There’s this comic you’ve never heard of before and it’s called “Saga” #1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
I kid, of course. Brian K. Vaughan’s return to comics, with “Y: The Last Man” and “Ex Machina” having both concluded, has been getting some attention over the past year. It also goes without saying that as high as people’s expectations are going to be over “Saga” #1, they’ll never be met. It’s simply not possible. Fortunately, while “Saga” might not be able to turn water into wine and cure your ingrown toenails, once you shed the hype that’s built up around it, you end up with a very good first issue of a comic book series.
Vaughan drops us right into the middle of Marko’s and Alana’s story, two from opposite sides of an age-long war that’s spanned half of a galaxy. By beginning the issue with the birth of their child, it’s an obvious opening point, but also spares us any tedious first chapter where the main characters haven’t met until the final page. Instead, Vaughan gives us their back story in part through briefings and conversations, but makes it feel reasonable instead of an information dump. Everything we need to know for “Saga” #1 is included in “Saga” #1, and you don’t feel lost.
It helps that “Saga” has a narrator in the form of the newborn child, who is presumably telling her life story at a much distant point in the future. She explains the long-standing war between Landfall and Wreath, and how it spread to other planets across the galaxy to avoid wiping out both worlds in a mutually-assured-destruction attack. It’s a good storytelling technique and it helps build the drama because the child knows the bad things to come even if the protagonists don’t.
One thing I found myself quickly appreciating is that Vaughan isn’t playing a “good side/bad side” game here. Neither race comes across as heroes or villains here; they’re both clearly seeing themselves as the good ones of course, but both sides make choices that put them in the “to be feared” camp. Vaughan’s introductions of hunters from the two sides’ armies to hunt down our protagonists also promises to be interesting and not just because Alana’s people are more science-fiction while Marko’s are more fantasy. It’s giving us an additional viewpoint character for each side of the war, one that still believes in the war itself and the fight to wipe out the other race. I’ll be curious to see how well they’re integrated into the overall story, and what happens once their paths finally collide with our heroes.
I’ve enjoyed what little I’ve seen of Staples’ art up until now; the interiors for “North 40,” or covers for “DV8: Gods and Monsters” and “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.” This is the largest single dose I’ve seen of her art and I’m impressed with the end result. To me she falls into the same school of art as creators like Leinil Francis Yu with delicate lines framing characters with large, bold figures. Staples is able to mix the familiar and the foreign together in her character designs; from big, hard-to-miss features like horns of unicorns and rams, to little touches such as the different clothing styles. It feels like a visually cohesive universe from start to finish, and that’s not something easy to find.
Staples also takes some of the moments that could potentially scare off readers (like two supporting characters having sex) and makes them feel like they’re not out of place. I think that’s part of Staples’ skill as an artist, having everything feel like it’s there for a reason. Massive hairless cat? Robots with televisions for heads? Under Staples’ pen the world of “Saga” feels like it’s got room for just about everything, somewhere and it’s definitely something she brings well to the table.
“Saga” #1 was a strong introduction to Vaughan and Staples’ new comic. Where it goes from here is, of course, anyone’s guess. With a double-sized opening chapter, I feel like readers should have more than enough of a feel for if they’re going to like the comic. Somehow, I suspect most readers are going to stick around for #2. This is yet another great debut from Image Comics.