After a two-year absence, popular writer Brian K. Vaughan recently made his return to comics with Image Comics’ Saga, a collaboration with artist Fiona Staples. Vaughan, or BKV as he is called by fans, has built a devoted audience through both his work in mainstream superhero comics and with DC’s adult Vertigo line. Although his most popular series probably remains Y: The Last Man, the story of a man and his monkey who are the last living males on Earth after a sudden catastrophe, he established a unique sensibility in other series as well. Ex Machina revolves around the mayor of New York who used to be the world’s only superhero. Vaughan also created the teen squad the Runaways. The Runaways, a team of adolescent heroes who are the kin of supervillians, became a beloved series because its stories appealed to both young and adult readers. Although the Runaways have struggled to find their niche since Vaughan left the series in 2007, they remain some of the most popular new characters to come from Marvel in this millennium. Vaughan had left comics to work in television (most notably on Lost) before returning with Saga.
To try to encapsulate the first six issues of Saga is a pretty futile task because it is in many ways a science-fiction story except that it doesn’t read like sci-fi at all. If anything, Saga feels like a story about marriage and parenthood that somehow involves monsters, robots and ghosts. It’s not “Luke, I am your father” parenthood storytelling, either. The central characters of Saga are Alana and Marko. Alana is a member of the Landfall planet, whose people sport wings and can fly. Marko, who has magical powers and ram horns, is from Wreath, a planet that orbits Landfall. Currently, Landfall and Wreath are at war with each other. However, this isn’t any old Romeo and Juliet story because they’ve already had a baby named Hazel. Both the armies of Landfall and Wreath want to hunt down Alana, Marko and Hazel, as both sides view one of the couple as a traitor and the other as an enemy. The story gets more complicated, as a bounty hunter (called “freelancers”) named The Will (who has a Siamese-like cat the size of a panther that can sense deception) has been hired by the Wreath military to find Alana and Marko and kill them. Additionally, Landfall has tasked Prince Robot IV, a member of Landfall-allied Robot Kingdom, to find Alana and Marko before he can return to his wife. The populace of The Robot Kingdom, it should be mentioned, has humanoid bodies and heads resembling television sets.
This brief plot synopsis doesn’t really capture what’s enjoyable about Saga, however. It really is the details Vaughan supplies that make this series unpredictable and fascinating. It’s narrated by an older (future) Hazel, looking back on the time of her birth and its surrounding chaos. War between Landfall and Wreath has actually been transferred to other worlds that are poorer or less well defended since Landfall and Wreath have at least agreed that all-out war would severely damage their planets. Another interesting touch is that in order to escape their hunters, Alana and Marko bond Hazel to Izabel, a teen ghost whose body below her waste is missing due to the explosion that killed her. This detail also shows that despite the fact that Saga is often funny or explicit (I’ll just say this: graphic robot sex), it’s also dealing with serious issues. War, racial prejudice, the military-industrial complex, prostitution, incompetent governments and child exploitation are just some of the themes Vaughan and Staples have wrapped into the first arc of this space epic. Saga never feels preachy, however, as Vaughan always remembers to make the plots matter. With so many comics these days overly hung up on decompressing stories to the point where it sometimes feels like nothing has happened in a particular comic, all six issues of Saga have been rewarding. It’s not that they are paced that much faster. Instead, Vaughan and Staples have made us care about a strange couple and those hunting them while also enriching these worlds with unusual and compelling details.