#CBR5 Maneuver #16 – Saga Vol.1
Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera
After Action Report:
Saga is probably the most praised comic currently running. Brain K. Vaughan has a bit of a reputation for excellent comics with his Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina stories making lots of people’s must-read lists. So it shouldn’t be surprising that readers and industry wonks alike were practically frothing over Vaughan’s new series. I got to this party a little late, mostly because I don’t see the point of collecting individual issues and prefer to wait for the mass-market paperback collections. So I write this review with the enormous pressure of thousands of positive reviews sitting on my back. Not that I feel the need to contradict them. Saga is an excellent book with only one serious fault. And that fault is one that could easily be corrected with time/more issues.
Saga is the story of Hazel, the half-breed offspring of soldiers of two warring races. Her parents, Marko and Alana who are the protagonists of these first few issues, are objectors to a galaxy-spanning war that has lasted as long as either side can remember and has no end in sight. Their joint desertion, and subsequent fraternization, is problematic to the higher-ups of both sides so Hazel’s baby shower gifts are mercenaries and a platoon of trigger-happy goons. The first six issues cover the new family’s attempts to escape their pursuers and get off-planet.
The book combines a lot of disparate elements into a surprisingly cohesive whole. The setting looks like science fiction at first, but the people of Wreath, one of the two opposing factions, can use magic and have a much more high-fantasy feel. Further reading reveals more incongruous elements, like ghosts, TV-headed robots and living tree-spaceships. The creativity at work here is top notch, as long as you define creativity as mashing-up old ideas and sticking them together in weird ways. Not that there’s anything wrong with the concept of creative mash-ups. And Saga is one of the best I’ve seen.
Saga’s weakness stems from a lack of focused storytelling. There are so many cool elements that the pieces start to get in the way of the whole. Nothing feels well-developed at this point in the comic, from the characters all the way up to the war that acts as the backdrop for the setting. But part of this problem stems from the nature of serialized storytelling. The action/forward momentum requirement of any particular issue of any particular comic will get in the way of ‘development’ until the book has reached a critical mass of ideas that MUST be explained. Saga hasn’t hit that point yet, so this complaint isn’t a criticism of the comic as a whole, but specifically of this first collected volume.
That being said, what little non-action story there is has been pretty damn good. The plot moves forward quickly, jumping between Hazel’s family and their two principle pursuers, but rarely feels rushed or poorly laid out. It’s just a little light in the real content. A great example happens at the end of issue 3 in a scene that should be pitting Marko’s principles against his desire to save his family. But the setup is rushed to get everything in before the cliffhanger, so we’re left with a situation that isn’t objectively worse than the opening fight in the first issue, but is still enough to drive Marko beyond the brink. The fault lies not in the conception of the moment, but in its setup. There simply wasn’t enough space to build the ongoing pressure of increasingly dangerous situations and a father’s growing love for his child.
One thing that helps to alleviate the lack of storytelling meat is the use of Hazel as an ethereal narrator. Her voice shows up as un-bubbled, irregular white text that evokes the sense that we are viewing her life in a dream and she is narrating events to us from an impossible distance. Her little asides frame the story in an unusual way, stripping much of the potential for big cliffhangers and coloring events with a combination of cynicism and nostalgia. These snippets add a surprising amount of depth by giving the reader tantalizing glimpses of the larger scope of the story. We may know that Hazel survives her immediate trials, but we are pulled forward by promises of more interesting things to come.
Like any entry point into a series, the success of a comic’s first story arc has to be measured by its ability to draw in readers to the franchise. By that measure, Saga’s first volume is incredibly successful. While many of the details needed for true long-term success are still missing, Saga tantalizes with an incredible spread of fantastic ideas and well-drawn characters. I’m actually on my way to buy Volume 2 as I post this, and I really don’t think I could make a stronger argument for Saga’s quality.