Book Review: Saga (Volume 1) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

TL;DR – epic sci-fi series that centres on two individuals from opposing alien races that manage to fall in love against a backdrop of a never-ending war that spans the galaxy. When they manage to conceive a baby girl that has physical features from both their kind, they know their daughter symbolises a hope that threatens the war. Hunted by both sides, they do the only thing they can think of… they run.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Alana and Marko are on opposite sides of a galactic war. A war that has raged beyond their two worlds and expanded to other alien races who have been forced to pick a side. Volume one contains the first six issues and focuses on Alana and Marko’s forbidden relationship and the birth of their daughter. Their family representing an aberration that could change the political landscape forever.

Review

Saga has been described as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones”. That certainly is an ambitious undertaking. While this Eisner award winning graphic novel series certainly is epic in scale with a large cast of characters, it was for me more a Romeo & Juliet story as opposed to a Game of Thrones one (note: the Star Wars side is definitely captured in terms of the sci-fi elements and the multitude of alien races).

The story opens with Alana screaming her head off as she gives birth to baby Hazel. Her husband, Marko, is there and it is just the two of them in an old body shop. Immediately, there are questions that floated through my head: Why are they in a body shop and not a hospital? Why is it just the two of them? Where are the nurses? The mid-wives? The doctor? And why does the baby have horns?

If I had been paying attention to the art instead of racing through the first couple of pages of dialogue, the answer to the last question is obvious. Marko has horns; big, curling ram horns that would make Princess Leia’s hair stylist proud. But wait, Alana doesn’t have horns. She has wings; delicate, gossamer, emerald wings sprouting from her shoulder blades.

As volume one unfolds, it is revealed that Marko is a Wreather and Alana is a Landfallian, and Wreath and Landfall have been waging a war that has spread throughout the galaxy. We learn that their love is a definite no-no, and the fact they have a child together could turn everything on its head. Thus they are hunted by their respective sides in an attempt to prevent the rest of the galaxy finding out. It’s a Romeo & Juliet story on a galactic scale.

Landfall sends Prince Robot IV while Wreath sends a mercenary named The Will. The prince comes from an alien race that has a human body but a television for a head. I don’t know if there is some deeper meaning behind this though it is interesting how the television heads of the robot race display various images to convey emotions. By contrast, The Will appears like an ordinary man but with an extraordinary pet known as a Lying Cat (a giant feline capable of detecting when someone lies). Later, we see that The Will may look ordinary but he is exceptional at killing.

Volume one concludes with Marko, Alana and Hazel escaping Cleave, the mud planet where they met, fell in love, and Hazel came into being. But not before we learn a bunch of things about our lovers and the hunters seeking to track them down. Turns out Marko was engaged previously to a girl named Gwendolyn. He was naïve about fighting for Wreath (his eyes opened when he was thrown into the horrors of war) and made a vow to never unsheathe his sword in combat. Eventually he breaks this vow in order to protect Alana and Hazel and laments that his action will have consequences (violence begets violence).

Alana is revealed to have been indoctrinated into the idea of romantic love from reading trashy novels (think ‘Mills & Boon’ stories). She idiolises the author, D. Oswald Heist, who wrote her favourite trashy novel titled ‘A Night Time Smoke’ and believes there is a hidden message within its text. Heist lives on a planet called Quietus, and it is there that they aim to travel to.

Meanwhile, Prince Robot IV has been assigned the mission to hunt down the pair after just having served a two-year tour of hell. All he wants is to be with his wife and start a family. However, it is his father who requests he undertake the mission, much to his frustration. Following the trail of Marko and Alana, he encounters The Stalk (another mercenary hired by the Wreathers to also hunt down Marko and Alana and retrieve Hazel and happens to be the ex-lover of The Will). In a moment of panic, Prince Robot IV kills The Stalk thinking she is going for her gun.

The Will commences his own hunt to find Marko and Alana, but decides to not bother when he finds out from his agent that the Wreathers have also hired The Stalk. He instead ventures to Sextillion (a planet-size brothel) intending to sleep with whores but discovers a more insidious scene beneath Sextillion where children are being used. We find The Will does have some sort of moral compass and seeks to save a little girl but fails to free her. He then contacts, The Stalk, in hopes of partnering up with her to split the reward for killing Marko and Alana and retrieving Hazel (his plan is to buy the little girl’s freedom trapped on Sextillion). But he finds out that Prince Robot IV has killed The Stalk (he’s actually on the line talking to her when she gets shot). Now, The Will has two goals: free the girl from Sextillion and kill Prince Robot IV.

The multiple storylines are engrossing and the art by Fiona Staples is impressive. Worth the read for adult readers and shows publisher Image Comics are willing to explore stories that branch outside of the mainstream superhero/villain comic book form.

4 out of 5.

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