By Mollika Maiti
Ever since I acquired and read the first volume of the ongoing Image Comics series Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, I have made it my life’s mission to get as many people to read it as possible.
But Saga evangelism is a tough job to have. There’s only so many people who will take blithe statements like “Have you read Saga? You HAVE to read it. It’s a really cool comic about space and stuff” at face value.
So what is it all about, then?
Saga is set in a middle of an ongoing galactic war between two species: The winged inhabitants of the planet Landfall, and the horned, spell-casting inhabitants of Wreath, one of Landfall’s moons. Every species in the system is allied to either of the two sides, and war has since turned into a proxy one, with all the main fighting having been outsourced to far-off planets. The protagonists of the story are Wreath’s Marko and Landfall’s Alana, two soldiers who have fallen in love and conceived a child, Hazel. The trio, along with some others, are now on the run from both Wreath and Landfallian authorities, who want them all dead. On their tail are a number of fascinating characters, including a prince with a TV for a head, a half-human-half-spider assassin, angry parents, a vengeful ex-girlfriend, and a bounty hunter with a big, green, lie-detecting cat for a partner, among others.
A simple google search of “Saga comic” will point you towards terms like “Science fiction/Space opera”, while constant comparisons to Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Romeo and Juliet, among other things. Understandably, one would get the feeling that it’s exactly like everyone’s go-to space opera, Star Wars. There are spaceships, blaster guns, epic space battles and countless bounty hunters.
But the similarities end there. In the Saga universe, there are no good-versus-evil conflicts. The protagonists are sick of all the fighting and are much more concerned about escaping the war and starting their own family, rather than trying to put an end to it. The supposed villains are not inherently evil at all. The TV-headed prince is desperate to capture Alana and Marko in order to be back home in time for his own child’s birth, and one of the bounty hunters on their tail nearly gives up his whole mission to rescue a six-year old slave girl from an outer space brothel. Conversely, the protagonists are not beacons of morality, and make a number of poor life choices throughout the story, just like the rest of the crowd. Although most of Saga’s characters are either winged, horned, blue skinned or have TV screens for heads, Saga is ultimately a tale about parenthood and the formation of a family, coupled with spaceships and magic in best way possible.
The space opera has been done over and over again, and often the stories falling under this genre suffer from predictability. You’ve seen many similar patterns across different movies and books, and you can already tell how the story is going to turn out before it ends.
Saga is a whole other story. You can almost NEVER tell what is going to happen in the next panel. Brian K. Vaughan, also known for his other works such as Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Runaways, has reached George R.R. Martin-levels of notoriety in the comic book fandom for killing off beloved characters when you might least expect it. There are painful and heartbreaking plot twists galore, and I have often found myself shouting disdainfully at the laptop screen while coming across character deaths in the new chapters.
But don’t let that deter you from reading the comics. Saga possesses some of the best characters I’ve come across in any comic book so far. Vaughan’s writing is as beautiful as it is bizarre. Marko and Alana’s spaceship is a tree, and Hazel’s babysitter is a ghost girl who is missing the entire lower half of her body because she stepped on a landmine.
Fiona Staples’ artwork is absolutely stellar. She manages to draw every insane idea that Vaughan writes up, and the expressions on the characters are so accurate that you can tell what’s happening without any dialogue or speech bubbles. In fact, the graphic nature of the artwork, once got Saga banned from the iTunes store, although protests from readers have brought it right back.
Vaughan and Staples have created Saga to be practically immune to any film or television adaptations. “I wanted to do something that was way too expensive to be TV and too dirty and grown-up to be a four-quadrant blockbuster”, Vaughan said in an interview.
Saga returned from its hiatus with a new issue last November, making a total of 32 issues. They can all be easily read in one or two sittings, after which you’ll have to join the rest of us in an agonising wait for the next issue, which comes out on January 27.
Mollika Maiti is a 3rd year student of Microbiology, Chemistry and Zoology at St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.