Trade Junkie: “Saga Vol. 1”

It’s like Romeo and Juliet only it’s in space and there are robots, and they have a child, and there’s a lot of sex and violence, and the male lead is a goat man, and ghosts. Actually, it’s not like Romeo and Juliet at all.

One of my earliest Trade Junkies covered the Marvel teen super hero story “Runaways”. Looking back in on it I probably gave it more of a negative review than I intended despite me actually really liking the trade that I covered. This time around we have the most recent series from “Runaways” writer Brian K. Vaughan, simply titled “Saga”.

“Saga”, thus far at least, is an interesting series to try and summarize. In fact, this is really were I hit the limitations with trades. While the first volume covers an arc of the story it isn’t the entire story and unlike super hero comics this story has an ending. Which of course means that there’s an end goal that I simply cannot predict. Super hero stories have no end goal, they can be read in arcs easily, but a complete story like “Saga” is only really fully appreciated by analyzing the whole. In the end this is really only a first glance, a taste of what this series has. So now that I’ve rendered my own article completely pointless I’ll get into the summary of “Saga”.

While my intro was primarily a joke it is accurate. The basic premise of Romeo and Juliet is here. Two people from warring sides fall in love. Their forbidden relationship serves to spark further depute in the two factions with both sides now searching intently to find and apprehend the two. That’s where it ends. Where “Saga” takes it’s own approach is with the largely SciFi element. The two warring sides are actually the inhabitants of a planet and the inhabitants of its moon. The two sides have no interest in their companions within the relationship, rather their sole intent is to kill the two traitors and lay claim to the abomination the two have spawned. Their daughter.

While that summarizes the motives that set this story in motion the story itself focuses more on the two lovers, Alana and Marco, as they deal with not only being traitors stranded on a foreign planet, but also with the recent birth of their daughter Hazel and the issues that come with not only raising a child, but raising a child in the middle of a war. It’s in her that we have our narrator for the series as she tells our story from the perspective of having already lived it.

The story seems simple when summarized, but upon reading it’s clear just how much this universe that Vaughan has created expands. There are several side stories moving at once each with their own perspective on the war and the morality behind it. While it sounds over-encumbering to have upward of three or four stories moving in tandem the writing does a good job a balancing the focus. It never lets you dwell on a single story longer than you really need to, but at the same time it doesn’t shift at a rapid pace. It gives the proper amount of time to each side story depending on where you are in overall story.

Something I found well done was the fact that while we are seeing multiple side stories the narration from Hazel only covers what she would know or what she has learned from stories. Her narration is used sparingly enough that it never falls into the trap of showing what she would never know. That said, this does mean that the narrative’s purpose is somewhat dwindled as it is not present throughout each chapter. If the writing has one failing it’s that the usage of Hazel as a narrator, while not a bad idea, is not one that fully benefits the story in any immediate light. That said, this is an ongoing story and the ending may justify the issues present in the beginning.

In terms of the tone of the story “Saga” does well in balancing humor with intensity. Well, but not great. There are a few moments I ran into where the characters were a bit too comically snide during a serious situation. This didn’t happen often, but it’s something I unfortunately expected to see after having read “Runaways”. It’s nowhere near as rampant as it was in that series, but it is there. That said, the dialogue itself is very well done. Each character possesses a distinct way of speaking as any real life person would and thankfully none of what they say ever feels stilted or cliched. In fact the book takes a comedic jab at that kind of speaking when our main characters are attempting to name their child showing that the series is able to poke fun at various writing tropes without drawing notice to it or presenting it awkwardly.

The characterization within the book is exactly what I hoped for. As I said before each character is presented with their own personal outlook on the war and the morality that connects them to that outlook. None of the characters ever really fall into stereotypes as each one feels like a developed and properly flawed person with their own goals and motivations. In a series so focused on the love of the main characters this characterization was vital and the series absolutely nailed it. Even in terms of a romance this is by no means a story book kind of situation. These aren’t two people who are living happily ever after. They’re two individuals dealing with the harshness of war seeking comfort where they can. It’s obvious that their relationship has been rushed and isn’t perfect, but they’re trying. And that is exactly what I needed to see out of them as a couple, actual effort.

I’ve been avoiding discussing this since I didn’t know how it’d come off, but yes, this series is pretty adult orientated. I’m usually not a fan of designating series in that way since the idea of something being Adult or Mature is far too misinterpreted. That said, there’s a lot of nudity and depictions of sex in this book so it’s kind of difficult to overlook the fact that this book was made for an adult audience. With that known though, the frequent nudity and doesn’t feel as distracting as one would imagine. To put it simply it’s not usually put out there for the pleasure of the audience, not always at least. In fact there are several occurrences where it’s purposefully awkward in such a way that you aren’t supposed to find the situation appealing.  Still, this is probably going to be a breaking point for anyone uncomfortable with planets full of nudity.

On to the increasingly obvious demonstration of my lack of artistic knowledge. This book is honestly very gorgeous. The designs of the aliens are bizarre, but functional and the members of each species are easily recognizable. The art definitely exemplifies the writing as a lot of bizarre elements with the universe of the story are presented almost perfectly. The biggest factor for me is the expressions of the characters as that can be a real game breaker if done poorly. Here it’s done very well and it’s clear how the situations surrounding them affect each of these characters even without needing to state it. The entire book feels very polished and despite the mature overtones none of the art ever really feels pandering.

“Saga” is published through Image Comics and is written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. The first trade was released earlier this month and only goes for around ten dollars so it’s a very easy purchase for those interested. The series is currently ongoing with the first volume spanning all six currently released issues allowing for anyone getting into the series to immediately catch up with the issues upon reading the trade.

So is “Saga” worth your time? Absolutely. While, it’s only just begun as a series it’s already done well in showing off the kind of quality we’ll be seeing within it. It’s difficult to get people to take comics seriously at times, especially when it carries such a stigma of being predominately super hero oriented. “Saga” though, is shaping up to be a nice counterargument for anyone unwilling to look past the sometimes stagnant pool of super hero comics. More than just super heroes exist within comics and so much more can be done with a story shown within this medium. “Saga” definitely proves that as it manages to succeed at every genre it tackles be it science fiction or romance. Despite the very minor issues this was one of the best trades I’ve read in quite a while and easily on my list of recommendations.

Publisher: Image Comics
Retail Price: $9.99
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Age Rating: Adult
Genre: Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Original Release: October 2012
Availability: Common

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