April 18, 2012

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Saga Issues 1 and 2

Written by Brian K. Vaughn
Illustrated by Fiona Staples
Image

Two factions have been warring for ages across various worlds in a galaxy that features everything from winged humanoids to robotic nobility.  As they fight on and on, a pair of lovers cross sides and do the unthinkable--create a child.  This is her story.

On first blush, this is a comic I probably wouldn't have picked up, because I'm not a big fan of space operas, which this clearly is, from the moment we start dealing with alien races and world-traveling and empires.  I make exceptions now and again, but overall, it's just not a genre I enjoy.  However, given that Brian K. Vaughn is an amazing writer when he's on his game (see Runaways and Ex Machina), I thought I'd see what he did with this one.

The results are amazing, as, freed from any need to tether the story to the world or a shared universe, Vaughn gleefully includes anything he can think of and that Staples is capable of drawing, which seems to e anything at all.  In the first few pages, we get the parents of the piece, a fairy-like, foul-mouthed mother named Alana who turns out to be a soldier who's deserted her post for the love of her life, an ex-prisoner that is the least imaginative part of the whole thing by aping Blue Devil's look.  The dad, Marko, is on the other side of the battle and, after wooing Alana, escapes with her.  As passive as Alana is feisty, he's the mouthpiece for Vaughn's liberal politics, which are all over this book and might be a problem for more conservative readers.

They make for an interesting odd couple on the run, but it's their world that really captures the imagination of the reader.  The trio are hidden by a grease monkey who turns out to be an honest to God monkey and end up pursued by a creature with a television for a head called "Baron Robot XXIII."

This is the point where the reader must make a decision:  Are you in for the insanity that comes from a world where the creators are using anything they can think of and putting it on the page, or do you prefer a bit more restraint?  For me, the choice was easy--I love insane ideas as long as the story makes sense in the end.  Given Vaughn's ability to close his creations, even while leaving open the future path of his characters, I have no problem with watching as the weird piles up.

And oh boy, does this get weird.  The over-sized first issue moves into especially strange territory, as Staples visually depicts a new fetish by having the television creatures engage in kinky sex.  Make it past that and we have a feline lie-detector and a woman who watched My Little Pony just a bit too often.  Transitioning into the second issue, Staples gives us a bounty hunter who is both horrific and just a bit sensual, which is extremely hard to pull off, and the splash page at the end of issue two, setting up a new problem for Alana and the baby, is perfect, because it's not what we're expecting at all.

"Not what we're expecting at all" might be a good tag line for the top of the book, if Image ever decides to place anything on the cover.  At just about every moment where the story should safely zig, Vaughn and Staples make the story zag instead.  From the decision to make the mother the more aggressive character to the idea that their love child must be found alive instead of killed, Vaughn is working to make this book about turning the page to get to the next surprise instead of seeing how he uses a certain space opera trope.

In terms of potential collaborators, Vaughn picked an amazing one in the form of Staples.  She's more than up to the task of creating this new world, filling it with all sorts of strangeness and wonder.  Whenever there is a splash page a reader cannot help but bury their eyes in the page, looking for cool creations that Staples labored over, even if they might not be seen again.  She isn't afraid to add hand-lettering to the mix, using it to great effect.  The layouts on Saga are simply amazing and would be worth reading this book for, even if Vaughn's script was lackluster.

It's hard to describe all the strangeness of Saga without ruining it for a reader.  What impresses me about the book the most, I think, is how well it reads chapter by chapter.  We all know this is going to be a lengthy epic, but it does not feel padded at all, at least not yet.  I read both of these together, but I could have easily read them separately and felt like I got a complete story that moves the arc forward while giving me my money's worth at the time I read it.  As I move back to reading in single issue form, that's something I look for.  I'm sure Saga will read great in the trade, but it'a also a comic meant to be read as it happens.

Hip, adult, and unafraid to relish in its weirder moments--Vaughn jokes in the end notes about naked robots--Saga is definitely a new series to get on board with before it's moved along too far to easily catch up.  While it has a lot to live up to, this might turn out to be my favorite Brian K. Vaughn book yet.  I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes good stories and are willing to watch as Vaughn and Staples experiment before your very eyes.  The experience promises to be a great ride.