I’m not exaggerating when I say that Saga is one of the best comic series I’ve ever read. I read the first three paperback volumes (as much as is available, for now) back to back, and then subscribed to the monthly issues almost immediately. I haven’t had a comic series pull me in this dramatically since I first encountered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
Saga opens with a woman, Alana, giving birth, her horned lover Marko at her side. At the first sight of his daughter, Marko bursts into tears of happiness, but their moment is cut short when a group of heavily armed soldiers start trying to break down the door. As it turns out, Alana and Marko are wanted criminals.
The pair were soldiers themselves, on opposite sides of a neverending war between the planet Landfall and its only moon, Wreath. They met as enemies, fell in love, and deserted their respective armies in search of some small sliver of peace in a war-torn galaxy. And now they have a daughter. It’s Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars.
As interesting a premise as this is, it’s the colourful cast that really brings the story to life. Alana, Marko, and Hazel (their daughter, who serves as narrator) are some of the most believable, relatable characters I’ve ever read. But it’s not just them; plenty of others are introduced over the course of the first volume, and there’s not a forgettable person among them. Even if they’re only around for the space of a few pages, every character has the kind of depth that other books take volumes upon volumes to establish.
A large part of this comes down to the fantastic writing of Brian K. Vaughan, but the impact of Fiona Staples’ artwork can’t be understated. To be honest, I wasn’t convinced by the art style at first – it’s rough and angular, far removed from the meticulous, refined style of so many other books. It only took a couple of pages to fall in love with Staples’ style though. It complements Vaughan’s writing perfectly and gives the characters and worlds a sense of life that more typical comic book art would struggle to match.
A fair warning: Saga is very much aimed at mature readers, with plenty of sex and violence, and just about every swear word you can think of. That none of it feels gratuitous is further testament to the skill of the creative team. Violence is brutal and graphic, but adds weight to the book’s anti-war themes and complexity to characters who are vicious in combat, but sympathetic and even compassionate in other situations. The sex scenes with Marko and Alana are as intimate and fun as they are explicit, showing two people who love sex and, most importantly, love each other, without the faintest hint of exploitation.
It only took a single volume of Saga to reach the point where it felt more like I was reading a letter from an old friend, about people I’ve known all my life, than a fictional story about made up people. I don’t know if there’s a better indicator of storytelling success than that.