Hey, guess what? “Saga” is really, really good.
Some minor spoilers ahead…
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Fiona Staples
The Will finally has a good day.
While billed as a sci-fi love story of survival between star-crossed lovers from two alien races, the mercenary character, The Will, has been perhaps the most complex and interesting character in “Saga”. This issue focuses completely on Will and his attempts to rescue a very young girl from slavery on the overtly perverse world of “Sextillion.” We open on a stand off between him and some of Sextillion’s denizens for the life of this girl which includes a bravura curtain call from a character we wouldn’t have expected to see again. Alas, there’s a twist to the whole affair and things are not what they seem. But of course, this is Brian K. Vaughan and this is “Saga”, so instead of it feeling like cop-out, it’s a layer of complexity added to The Will’s character.
Because of The Will’s extracurricular activities while on the job, we also get to know Marko’s former betrothed, Gwendolyn. She’s an agent of the Wreath High Command sent to check up on The Will. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Vaughan turns her into a complex, intelligent character in just a few pages of engaging dialogue. Every good story has compelling characters, but it takes a real master of the craft to inform us on a character from so many angles. Through an unforced dialogue with The Will, we learn about where she’s come from, what her motivations are, and even a little bit about her ancestry. The way she speaks and the way she’s dressed convey her as someone important and and successful. We then see her being resourceful and confident as she helps The Will in his quest to recover the child. We’re introduced to a unique-looking character with a history, she’s given reasonable motivations, and then we watch her actions live up to her initial presentation. Man, Vaughan makes this comic book writing thing look so easy.
But she also has identifiable vulnerabilities. We see this when the subject of Marko inevitably comes up. Vaughan is a keen observer of life and the way that people read one another. On the other hand, for the sake of comedy, he’s content to allow Lying Cat to just call out bullshit. And what a fantastic addition that Lying Cat is. It’s such a simple concept: a cat who can pick out lies. But that simple trapping adds to the uniqueness of the world and the ability of the dialogue to engage. It’s dialogue that actually bounces, because there’s this oddball little interloper who’s there to help or frustrate our characters. A elegant little chaotic neutral element that adds to the experience.
And what more can be said about Fiona Staples, who continues to outdo expectations and create a visual product that is entirely her own brand. “Saga” owes a lot of its initial charm, if not most of it, to its almost homespun quality. Fiona Staples is doing the linework and the coloring and, with a planned month off, has been entirely on time with it as a monthly book. That’s incredibly impressive, but even if she weren’t on time, this is a package that is wholly worth waiting for. If “Saga” were to feature fill-ins or take on help and went on to lose the sole visual ownership of Fiona Staples, it would be a weaker project. Luckily, this doesn’t feel like that kind of creative team and this isn’t the kind of book. that does fill-ins. “Saga” is so clearly a labor of love from these two creators. Love that is being shouted from the rooftops.
But enough about the production – let’s talk about what is so damn impressive about these visuals. From the very first page, Staples’ designs on Sextillion stop you in your tracks. Armed guards with eyes on their chests, tongues protruding from unlikely places, and costumes covering grotesqueries that you could only imagine thanks to what you actually are allowed to see. It’s almost too much to bear, which is surely the point when one is crafting a world so decadent and obscene as Sextillion. But even in the (relatively) normal looking characters, every line has its place. Whether it’s wrinkling a brow for a facial expression or the fold of an outfit giving way to some specific body language, everything looks as elegant or as disgusting as it needs to be and always conveys the proper emotion. When Lying Cat hisses at a sleeping Will, it’s entirely catlike. When the overconfident Will is out of his comfort zone or in a rare moment of shock, you can see it all over his face. Deliverance of emotion is a clear specialty of Staples, but then again, what isn’t?
We’re only nine issues in and Vaughan has taken the plot into so many unexpected directions. There are plot points and possible backstories that are just sitting there in case Brian Vaughan ever feels like he wants to flesh them out. They give the world a fullness that most other comics lack. He (and Staples’ wonderful art) drop little details that give us the impression that this world is fully realized. And if he never fleshes some of this stuff out or leaves it to your imagination, what we are getting is so interesting that it doesn’t matter. “Saga” is just that engrossing. And engrossing is really the best word you could use.
Believe the hype. “Saga” is made of the stuff that the very best comic runs of all time are made of and is likewise a world you never can see enough of.
Final Verdict: 9.6 – You’re buying this, aren’t you?