By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art)
The Story: The Will and Gwen strike the slave traders like lightning out of a clear orange sky.
The Review: I’ve often made the point that when it comes to critiquing comedies, they often get away with more since their only real goal is to make you laugh. If they do that, then it almost doesn’t matter if they have much of a point, if their character work is consistent, or if their plot goes anywhere. Dramedies have it a little harder—they have to make you laugh and they’ve got to have some substance—but they still have it easy compared to straight dramas.
I really, really hope no one will take this the wrong way, but I sometimes feel that a large part of Saga’s popular appeal is its clear dramedy status. The basic premise of the title is, after all, very simple, even pedestrian: lovers who incur the wrath of their respective groups, now persecuted by all. Furthermore, Vaughan doesn’t go out of his way to deliver a particularly nuanced view of the overarching conflict. From the start he established the war between the winged and horned people as senseless and pointless; its only purpose is to provide a specter of tension and give a reason for the characters to move forward.
The bulk of the plot centers on more domestic tensions, whether it be Marko and Alana’s relationship, their interactions with Hazel’s grandparents, the frustration of Prince Robot’s desire to start a family, or the Will’s troubled love life. Politics, social values, religion play almost no part in their motivations (see the Will’s ruthless reduction of Gwendolyn’s “jingoistic crap” to purely personal “history”). The core strength of Saga lies in its character-driven, rather than plot-driven, nature. So while I completely agree with folks that it’s one of the best titles on the stands right now, I dare to suggest that it could be because at the moment, it doesn’t have to do anything more than entertain and touch you by turns; you can’t say it’s super intellectual.
And I’m not saying it has to be, either. I’m perfectly content with seeing our cast do the right thing by instinct and good sense rather than with some elaborate moral or philosophical justification. The Will’s obsession with rescuing Slave Girl and Gwen’s concern for the lass’ future* make it easy to love both, though the fact that they’re nevertheless completely cool about killing off two innocent adults for no reason other than money and romantic betrayal does bring up a sticky issue of moral relativism, no? It’ll be very interesting to see how these characters’ likability will be tested once they’re brought directly into conflict.
It seems that moment will be coming soon, as the addition of Slave Girl unexpectedly gives them a shortcut to finding Marko, Alana, and Co. Vaughan seems to realize that he can’t quite dilly-dally on the big confrontation for that much longer. In just two months, Saga will be a year old, and that seems a rather long time for the core cast to not have even met each other in person yet. Vaughan has kept us patient with pure entertainment alone, but if he wants this series to be more than that (as with Y: The Last Man or Runaways), we need some meatier plot.
I will also go so far as to say that if it wasn’t Staples drawing this thing, I’m pretty sure the praise for Saga would be far less than what it is now. The lady can take a thoroughly mediocre script and make it look amazing; heck, if she had been assigned to draw Hawk and Dove, it might very well be in the top 100 comics now (because even Staples’ art can only go so far to rescue a totally inadequate story). The nuances Staples gives to every character’s body language and expression makes every scene and emotion seem profound, even when they’re not, and her vivacious use of color gives the series an altogether lively, engaging look.
Conclusion: Light and entertaining, simple and pure, graced with some of the most graceful art. A solid outing for a consistently solid series.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * I actually love this new trio of Gwen, Will, and Slave Girl as they serve as a direct contrast to Alana, Marko, and Hazel. While the latter are portrayed as a stand-in for the Holy Family (vulgar as the parents can be at times), the former clearly will become an adoptive one, complete with the beloved family pet.
– You’d think if Mama Sun was smart enough to figure out Gwen’s ruse, she wouldn’t have actually neutralized Slave Girl’s security elixir and we’d have a dead child on our hands right about now.