Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: 'Saga' by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

As far as big name comic book writers go, you don't get much bigger than Brian K. Vaughn.  From a smattering of mainstream work, with near-universal acclaim on Marvel books like Runaways, The Hood, and Dr. Strange, to his creator-owned titles like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Pride of Baghdad, to becoming a writer/executive story editor/producer for Lost, Vaughn has seemingly done it all, and done it with all of the praise and accolades one could ask for.  It shouldn't have been a surprise, then, that his latest creator-owned series, Saga, with artist Fiona Staples, is good.  What might have caught people off guard, though - I know I was - is just how damn good.

The term "space opera" will get thrown around a lot when discussing Saga, and for good reason.  It's a sprawling adventure with romance, war, intrigue, adventure, and any other descriptions you want to prescribe to the genre.  To parse the story down to bare bones, two alien races are at war, as alien races are wont to do.  However, because one race lives on the moon of the other race's planet, they essentially "outsource" the war to the rest of the galaxy so as to not cause any irreparable damage that might hurt their own home as well.  More specifically, we're told the story of Marko and Alana, lovers from each side of the war who wish to escape and live in peace.  Ideas are bizarre - television-headed robots having sex, the Lying Cat (who can tell when a person is lying, of course), spaceships made of wood and grown like trees - and the plot is suitably epic, but through Marko and Alana, as well as tangential characters, Vaughn grounds the story and makes it relateable despite its outlandishness.  It's equal parts funny, disturbing, violent, and clever, and you'll never get bored with an issue.

On the great comic book runs throughout history, the art has been as big a factor as the writing.  You can't talk about Stan Lee's Marvel work without Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and a host of others.  Dave Gibbons is as important to Watchmen as Alan Moore.  Grant Morrison's most classic works have artist Frank Quietly on board.  The art is more than just serviceable, it's integral.  That's what we get here with Fiona Staples.  The pages are beautiful, and Staples knows when to go "big picture" and when to focus on the details.  She designs the spaceships and aliens, and the synergy between the writing and art shows.  Whether it's quiet set pieces of characters talking, intense and gory action scenes (of which there are quite a few), or the most out-there characters, planets, or objects Vaughn can think to throw at her, Staples handles every panel, page, and issue of Saga beautifully, and it's impossible to imagine it looking any other way.

It's fun to see original creations that don't feel like they've been made simply by being churned out through some corporation.  There's a kind of excitement you get from something that doesn't feel as though it's being played safe.  That's how Saga feels.  Anything can happen, because Vaughn and Staples don't have to worry about selling action figures or making sequels (or prequels, or spin-offs, or remakes, or trilogies, or...).  The can do what they want, so that's what they do.  It doesn't have the overt political commentary of Ex Machina or the intricate look at gender and society that you'll find in Y, but it's smart, fun, and original.  It's a heartfelt adventure that will keep your imagination sparking the whole time, so what more could you ask for?  The best part is that both writer and artist are skilled enough to pull it off and make it work.  The collection of the first six issues is out now, and you can pick up the first issue for free via Comixology, so there's no excuse for not checking it out.  If you aren't reading Saga, you aren't reading comic books the right way.


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