Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why Saga Is More Than a Comic Book

Before I begin my review, which of the following appeals to you?

a) Star Wars
b) Romeo & Juliet
c) A Game of Thrones
d) All of the above

Right answer? When it comes to Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga, any of them are enough to make the comic book series worth a lifelong obsession.  But Saga's brilliance does not end with its seamless integration of science fiction, fantasy, war, and star-crossed romance.  In terms of action, reading the series is like letting someone else push the gas pedal until even your thoughts can't catch up to your body.  The comic also deals with heavy real-world themes through a plethora of diverse, well-rounded characters that are drawn with astounding imagination and detail.  To put it plainly, Saga is an artistic and literary masterpiece.

(source: Wikipedia)

The main characters (pictured above) are Alana, from the planet Landfall, and Marko, from Landfall's satellite moon Wreath.  For ages, Landfall has engaged in battle with Wreath for reasons no one seems to remember.  Since destroying one would destroy the other, Landfall and Wreath have outsourced their war to other planets.  Alana and Marko are on the run with their newborn Hazel to avoid the conflict and the people that want them dead.  An adult Hazel narrates along the way.  Her commentary fits well with the story, foreshadowing events to create tension on behalf of the characters as well as adding a dry humor common with the series in general.  What I most appreciate about Alana and Marko's relationship is that, despite my earlier comparison to Romeo and Juliet, theirs is more honest and flawed.  They have lied to each other and fought with each other about the banal and the serious.  Volume 4 most vividly portrays a trap that all relationships can fall into.

A ruthless freelancer called The Will, sent to find the couple, becomes another high-profile character.  He's the kind of antagonist you root for - or at least I do.  The Will is hung up on another freelancer named The Stalk, and he unwittingly takes a little girl under his care after rescuing her from sex slavery (like I said, heavy stuff).  At the same time, he shows he's not afraid to kill to get what he wants.  Complicated doesn't even begin to describe him.  My anticipation for his first confrontation with Alana and Marko keeps stacking up as the narrative progresses.  In the meantime, I'm deeply invested in seeing him get his act together.  I admire Vaughan for making me sympathize so much with him.

So many other characters arrive on the scene with different gender identities, sexualities, appearances, and complex world views.  Staples has drawn a world with species I could never have conceived of - such as that of Prince Robot IV.  He has a man-like body with a television for a head.  How the creators turned something that sounds so ridiculous into one of the most fearsome antagonists of the series, I have no idea.  I just know they did it.  (It could be the fact that his hand can morph into this.)

Not only are the characters well fleshed out, but also the storyline.  Saga is exciting, addicting even.  The quick transitions from subplot to subplot propel me to keep reading even when I have a week's worth of to-do list items ahead of me.  Vaughan always knows the right moment to pause on a scene: right before a revelation, right after a revelation, a character about to die, etc.  It's not fair play.  It's like he wants me to never put his work down.  At least I've gotten good at guessing when someone will die. With war, what else can one expect?

My only disclaimer for Saga is that it 100% earns its mature rating.  The language, violence, and sexual content do not bode well for the squeamish.  Once you plunge into the world, however, you barely even notice.  Some graphic sexual images did feel like overkill, but I will blame that on the creators ensuring the comic book doesn't become a movie.

In conclusion, Saga deserves all the praise it has received.  The creators have given birth to a diverse, beautifully rendered universe for characters that feel more human than some actual people I know.  They handle the most delicate issues with the right percentage of heart, sarcasm, and unconventional beauty.  They make me fall more in love with their fictional world with every panel.  I don't think my body is ready for the next installment.  If you find me crying here in the near future, you'll know why.

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