Rating: 3 stars
There’s a war raging across the universe, started by hostility between the winged inhabitants of the planet Landfall and the horned residents of its satellite Wreath. To prevent the destruction of their planets, both sides have outsourced the war, so now it is fought everywhere else but Landfall and Wreath.
I borrowed the first five trades of the comic book series Saga from a friend a while ago. Every time I’ve published a review in the interim, he’s been disappointed that it hasn’t been about Saga. We met up recently and I felt bad about not having read it yet, so I brought it up the list. My husband was out on a work do, and the football had replaced Coronation Street, so I binge read all five in one evening.
Volume 1 opens with Alana, who is from Landfall, giving birth to her child with Marko, who is from Wreath. The first chapter is mostly exposition, explaining about the war and about how this pair who should be enemies have ended up together. A bounty is placed on them soon after their daughter’s birth, and their existence becomes one of survival and eluding capture.
Hunting them down are two Freelancers, The Will and The Stalk, a pair of bounty hunters who have history, and Prince Robot IV from Landfall who has some kind of glitch in his CRT head that shows interesting images on his screen.
In trying to escape Cleave, the planet where Marko was fighting in the war, the new parents encounter Izabel, a Cleave native who offers to help them out. There is, of course, a price to pay for her help.
I enjoyed the cheeky humour and the swearing of this first volume. Fiona Staples’ artwork is striking, and Brian K Vaughan has created a believable alternative universe. Alana is feisty and determined to protect her baby. Marko is a bit of a bumbling tool at times, but he’s tolerable, especially when he loses his temper. There were elements of the universe that made me think of Star Wars, particularly the hybridisation of species, the R&R place called Sextillion that The Will visits, and the long term war that rumbles on in the background. I’m not titillated by illustrations of sex, words describing sex have more of an effect on me, but I imagine some would find the inventive sex scenes erotic.
It’s a good introduction to the series, and I quickly picked up Volume 2 after I’d finished it.
Volume 2 gives more of Marko’s backstory and provides The Will with a pair of new sidekicks, one of whom is Marko’s ex-fiancée Gwendolyn and the other a six year old girl with remarkable powers of perception, whom The Will names Sophie. She’s a sex slave working at Sextillion, having been trafficked by her parents to pay a debt. This is fairly gritty stuff.
Escaping from Cleave, Marko, Alana, Hazel and Izabel are joined by Marko’s parents, which creates its own difficulties, but also has some benefits.
There are some pithy observations on the nature of war, and the acceptability of collateral damage within war. The book Alana has been reading is shown to be an anti-war allegory. Marko continues to do his best to be a pacifist. All this while violence continues to swirl around the universe.
I found myself wanting to know more about Alana’s past. How she came to be drafted. Why her wings are useless. What happened to her to make her so feisty. Volume 2 wasn’t the place to find that information, though. So I moved on to Volume 3.
Volume 3 brings us to the home of the author of Alana’s talisman book, D Oswald Heist. We meet him briefly at the end of Volume 2 and learn about his immediate past, the loss he suffered that inspired his allegorical novel. Alana believes that he has the answer to the question of how to end the war.
Something of Alana’s past is revealed. The reasons for her self-reliance become apparent. She’s pretty much your archetypal kid from a broken home, looking for a way to belong at the same time as trying to escape.
The Will, Gwendolyn and Sophie have some adventures on a planet that doesn’t want them to leave, leaving The Will close to death. Marko, Alana and their family have a briefly cosy time with Heist at his lighthouse. Prince Robot IV suffers an improper reboot and loses his mind as a result of Gwendolyn tracking Marko down for help with a spell to heal The Will. It’s all very busy and suspenseful.
On the face of it, Volume 4 is more settled. Alana, Marko and Hazel are living on a neutral planet. Alana is acting in an ongoing car crash of a soap opera, and Marko is bored at home. This brings out a little bit of commentary about the division of labour in a relationship.
Meanwhile, Prince Robot IV is living it up at Sextillion while his wife gives birth. An underclass of robots is in service to the royal family. One particularly disgruntled servant, Dengo, challenges the Princess one evening, providing an opportunity for Vaughan to comment on the chasm that divides rich and poor.
Settled isn’t easy for a family on the run to maintain, especially not a family where both parents are bored by regular life. Alana embarks on a bit of substance abuse, while Marko flirts with a bored housewife. Things kick off, and events conspire to separate Alana and Marko, and to bring together two unlikely allies.
Volume 5 begins with an essay on how war affects the poorest in society worse than the rich. It’s a broad stroke picture of modern warfare fought in far distant places, at a remove from those who don’t have to think about the consequences. Until someone becomes disgruntled about the fact that they are mere toys in someone else’s game, is radicalised, and brings those consequences closer to home.
Despite the violence, swearing and drug taking, Volume 5 felt a bit like an apologist tract for liberalism. It was a little bit preachy at times, a little bit hand wringy.
There was enough action and plot development for me to forgive it, though. The violence, swearing and drug taking across the piece are what lifted it out of the moralising doldrums. And the artwork is outstanding.
I believe there are two more trades in the series, and at least two more to come after that. I’m interested to see where it’s going.