Saga, Volume 1

It’s not often that I extricate myself from my superhero pigeonhole and explore the great wide world beyond, but when I do it usually results in me discovering some new gem to add to my reading catalogue – which doesn’t do my bank account any favours. For example, when I first got into The Walking Dead I had to technically start a second superannuation account to cover the cost of all those nice big hardcovers being taken straight out of my future spinster fund, and it didn’t make things easier when the end of every volume made me slather for the next one.

Mercifully I’m jumping on the Saga bandwagon at the early stages of its infancy, so my bank account can rest easy for a few more weeks in this instance. It’s a sci-fi romance fantasy epic that’s flown mostly under the radar for me, although I do recall seeing a news article about the first issue a few months back and feeling kinda intrigued about the notion of a comic book touted as a hybrid of Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Scribed by Y: The Last Man creator Brian K. Vaughan, the main characters are Marko and Alana, a pair of mismatched alien soldiers on opposite sides of a war who fall in love and, as the story opens, give birth to an alien hybrid named Hazel, who narrates the series. The two wayward militants are then pursued by a variety of aggressors, including a fornicating robot with a TV for a head, a half-naked spider-woman and a bald, cat-loving mercenary known only as The Will. It’s up to Marko and Alana to elude their would-be captors and find a place to raise their daughter safe and free from oppression.

Let’s not mince words – I friggin’ loved this book. It’s oddly simplistic but very subtly layered, and not an inch of the story feels wasted or unnecessary. The pacing is fast but not overwhelming, the characters are well-rounded in just a few pages of narrative each, the world-building is executed effectively and efficiently, and there are plenty of “holy s**t” moments to excite even the most devout Michael Bay fan. On top of that, to jump ahead a few sections, the dialogue is masterful. Every character has, at one point or another, enough wit and snark to make Red Dwarf look like a primary school pantomime. Even the British-voiced robots, who do decidedly organic things like take dumps and copulate, manage to get in some really great ripostes that are what I imagine Prince Charles says when the cameras are turned off and Camilla accidentally burns his evening roast again.

It’s one of those rare narratives, graphic or otherwise, that manages to execute a flawless balancing act between action, plot, character development and humour. I never found myself dreading a character’s appearance midway through another’s arc, like I do whenever Batgirl’s roommate shows up partway through her disability angsting. No, everyone here is enjoyable in different ways, heroic or villainous, and everyone’s appearances are welcome throughout. Even the bad guys – such as the aforesaid spider-lady – get some good moments, including a rather jilted conversation between two mercenaries who you’d swear were/are married, bickering about stealing each other’s kills the same way a wife reprimands a husband for using all the Baileys for body shots the night before.

The art by Fiona Staples is a marvelous fusion of abstract gorgeousness and slightly grungy shading, evoking a mashup of Alex Maleev and Michael Lark (ironically, two artists who both had noted Daredevil runs). The characters’ facial expressions are awesome, giving off subtle emotion and visual cues that most comic book artists can’t usually nail. While the horns and wings make Marko and Alana respectively look a tad surreal and not-quite-human, their faces are done in a way that looks like the way a real person would move and project emotion through facial expression. Coupled with the gorgeous panoramas popping up every now and then, fleshing out the galaxy and showing mismatched alien worlds complete with dragon trains and spaceships make of trees (no, seriously), the artwork is utterly sublime. It can get a little spartan here and there, with a couple of the fight scenes being a little confusing when one isn’t sure which of the six identical enemy soldiers just lost an appendage from a sword slash, and that’s the only reason the book isn’t getting a perfect score.

Seriously, Saga‘s first outing was brilliantly scripted, masterfully atmospheric, superbly illustrated and excellently captivating. I might sound a bit gushy about this, but I really wasn’t expecting a book of such understated awesomeness when I picked this up on a whim the other week. If you’re not reading Saga, shell out for Volume 1 (it’s only $10US or $13AUS) and check it out. I will bet dollars to donuts it can land more casual readers than a scary, continuity-bloated superhero comic could. Hell, my mother’d probably read it, once she stops her Fifty Shades of Grey re-read.

STORY: 5/5
ARTWORK: 4.5/5

OVERALL: 14.5/15

BEST QUOTE: “I’ve interviewed every detainee on this rock, and the only thing I’m closer to catching is a staph infection.” – Prince Robot IV

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