WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME VERY NSFW IMAGERY
Imagine seeing a movie for the first time that completely knocks you off your feet. It’s the kind of story that speaks to you on so many levels, touches so many of the bases you identify with that you can’t help but feel a singularly satisfying experience that you don’t find anywhere else in quite the same way. It transcends simple enjoyment or a “best ever” list, and holds a special place in your heart.
So much so that when a sequel’s announced you’re equal parts excited and trepidatious; on the one hand, “Yay, there’s more of my favourite movie coming! With the same cast and director and everything! It’s going to kick ass!”, while on the other, “Oh god, they’re going to wring a ham-fisted sequel out of something I find singularly special! It’s going to suck!”
Then, after waiting a few years to sit down for a couple of hours and see what will either be another landmark narrative moment or the awkward squawking of a beloved intellectual property being rigorously tortured on-screen, you finally see it – and against all odds, the movie kicks so much supreme ass that you’re positive it’s as good and special as, if not more than, the work that preceded it. It’s beyond the impossible, but it’s happened. An exemplar of work now has a matching sibling of equal caliber.
If it weren’t already obvious from the title, Saga‘s become this for me.
After last year’s award-winning (at least on this website) entry, I was similarly excited and apprehensive that Volume 2 would live up to the expectations set by its maiden debut book. It went beyond thinking lightning could strike twice and moved into “winning the lottery on two different Powerballs in the same week” territory – not exactly impossible, but you’d have a better chance of the American government purchasing Julian Assange a beach house in Maui.
Thankfully it avoided the pitfall that franchises like The Matrix and Die Hard have fallen prey to, and kicked more ass than a robotic boot magnetically attracted to donkeys. The story picks up not long after Volume 1’s conclusion, where Hazel and her merry band of parental misfits come across father Marko’s own parents on the rocketship they grew in a forest. Following that we’ve got a similar fantasy-cum-sci-fi tone as the first book, now peppered with oddities such as security guards with talking face crotches, a one-eyed Mills and Boon author who lives in a lighthouse guarded by a baby seal in overalls, and a generous helping of unwanted GST. No, not a Goods and Savings Tax, but rather a Giant-Scrotum’d Troll.
Troll bollocks aside, the story’s got a lot to offer intellectually. The endless cycle of generational war faced by the inhabitants of Wreath and Landfall – or, particularly, the reasons behind it – are directly called into question. There’s quite a bit of introspection regarding what makes a good parent in this interstellar backdrop of a hellhole. The reader is challenged to decide, is a battle fought on ideological grounds something worth actively supporting, or is our agency so far removed from the idealistic heart of the conflict that we can grow so dispassionate as to not care one way or the other if millions get slaughtered in the name of hollow “peace”?
More importantly though, there’s a troll with a giant scrotum.
If I have an issue with the story – and believe me, it’s so minor it almost doesn’t bear scrutinising – it’s that some characters end up a bit out of focus. Prince Robot IV – snarky android anti-villain of the first volume, presented here without a need to go to the bathroom – only shows up towards the end, and aside from a brief interlude where he dreams about killing whorehouse security guards with deceased spider-girlfriend The Stalk there’s also little of The Will in this one compared to Volume 1. Part of what amped up the tension in Volume 1 was seeing these two separate entities about to collide with both their intended targets – our fugitive heroes – and each other. It was a bit missed here, though that tension did return in an absolute masterstroke at Volume 2’s conclusion.
The art by Fiona Staples is in fine form as always, and several steps above the work presented in Volume 1. I remember being a bit annoyed that some of the battle scenes and blood sprays could get a bit visually confusing, and Staples seemed to have nipped that problem in the bud with Volume 2. While bits and pieces can be slightly off-putting (like the oft-mentioned troll genitalia) it all comes together in the end, giving us realistic facial expressions and fantastically-imagined creatures given shape on the page. Also, whenever I see The Stalk I’m not sure if I should feel disgusted or oddly curious – I guess that’s a good thing?
Dialogue is flawless. Brian K. Vaughan has an uncanny knack for just the right amount of swearing, neutrality and thoughtful dialogue with lovey-doveyness inserted in just the right places. There’s some great banter between the two big new pairs of protagonist interactions – being Marko and his mother, and Alana with Marko’s father – and the character dynamics as a whole are kept fairly stable and consistent. As one of the few comics that can literally make me laugh out loud every other sentence but be able snap back to dead seriousness when needed, Saga gets a bit fat gold star at the bottom of that particular report card.
If you’re not aboard the Saga train, get on now. It’s accessible, unburdened (at least for now) of years of snarled continuity and copious back issues, with a narrative and characters you can truly engage with despite the fantastic deep space setting. It’s got humour, violence, sex, swearing, heartwarming moments and a cute kid in yellow-horned jim-jams.
Also, troll scrotum.
BEST QUOTE: “Yeah, yeah, so my mom and dad used to have sex. What, like your parents just WILLED you into existence…” – Hazel