This is a review of the Deluxe hardcover edition of Saga, which includes issues 1-18, as well as an incredibly detailed writeup/interview with the creators about how they put an issue together. Saga is a comic book for mature readers, so unless you want your kid to see two people with TV sets for heads are having doggystyle sex (among other things), keep this out of their reach.
It’s a story as old as time itself. Star-crossed lovers meet, realise that they are destined to be with each other but the universe would never allow something as pure, so they fall off a cliff or ingest poison or shish kebab themselves.
Saga is about what happens if the couple say “Fuck that!” and proceed to not only fuck that (“that” being each other), but also have a baby. And they name her Hazel.
Saga is a story of two adventures. One is a rollicking journey through space with bounty hunters, armies, weird space hostesses that are just giant heads and legs, a sex planet (because of course), naked monsters, spaceships that are also trees, laser beams, magic spells, teenage ghosts with upbeat attitudes and dangling intestines, and more. That’s less scary, though. The other is the journey of two people figuring out what being a parent is really all about.
So here’s the story, in brief. Alana and Marko are from two warring civilisations, one based on science, the other magic. They meet as prisoner and guard, and in less than a day, realised that life without the other simply would not do. They run away, make a baby, and in doing so, make some very important people very, very angry. Chased by bounty hunters and the armies of both their planets, they are on a quest to find a corner of the universe where they can raise their daughter in peace. That’s it. They are not on a quest, they don’t want to end this war, they are NOT the chosen ones. They just want to be parents, and be left alone.
Saga isn’t “deep”. It doesn’t ask or answer big questions, but it does ask a lot of little ones, and has a fantastic eye for detail. More than anything else, it entertains. Oh gosh, does it entertain. I am so used to books trying to be ABOUT something that when something like this comes along, something that wants to tell an incredible story FIRST, it’s breathtaking. The story moves at a crackling pace, proudly flies its comic book banner by having cliffhangers at the end of each issue (sometimes multiple times an issue), and is never afraid to be completely bizarre, both in idea and visual style.
Saga has frequently been compared to Star Wars, and it’s easy to see why. It feels like Star Wars, with its infinite variety of completely bonkers aliens, as well as vaguely defined powers and abilities. Continuity and world-building are all secondary to the yarn that’s being woven by the author and the artist. Which brings me to the art itself.
The art is a big part of Saga’s “epicness”, so to speak. The style is a mix of photorealistic and watercolours, with sharp character work and a painted-in landscapes; Perfect for the whole “intimate, but grand” tone. The slightly surreal quality of the backgrounds give the impression of a gigantic universe out there – one not quite in focus, but defined nonetheless. Planets are distinct, without burdening the reader with detail. Oh, and the anatomical work is a joy! Characters are captured with snapshot-like accuracy, their faces and bodies moving with dynamism barely contained by the pages and panels. So many times characters interact through body-language alone, and it’s always obvious what they are trying to say.
One of the best things about Saga is how real and multifaceted every single character is. They all have their perspectives and motivations, and are never simple. Vile, murderous, sly, dishonourable, yes. But never simple. Everyone, right from our lovers to the bounty hunters assigned to chase and kill them, have reasons for doing what they do. Character beats explored in mere panels resonate long after I stop reading. Saga’s depth doesn’t come from any message it is trying to convey, but rather the rich tapestry of characters that make its story what it is. Even during the obvious sanctus ex machina moments, it’s the characters that make you believe.
Of course, Alana and Marko are the shining jewels, and are just the best couple you will see in fiction. Even YOU can see they are made for each other, and this stupid war keeps getting in the way, but they won’t let it get to them. Alana is a hothead while Marko is a pacifist and idealist (in spite of being the better fighter), and they balance each other out wonderfully. They make each other laugh, talk things through when they have problems, and clearly love each other very much. They are intimate with each other in ways that only a newly married couple will understand. And no, I am not talking about the rubbing-squishy-bits-together intimate, I am talking about kissing-with-bad-breath intimate. Brian K. Vaughn made me read romance and beg for more. That should be on a T-Shirt.
I read the first 18 issues of Saga over a single weekend. As you can imagine, I just loved it, but I still won’t be reading the other issues immediately. The oversized deluxe edition makes the art too pretty to ignore, and if you are one of the few comic book fans who haven’t yet tried it, I suggest you spring for the oversized edition and then wait for the next one to come. It will be excruciating, but it will be worth it.