Forgive me if I don’t take relationship advice from a dead teenager missing her vagina.
The above, acidic riposte from Alana, winged fugitive from the planet Landfall, is typical of the black humour that runs through the first volume of Saga, a SF/Fantasy comic book series written by Brian K.Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staple. It tells the reader exactly how crazy it’s going to get: enjoy the madness or get off the ride.
And what a fun, exciting ride it is. Saga is the story of Alana and her horned lover Marko, who are from two different sides – not to mention species – of a galaxy-spanning war. After Alana gives birth to a baby girl, they find themselves under attack from armed forces from Freefall, under the command of the monitor-headed Baron Robot XXIII. The narrative then follows them as they make for the beautifuly named Rocketship Forest, with freelance agents hot on their tail. While Alana and Marko are the main characters, several intriguing storylines run alongside theirs. We meet a plethora of exotic and bizarre characters, including the Will and his Lying Cat, the spiderlike Stalk and the brutal Prince Robot.
Vaughan has said in interviews that he borrowed from a variety of sources, including Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet and Game of Thrones. The appearance of the Stalk is rather like that of the Empress of the Rachnos from Doctor Who, so perhaps this was also an influence. Stories with a lot of reference points can run the risk of lacking an identity. Happily, the world of Saga feels very distinctive and engaging. It is dark, surreal and playful without ever tipping too far into whimsy. Vaughan very quickly has us sympathising with Marko and Alana and he isn’t scared of teasing the reader as to whether they will both survive to the last page.
It would be unfair to review Saga without mentioning the outstanding artwork is by Fiona Staples. She plugs into the bad-acid-Lewis-Carroll style of the narrative to create fantastical, striking designs for all of the characters. Many of them seem to have come from a surrealist painting by way of a Lady Gaga video and none the worse for it. There are many memorable images, including the huge heads on stocking-clad legs that greet visitors to Sextillion and the two monitor headed robot people making love in a scene that wouldn’t seem out of place in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. She brings charm to Marko and Alana, an aesthetically appealing couple somehow rendered more so by the addition of horns and insect wings respectively. The backgrounds are less distinctive but I feel that is a deliberate and smart move, responding to what feels like a character-lead story.
Sometimes Hollywood blockbusters can give the impression that comics are all about superheroes and villains slugging it out in huge, half-destroyed cities. Works like Saga show just how much more to the medium there is.
I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in Volume Two.
My next read: Alexander McQueen: The Life & The Legacy by Judith Watt