Pick of the Week
What did the
Art by Fiona Staples
Size: 44 pages
First, a disclaimer.
Having hurt my back a while ago, I had to have an MRI today to see how much damage has actually been done. Being someone who suffers from claustrophobia I had to take some sedatives to be able to spend a half an hour in that little tube.
This Pick of the Week review is brought to you by Xanax and Valium.
Since these drugs are still coursing through my body, I’m completely exhausted and a tiny bit loopy. That’s part of the reason why this is going up so late. A few hours ago had I tried to write this it would have been an incoherent mess. Well, more so than normal.
What I’m saying is that this might not be the best review I’ve ever written.
For most of the previous decade it was harder to find a bigger name in comics than Brian K. Vaughan. His first published work was in 1996, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s when he exploded with a string of high profile and creatively exciting works like Y: The Last Man (2002), Runaways (2003), Ex Machina (2004), and Pride of Baghdad (2006). And then he got hired to write for some TV show called Lost, and once those comic book series ran their course he was swallowed whole by the land of swimming pools, movie stars, and In-N-Out burgers. We feared that he would never be seen again. Hell, we joked about it enough.
And then we started hearing rumblings that Vaughan was coming back, and not with some small mini-series that would fit into his schedule in-between developing his new Showtime series and working on his various other screenplays. No, he was said to be coming back to comics in a big way with a new on-going sci-fi series.
Despite what might seem like an obvious grouping between subject matter, medium, and audience, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of pure sci-fi in popular mainstream comics. Not when popular mainstream comics are dominated by superheroes doing superdeeds. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been any sci-fi, and good sci-fi at that. Starborn, from BOOM! Studios’ ill-fated Stan Lee Presents line of books was tons of fun, and my favorite sci-fi comic book of the last few years was probably Dan Dare from Virgin Comics. I’m sure there are other popular and/or mainstream pure sci-fi comic book series out there but nothing comes to mind immediately (other than I really need to sleep).
Enter: Saga #1 from Image Comics.
One of my favorite things about this first issue is that Vaughan doesn’t hit us over the head with information. This is a completely new and unfamiliar world featuring completely new and unfamiliar alien races and, except for a quick three page sequence in the middle the sets up the geography and the basic central conflict, there’s no giant info dump explaining the world and the races and their customs. Everything we learn, we learn contextually, or we have to use our heads, which is that lump three feet above our asses, to figure things out for themselves. Vaughan isn’t handing out any silver platters in Saga #1, but he is giving us hot robot on robot sex.
As the issue opens we are dropped into the middle of the action. And by action I mean the messy and ad hoc birth of a child in the back of an old body shop. A beautiful woman with little dragon wings is giving birth to the daughter of a man with ram-like horns. Right off the bat you can tell that Alana and Marko are a cute and loving couple and it doesn’t matter that there are wings or horns or the fact that Marko offers to cast a magic healing spell to help manage Alana’s pain. That’s all just window dressing for two immediately relatable and likable protagonists. What we learn as the story progresses is that Marko and Alana’s people are locked in a bitter and brutal war and that someway and somehow, they found love and now they have a baby girl who is narrating this story via some fantastic hand lettered captions from artist Fiona Staples.
Speaking of Fiona Staples! Woo-boy, she’s good. I first came across her work in the excellent and criminally underrated Mystery Society mini-series. She used a different, more ethereal and delicate style in that book, but here in Saga her work is all rough edges and sharp angles and it’s wonderful. Her character designs for these aliens are so naturalistic that after a while I stopped noticing that Marko has two giant curly horns protruding out of the side of his skull.
At 44 pages of story, there’s a lot going on in Saga #1. From the birth of baby Hazel to robot generals with TVs for heads to magic spell casting aliens all with different kinds of horns to tough-as-nails intergalactic bounty hunters with cat sidekicks who can tell when you’re lying to a giant and seemingly never-ending war between two races, there’s a ton of fertile ground for Brian K. Vaughan to explore. That might seem like a lot going on, but if there’s one thing that Vaughan has shown us over the years is that he is well equipped to handle sprawling, long form stories with multiple elements, especially when the center of the story is a character (or in this case, characters) that feels real and relatable: Marko and Alana are just trying to find and hold onto love and family in a time of war and chaos.
And from what I’ve seen so far, Saga promises to be the next great epic comic book series from Brian K. Vaughan.
How ’bout that robot fucking?
Didn’t pick up Saga #1 at your store? You can read it on Graphicly!