landscape. It’s politically nuanced and well-developed and clearly a LOT of thought and world-building was done in the pre-release development of this title. Different races, politics, military conflicts, racial tensions, it’s all there. I especially love how between the two races at war, one is a sci-fi force with futuristic guns and robots while the other is a fantasy style group with mages and enchanted swords. It’s a world that I loved spending time in.
Vaughan’s introduction of the two main characters is brilliant. They’re instantly sympathetic and their relationship feels real. Indeed, another hallmark of Vaughan: his lead characters feel distinctly human. They’re personalities are realistic and sincere, natural, and yet they remain multi-faceted, compelling characters. The supporting cast on offer are also nuanced, conflicted (or with the potential to be conflicted), and each is very cool in his or her own unique way and will leave you wanting to see more of all of them.
Story-wise, I enjoyed the air of tension and desperation throughout and the cliffhanger was perfect. Moreover, I was surprised at how real and…conscious (?) the comic was. It is far, far from being a “political” comic, and yet real world issues are there in the subtext if you pay attention. It enhances the read overall and makes it feel smarter, denser, and more meaningful. If you choose to read the book with an eye to these issues, you’ll find that Vaughan only asks questions, but never comes close to preaching. Without fully going into what these issues are (word limit!), I’ll just say that I found the issues relating to race, gender, duty, war, and the detachment of the average Joe from his politicians to be nice little brainteasers here.
Overall, I enjoyed Fiona Staples’ work here. Her colors are brilliantly chosen with an animator’s eye. Also, her designs are out of this world and are absolutely key in making the world of Saga as unique and fully realized as it is. Truly, they leap off of the page. I also loved the lushly painted backgrounds she uses throughout the book. I did, at times, feel that her illustrations of the characters could be a little rough or sketchy, but much as was the case with the first issue of Morning Glories, I won’t be surprised that that had something to do with this being a double-sized first issue.
With this minor quibble about Staples’ otherwise excellent art, I’ll ad a minor quibble to Vaughan’s otherwise excellent writing. I noticed a little trick that Vaughan uses: when he wants a character to be disliked by the reader, or perceived as “bad,” he has that character refer to the female lead, Alana, with a gender-based pejorative (“whore” or “slut”). It was a little too obvious of a writer’s trick, but I’d be lying if I said that even knowing this, it wasn’t at least a little effective.
Conclusion: This is the start of something really, really big. The hype is justified. Do not miss out. Get in on the ground floor because I can guarantee that if you don’t, you’ll just end up reading the first six trades and jumping in at issue 30-something after this series becomes the “it” book. I could be wrong, but this feels like a classic in the making, much like Y.