#CBR6 Review #14-15 – Saga Vol. 2-3
Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera
After Action Report:
It’s been too long, but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Saga Volume 2 and, as a limited time bonus offer, you get Volume 3 thrown in for free. Back when I first picked up this epic comic series, I noted that the one flaw holding it back was the lack of focus and development. To quote myself, “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.” Vaughan has done a lot to build a cohesive story from the flighty bits of Volume 1. The pacing and, more importantly, unfocused nature of the comic are still getting in the way of strong narrative flow, but Saga somehow transcends these limitations and is building a beautifully cohesive world out of the narrative equivalent of confetti.
After the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 6, Volume 2 disjoints briefly from the narrative of Marko and Alana to take time for some flashbacks. We look at Marko’s youth, Alana’s time as a solider and their joint experiences as prisoner and guard that preceded the events of Volume 1. We also meet a whole gaggle of characters from Marko’s past and pick up some of the threads from The Will’s side story.
Volume 2 is much more focused on building up the elements that have already been introduced. Pasts are fleshed out and some of the major themes of the story are made clear. At the same time the story is still very reactive. Comparatively little time is spent advancing the plot, but when it gets moved forward it’s in response to some really artificial stimuli. The appearance of Gwendolyn kick-starts The Will’s story again, and the emergence of the Timesuck provides some clunky impetus to get Marko and Alana back on the ‘fleeing for our lives’ train.
In contrast, Volume 3 is all about moving forward, both narratively and emotionally. It is a sequence of chapters about loss and new beginnings, both for the protagonists and for most of the secondary characters. As a result of all these fresh starts, the narrative feels more than a little disjointed, echoing the speedy pacing of Volume 1. But it also draws this sequence of events to a close. There’s no cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 18, and the players are ready to move on to the next phase of the story.
Saga’s strengths have only grown over the course of these 18 chapters. Vaughan’s creative abilities really shine in this medium where he is unrestricted by a mainstream comic book universe or our mundane reality. As I got further into the story, it felt less and less like a genre mashup and started to take advantage of its universe and ideas. I was particularly happy with the side story of Doff and Upsher, a pair of journalists who are trying to get to the truth of Alana’s disappearance. Their story really resonated with me, as I’m sure other side stories have resonated with other readers. Staples’ art continues to be some of the best in the business. I am particularly fond of her baby harp seal boy and his walrus pack animal. (His name is Ghüs!)
There are so many good things about Saga that it’s quite easy to overlook the few remaining flaws. Saga owns its medium in a way that few other serialized graphic novels do. The serial nature of the chapters has gotten less obvious and the story is more closely tied to the six issue arcs that make up a volume. Thematically and narratively, events hold together better in the second two books than in the first, and the three volumes taken together are even more impressive. Still, the introduction of new elements can be jarring and too quickly paced. There something like creative Tourette’s at work behind the scenes of Saga, and the results, while fantastic on their own, don’t make for smooth storytelling. The Timesuck in particular felt like a very artificial way to get things moving again; a monstrous deus ex machina that even Hazel’s sinister foreshadowing couldn’t really explain to my satisfaction.
In the hands of lesser artists, these quibbles might carry some real weight, but Vaughan and Staples are proving themselves more than capable of keeping things moving. Saga is one of the best things out there and not just in the world of comics and graphic novels. Where else are you going to go for truly epic sci-fi with magic, sex and gobs of style? Well, I guess Guardians of the Galaxy would be one option…