Review: Saga, Volume 1

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Saga starts off with your standard star-crossed lovers – in this case from two warring races – who have eloped together. The pleasantries and clichés are thankfully skipped and we’re greeted with the birth of their first child, while the narrator (the child herself) muses on the nature of ideas; “This is how an idea becomes real.” It becomes clear this is writer Brian K Vaughn’s manifesto on his creative process and why he prefers to collaborate (in this case with impressive artist Fiona Staples). It’s obvious and a little heavy-handed, sure, but it’s offset well by the humour in the characters’ dialogue and serves as a nice introduction to the tone of the book. After a relatively quick and apparently painless birth, we learn some more about the characters (winged lady Alana and ram-horned Marko) and the universe outside through their dialogue and then we’re off.

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The first volume is their escape from the small planet they’re trapped on mixed in with the story of their pursuers on both sides of the war (a prince with a television for a head and a freelance assassin named The Will). The characters come alive with Vaughn’s usual banter and are nicely compelling throughout. Alana and Marko are very much a new couple and Vaughn doesn’t dance around that. They apparently eloped after only knowing each other for 12 hours (and then presumably spent at least 9 months together, unless we’re dealing with a weird alien birth cycle) and we’re shown that naturally there’s still a lot they don’t know about each other, though a reveal at the end of chapter 3 could definitely have been handled in a less over-dramatic, far more subtle manner. Despite this, their relationship and dialogue seems to come from a place of truth, and that’s hard to fault [is it?]. Of particular note among the characters is Izabel. As much as I loved Runaways, I’ve always been a bit wary of Vaughn’s “teen dialogue”, particularly when they seem to speak in endless pop culture references, however due to the fantasy setting this aspect is completely removed from Saga. As such, Vaughn’s ability to write younger characters really shines through, making Izabel easily my favourite character so far. Not to mention her exchanges with Alana are some of the most entertaining parts of this volume.

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The universe of Saga also feels very well thought-out, but nowhere near the point of overkill, just enough mystery to keep us interested: solid world building. A decent amount of thought has clearly been put into the different cultures and races presented to us, not just through their traditions, worldviews, and mannerisms, but also in things like their appearance, clothes and architecture, as I’m sure this is just as much Staples’ world as it is Vaughn’s. Staples’ art works very well, and I’m not sure I could see anyone else representing this world the way she does. Her style is somewhat reminiscent of 2D animation visuals, using heavily lined characters on top of soft painted backgrounds and she seems equally adept at showing us both beautiful and gross things. If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that sometimes her environments can seem a bit lacking. But here’s the thing: despite what some have said and despite the quality of work in this book, I don’t think Staples is working at her peak, at least not yet. But isn’t that more exciting? To know we get to see her improve and progress as an artist? I feel like she’s already started after only 6 issues.

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And that kind of sums up Saga: it’s a promising and engaging, if a little rough around the edges, start and I’m excited to see where it goes. It seems a little light on pacing and content for a monthly comic, but this volume was definitely worth the price of admission for what I got from it.