REVIEW: Saga

Brian K Vaughan is one of the most well-respected comic book writers around thanks to his seminal work Y: The Last Man with Pia Guerra. He’s also written for Marvel and DC on titles such as X-Men, Batman, Swamp Thing, and Spider-Man. He also created Runaways with Adrian Alphona, a series featuring teenage superheroes which Wizard magazine called “one of the best original concepts from Marvel in thirty years.” A new creator-owned series from Vaughan, published by Image Comics, was always going to be a mouth-watering prospect.

Saga, created by Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, is one of the best on-going comic book series currently being published. Winner of multiple Eisner awards over the past few years for Best Writer, Best Artist, and Best Continuing Series, the comic has achieved a level of critical acclaim and commercial success other comics would kill for. Saga also has an obsessive fan-base which is rewarded by a consistently well-written and beautiful looking comic.

Saga is an epic sci-fi, fantasy adventure full of unknown universes, strange creatures, and two warring races. But at its heart it is the story of Hazel, and her parents Alana and Marko, as they try to escape the war that is tearing their home worlds apart. Alana is from Landfall and Marko hails from a satellite planet called Wreath. Their nations are at war with each other so when Alana and Marko fall in love they know they will have to flee, especially when their daughter Hazel is born at the beginning of the series. They know she will not be safe on either of their home planets.

The drama in Saga is generated by the desperate escape attempt of the lead characters and their pursuit by representatives of both their worlds. Among them The Will, a mercenary from Wreath, and Prince Robot IV from Landfall. Prince Robot is a fascinating character, not least because he has a TV for a head. The Will is also a great character, whose complexities are revealed as the series progresses. In fact the character development in Saga is superb, Vaughan and Staples injecting each fantastical protagonist with a richly detailed back story, conflicting motivations, and emotional depth. This level of detail makes the characters relatable, despite their sometimes outlandish appearances. One of my favourite characters of the series so far is Ghus, a seal who wears trousers held up by yellow braces. If this sounds ridiculous don’t worry. Staples has a way of drawing animals, and giving them human characteristics so it seems entirely plausible that they are walking, talking, and interacting. It reminds me of Jaunjo Guarnido’s stunning art in Blaksad, the ability to anthropomorphise animals and make it natural.

As the story progresses each month, Marko and Alana go through extreme pressures which affect their relationship with each other and the people around them. They are forced apart by circumstance and the various strands of the overall plot are propelled by their individual exploits. Vaughan is not afraid to change the direction of the story at the expense of major characters and the continuation of the plot is everything. He introduces characters which have seismic impact on the direction of the story and is just as quick to kill off characters which has the same devastating effect.

Vaughan and Staples have an almost magical ability to combine humour and horror, joy and sorrow, political intrigue and family drama, quiet emotional moments and shocking, jarring scenes of violence. Often in one page or panel. Vaughan’s words would be nowhere near as effective if they were not brought so fantastically to life by the wonderful artwork of Fiona Staples. Her work on Saga has been nothing short of revelatory. Her use of colour is brilliant, her line work is detailed and expressive. The characters are rendered with a warmth that you don’t always expect and the feelings and thoughts the characters are having can be seen in the expressions Staples draws, which is astounding.

The publication schedule of the monthly comic book takes regular breaks to allow Staples to lovingly create each page and panel to the gloriously high standard that was set by the very first issue. Rather than causing frustration among readers, this dedication to quality is what makes fans of the comic so enthusiastically obsessive about it.

Saga has been collected into five trade paperback collections so far, each collecting six monthly issues. Volume 5 was published at the end of September. Last year saw the release of the first collected hardcover edition, a beautifully packaged volume which collects the first eighteen monthly issues.

Whether you pick up the monthly issues, which is my recommendation as there is a great letters page, or the collected editions, one way or another you need Saga in your life. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

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Stephen Hardman is a trainee Legal Executive Lawyer who currently resides in Bath, in the UK with his wife and their cat.  Among other things he writes in his spare time. He is currently working on a novel which he hopes to finish soon, and he has written a few short stories as well, though has not had anything published. Yet. Stephen loves reading and is a huge crime fiction fan; George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Ken Bruen being particular favourites. He is an editor and contributor at the geek culture website Geeks Unleashed.

His obsession with comic books knows no bounds and he loves sharing news and reviews of all the great comic books and graphic novels being published right now. He also loves listening to music and seeing bands live, and is always seeking out new bands and musicians to obsess about.

You can catch him on Twitter @HardDaysWrite.

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