Review by Frank Plowright
For all the variety available in graphic novels today, there’s little consensus about what constitutes the best at any given time. Well, in terms of acclaim, awards and sales, independently produced material hasn’t seen anything to match Saga since the initial success of The Walking Dead. The series captured the imagination in very short order, hence this relatively rapid reissue combining volumes 1–3 between hard covers.
His previous series have more than adequately demonstrated the innate dramatic instinct that Brian K. Vaughan brings to his work. He builds his cast carefully, ensuring their appeal, and is better than almost any other writer currently working on a regular series in moving those characters from one situation to the next and retaining their humanity and appeal. His only possible equal is Robert Kirkman on Invincible and The Walking Dead, both of which deal first and foremost in character, with the trappings as trimmings.
Vaughan sets up a large canvas on which to paint, starting with a long-running war between two planets, who involve proxies on their behalf. The horned Marko is from Wreath, a society operating forms of magic, their planet a satellite of Landfall, the galaxy’s largest planet, and home to Alana’s technologically advanced and winged people. Theirs is an unlikely love affair, and their child Hazel is born in the opening pages.
Unfortunately for all of them, the mere rumour of their Romeo and Juliet style relationship has vast political consequences for vested interests whose perpetuation of war depends on demonising the opposition. Alana and Marco are hunted by assorted parties, not all of them for the same reason. Into this scenario Vaughan throws one fascinating concept after another, while maintaining a fully rounded cast whose dialogue convinces. Among others introduced here we have Prince Robot IV, royalty with a video monitor head, a ghostly babysitter, a merciless and lethal bounty hunter accompanied by a cat who can tell when people are lying, and his former girlfriend, as much spider as human. There are plenty more equally odd and innovative as Vaughan blends fantasy, science-fiction and moments of comedy for a top-notch drama.
Artist Fiona Staples is excellent, humanising an ensemble cast via a style approaching old fashioned animation cels, with the figures overlaid on blurred colour backgrounds. The lack of background detail over the first chapters gradually improves, and her designs are excellent from the get-go. Just take a look at the effort expended on a dragon train that’s just a throwaway device.
Vaughan has one further great narrative strength, the ability to surprise. He does so again and again throughout Saga, unafraid to dispense with cast members once they’ve served a purpose, and including several end of chapter jaw-droppers.
Should you buy this oversized hardback volume in preference to the previous paperbacks? It’s not unreasonably priced in comparison, although understandably a considerable outlay if you’ve not sampled the series. There’s also over forty pages of bonus material, including design sketches and Vaughan’s explanation of how his scripts become the printed pages. You’ll be hooked.