There is a saying that goes something like, ‘everything has already been written.’ The idea goes that there are no original concepts or themes left to be written about, and that all that remains for modern writers is to retread existing ground. This is usually meant as a slight against scribes who resurrect the bones of stories long since buried. While I do believe that every basic literary theme has been explored in some way, shape, or form, I also believe that the strength of a tale rests in how strongly (or poorly) it embodies these themes.
At its core, Saga by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples is a Romeo and Juliet inspired tale of star-crossed lovers, with a space opera backdrop. Thematically, this tale has been told time and time again. But the strength of Saga lies in just how well Vaughan crafts his characters, his lore, and his world. Saga is the story of Alana, a winged solider from the technologically advanced Landfall Coalition, who falls in love with Marko, a magic-user from Landfall’s only moon, Wreath. For years, Landfall and Wreath have been at war, yet despite their differences, Marko and Alana fall in love with one another, and birth a child named Hazel. Both armies take issue with this, and send various bounty hunters and trackers to capture the fleeing lovers.
One of the elements that works so well with this title is the care with which the characters are crafted. Alana is headstrong, yet compassionate. Marko is a pacifist who learns to fight to protect his family. The problem often with the ‘star-crossed lover’ meme is that it is hard to identify with the lovers. Often, it is impossible to see what they see in one another. With Marko and Alana, though, the chemistry is carefully and lovingly cultivated by Vaughan. Neither of the two is seen as weaker or stronger than the other; both have strengths and weaknesses that they bring to their relationship, and by relying on one another, they are able to keep their daughter safe from the hazards of their perilous universe.
Of course, the supporting characters and the impact they leave on the heroes is part of the magic of Saga. Izabel brings energy and brevity to the title, although from an unorthodox source. You see, Izabel is the ghost of a teenage girl who had the lower half of her body blown off by a land mine during the skirmishes on the planet of Cleave. She bonds with Hazel, and takes up the role of babysitter and protector. Perhaps my favorite character is Prince Robot IV, a member of the royal family of the Robot Kingdom, who is tracking Alana and Marko on behalf of Landfall. Ever wonder what a robot with a TV for a head looks like when he is having sex with another robot with a TV for a head? If so, Saga is the title for you. Mercenaries The Will and Lying Cat make for engaging bounty hunters who, in addition to tracking Alana and Marko on behalf of the Wreath military, spend some time exploring their moral outlook on sex slaves.
One of the most inspired choices in the writing of Saga is the use of Hazel as the narrator for the tale. We hear her talking about her parents, their pursuers, and their adventures as if she is narrating the story many years in the future. Not only does this allow us to attach to Hazel as a character, but it provides some hope in what could easily be a gloomy story of oppressive odds. No matter what, we know that Hazel will make it out of this okay.
Fiona Staples is a visionary artist who leaves a strong mark on this title. She provides all of the art, the coloring, the covers, and even provides Hazel’s narration using her own handwriting. With this type of control over the visual look/feel of the book, Staples is able to craft intriguing designs that help shape the story. If Staples were not on this title, I don’t believe there could be a Saga…her influence is that strong and that important to the book. I also appreciate that she doesn’t shy away from going to dark or graphic places with her art. At times the artwork is touching, and times it is grotesque, but it is always captivating and it is always in-synch with the story.
If you enjoy epic space operas like Star Wars where the little guy faces off against the might of the universe, or if you enjoy solidly crafted characters who find love and strength in one another, Saga is the book for you. Now is the perfect time to jump on to Saga. The first trade-paperback is already on shelves, and a second trade-paperback (collecting issues 7-12) will be released soon. The series is on hiatus until August 2013, when issue #13 will be released. With such a short back catalogue to push through, and with the break until new issues are released, Saga is a fantastic read for those who might be just now returning to the world of comic books.