Saga by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan – OK, Now I Get It

In a war torn universe a child is born to soldiers from opposing sides. Her mother has wings and a laser gun. Her father has horns and magic. She has the cutest little smile, and half the scumbags in the universe hunting her.

Welcome to Saga.

sagaA Graphic Classic?

I first tried Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s science fiction comic Saga a few years back. It was one of the hottest properties in American comics, I’d heard nothing but rave reviews, and I’d enjoyed other Vaughan books. So I picked up the first trade when it came out.

I was underwhelmed. I enjoyed it – the art was bold, the writing characterful, the universe it portrayed a feast of weirdness like nothing I’d ever seen before. And yet I felt no compulsion to read on. This was a well made comic, but it didn’t blow me away like Transmetropolitan, Preacher or 100 Bullets. It didn’t live up to the hype.

A Strange and Compelling Saga

So a couple of weeks ago I was visiting my friend Mags. I told him that I hadn’t read much of Saga. He looked shocked, and sent me away with five whole volumes. I thought it would be a while before I got through them, given my initial reaction, but boy was I wrong.

Saga is strange. It’s a mad mixture of science fiction and fantasy that carries the “this universe could contain anything” thrill that Flash Gordon must have had for an earlier generation. It’s also a crazy mix in terms of the issues it addresses. At the core is family – what makes one, what they mean to us, and how they shape us. But there’s far more than that. There’s war, justice and morality. There’s sacrifice and selfishness, conformity and defiance.

This is a saga both in being an epic genre adventure story, and in telling a soap opera style tale of a community changing over time. Characters join the cast, live, change and in some cases die. Years stretch out.

Then there’s the design of the universe and the characters, which is dazzlingly eclectic. There are people with televisions for heads; red light planets surrounded by hologram belts; water-dwelling dragons with beautifully mottled skin; living spacecraft. It’s confusing at first, busting through genre expectations, but it’s also amazing in its richness. And every time I thought I’d got a handle on the style, something new would come in to surprise me, like Ghüs, the cute little dungaree-clad seal who goes from sealion shepherd to axe-wielding galactic adventurer.Ghus

With its disparate strands and patchwork style, Saga isn’t as powerfully focused as 100 Bullets or Transmetropolitan. But it is every bit as rich and compelling.

Now I get it.