Fresh from three big wins at the Eisner Awards, and still riding a powerful wave of near-universal popular and critical acclaim, Saga comes back from its second hiatus raring and ready for another banner year. While I certainly share in the enthusiasm for the series, I have to admit that the sheer amount of love it’s received has surprised me—in a pleasant, if bewildering, way. After all, once you strip it down, Saga has really been a modest little story thus far.
Or perhaps it only seems that way because Vaughan spends so much time fixating on individual characters, rarely pulling back to reveal the larger context they’re operating in. So much of Saga’s tension comes from personal acrimony among the cast, to the point where you start to lose sight of the bigger stakes within the story. It gets so you even occasionally forget there’s a war going on in the background. This ain’t Star Wars, is all I’m saying.
Of course, as Vaughan reminds us, maybe the Saga universe hasn’t felt the impact of its own plot thus far because up to this point, only a handful of individuals know that something epic has happened. That can all very well change after this issue. It’s clear, from the statements of a Landfallian soldier who lost a hand to Marko back in #5, that the higher-ups are keeping the exact circumstances of Alana’s MIA hush-hush. So while everyone may be acting blasé about this whole situation, they all know that the existence of Hazel is a game-changer they can’t control once it becomes public, which is all the more likely now that the honorable press (read: tabloids) have gotten involved.
Until that stuff actually hits the fan, however, we can still coast along with Vaughan’s always sensitive and charismatic interplay among the characters. It doesn’t take an Eisner Award to see that the man has a gift for voicing. There are other great writers of dialogue, but Vaughan’s always flows naturally, never sounding artificial in its rhythm (see Matt Fraction) or overly relying on witty repartee (see Bryan Q. Miller). Vaughan’s dialogue can accomplish the neat trick of simultaneously developing the story while retaining its engaging immediacy.
The source of this talent, however, is a deep understanding of his characters, such that Vaughan doesn’t even need dialogue to reveal what’s going on internally. Under the right conditions, silence can speak volumes. Alana is on the right track when she interprets Marko’s vacuous gaze out the window of their speeding ship as a lingering reaction to his father’s death, but you can tell something else may be going on with him. Marko’s always been the sensitive one, and, as seen in #5, he can be a trifle unbalanced. With this latest trauma on his mind, we ought to expect another freakout down the line.
For all of Vaughan’s craft, he’s not above resorting to some old narrative tricks, and it doesn’t get older than the whole “spirit of a loved one doling out forgiveness from the afterlife” gambit. While Vaughan executes the Will’s commune with the Stalk a bit more convincingly than Frank J. Barbiere did with the exchange between Fabian and Silvia Gray, the Stalk’s touchy-feely advice does seem out of character and pushes too hard at the Will’s burgeoning relationship with Gwendolyn. The Stalk’s guidance, wise as it is, is also pointless; there’s no way in hell either the Will or Gwen would ever have a desire to “settle down” under any circumstance.
I’ve talked a lot about Vaughan’s greatness on this title, but I want to make it very clear that Staples has been equally superb here and equally responsible for the series’ success. Given how reliant the story thus far has been on its character work and the occasional bit of action, it would never work without Staples making the characters look as credible and striking as possible, and milking the most out of even the briefest moments of activity. Alana striking down a golem of Bone Bugs with a mace in one hand, her infant cradled in her other arm, is pretty much the only action scene in the whole issue, yet it has more life and energy in it than pages and pages of mindless chaos in your typical superhero book.
While the plot is slow to advance and reveal its stakes, Vaughan continues an unbroken streak of solid character growth and Staples once again turns in an artistic masterwork.
Some Musings: - I was expecting a more dramatic story behind the loss of Klara’s (Marko’s mom) ear, but Bone Bugs work pretty well.
- Don’t tell me every animal on Landfall has got wings. Winged rats are bad enough, but I’d be amazed if the populace could stand winged sharks, say. Say, there’s an idea for Shark Week! Sharknado, eat your heart out.