AN EPIC SPACE OPERA ABOUT WARS, STARS, AND PARENTHOOD. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, SAGA.
It tells a story of the last human male on an alternative Earth, where all the mammals with Y chromosome died suddenly in 2002. The mechanics of this event were, to me, a bit disappointing, but the series was exciting, full of action, romance, and politics. I’ve heard great thinks about Runaways, but haven’t read that. When I’ve read about his new series, Saga, I was pretty sure it’s going to be great. I’ve read the first volume, and it confirmed my suspicions. It was great! But, I didn’t want to wait anxiously for each volume. I bought the first deluxe hardcover, and the second, and the third, and never read beyond volume one.
I have to say the series shines not only in the script department, but is also beautifully illustrated. Fiona Staples definitely is a co-author of this experience, and I mention her after my paragraph about Vaughan mostly because it was my first encounter with her work. Exactly how splendid that work is, will tell you in the review itself.
Recently, I learned the series is on hiatus, and we will have to wait a good while to see its second half. Saga also popped up, now and then, on many of the blogs I follow. I decided to finally read it, and I wolfed down all three 500-hundred-page volumes within a week. It was so good!
Ola: And I read it all once Piotrek had his shiny hardcovers 😀 Oh, the joys of borrowing books ;). I’m not a big fan of Runaways, and Y somehow never got to the top of my TBR, but I can fully confirm Piotrek’s opinion on Saga – it really is a very good, stunningly illustrated story. Hats off to Fiona Staples, because without her art the story wouldn’t be half as good, or half as crazy. And while the main characters hold the majority of readers’ attention, it’s the side characters that add that elusive secret ingredient that makes Saga such a memorable read. By now The Lying Cat has probably more fans than Marko or Alana 😉
Piotrek: I quite like the main heroes themselves, but among my favourite supporting characters I definitely count Upsher and Doff, two relentless journalists who add another perspective to the story. They represent the audience, trying to get to the bottom of the events, and, regardless of what happens, I hope what they started will influence the endgame.
But perhaps we should paint a broader picture before we go into details (all the time omitting major spoilers). Saga has great characters, but it also has an epic plot, great worldbuilding, big scale stuff.
In a galaxy far away (but aren’t they all?) a planet of Landfall is home to an advanced civilization of winged people. Landfall’s moon, Wreath, is inhabited by horned people proficient with magic. The two races were always fighting and now, when they both ventured into space, their war heavily impacts vast part of neighbouring space. Other planets are caught into a web of alliances, proxy wars, or at least espionage. Regardless of their inhabitants wishes they are turned into battlefields of this eternal conflict.
And our protagonists come from the opposing sides. Marko is one of the horned wielders of magic, and serving in the war he gets captured. Alana, a winged grunt, is his guard, and they fall in love, defect and have a baby, Hazel who shares the features of both races, and who is the main hero of the story – as you might have guessed, seeing her on all three covers 😉
Ola: Let’s not forget the power of literature (good and bad) in breaking the boundaries and overcoming all limits – the one thing that originally binds Alana and Marko is, after all, a book. Love for A Night Time Smoke, a romance by a once famous author D. Oswald Heist, alternately reviled by some as “piece of trash” or considered a pacifist masterpiece, was the one thing the two soldiers from opposite sides found to have in common. Hazel came only after ;).
Piotrek: This is one of the things that make Saga pretty unique. It’s not about a heroic orphan discovering the truth about his heritage and destiny. Nor a story about young couple falling in love in a middle of epic events. It’s about a young family, on a mission to raise their kid in very difficult circumstances. We witness very hard childbirth, various stages of little kid’s development, while powerful enemies are after our protagonists, who find friends and foes in many parts of their universe.
Ola: Well, right now we can only take for granted the fact that Hazel is the protagonist of the story, which in itself is a bit tongue-in-cheek approach. For as of the time of readers’ encounter Alana and Marco, and witnessing of their desperate, unending fight to create a safe and more-or-less happy family amidst blood, hatred, and chaos, and assassins, Hazel is just a small kid. She’s the narrator of the story, so at least we know she lives till she’s old enough to spin it with irony, precision and panache, but we don’t learn much about her – she’s the mirror through which we see the others and their stories.
Piotrek: In our politically turbulent times it’s worth mentioning this is quite a progressive story, told in a way where all the elements fit together naturally. We have a gay couple, a trans character – and their respective societies treat them with as much scorn as our societies used to, and in some cases still do. But they are fully fleshed characters with their own agendas and deep humanity. To the readers they are presented as equal actors on the scene of this story, not a token minority. They are part of this universe just as they are part of ours. I find it important, as right now in my country the situation of the LGBT+ community is worsening under the increasingly autocratic regime, and just a few days ago pro-LGBT demonstrations were met with police brutality unseen in Poland since the days of communism.
Ola: Yes, that seems to be the preferred response in “democratic” countries lately, from the US to Belarus. Saga’s world is similarly not free from prejudice, bigotry, hatred, corruption, irrationality and greed. And yet, among all that carnage and ill will, the story remains valiantly optimistic. Differences can be overcome or overlooked, if we find a common ground. However trashy that may sound – and the authors are fully aware of the postmodern need for irony in that regard, as evidenced in the story of Heist’s book – love in its many forms in the end remains the one force that allows for understanding, selflessness, and becoming a better version of oneself. As a consequence, all – and there is an amazing variety of beings in Saga’s galaxy – the ghosts, such as Izabel above, Cyclops authors, spider assassins and robotic princes – are treated with a surprising amount of empathy and understanding.
Piotrek: It’s a great comic book saga. It’s visual component is an integral part of the product, it’s not an adaptation of a novel or a movie. Vaughan and Staples appear not to be interested in adaptations, and I applaud their choice. Maybe, one day, when it’s all finished, there will be time to go beyond one medium, with this story or some spin-offs. I definitely feel comics are enough though.
The size of the story is impressive, giving the authors enough space to flesh out the world and characters and give us intricate plot. 54 issues already, and it’s only a half of it. I can’t wait to read more (but I will, I’m going to continue to only buy the big deluxe hardcovers 😉 ).
Ola: Seeing as I’m half a world away, I will now have to figure out whether to buy my own Saga omnibuses, $100 each ;). But it’s definitely worth it, for Saga has it all: an incredibly complex world, inhabited by wonderfully imagined creatures, a fascinating perspective on many important problems of our world, from thorny relations with in-laws to the difficulties of simultaneously working and raising kids, dealing with addiction, self-doubt, assassins and prejudice, to finding one’s own place in the world and picking one’s own battles, and on, to heartbreak and death and – maybe – acceptance. A family’s quest for normalcy that sets an entire galaxy on edge – that’s a promise for a really great story, a promise fulfilled in the first half of Vaughan’s and Staples’s work. Is it without a fault? No, but then – what is? 😉 I had a blast with Saga till now and I can only hope the rest of Staples’s and Vaughan’s story will keep on delivering!