Review: Saga: Book One hardcover (Image Comics)

I'm picking up with Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga again after six years, thanks to among other things the book taking a hiatus and the announcement of a set endpoint when it returns, and also the three handy three-in-one sub-omnibus hardcover books that make the otherwise-nine paperbacks more manageable. Though this is ostensibly a review of Saga: Book One, since I previously reviewed Saga Vol. 1 (issues #1-6) and Saga Vol. 2 (issues #7-12), this review will focus mainly on the final third of the first compendium, being issues #13-18.

[Review contains spoilers]

Obviously I enjoy Saga immensely, though I still rate the first six issues ahead of the second, as I still felt the second six issues contained a fair amount of filler. Yes, we see Marko's childhood and some of how Alana and Marko got together, plus The Will rescuing Sophie (nee the Slave Girl), but the jaunt to the planet that cracked like an egg still felt largely for lack of anything to do with Marko and his mother during this arc (besides allowing Staples to draw a giant's giant testicles).

The third "volume" returns to feeling more immediate, less passive, in that it contains more forward action and no flashback — discounting that the first four chapters are themselves flashback in the sense that we're seeing how events unfolded in between the end of issue #11 and issue #12. Vaughan uses time in this book masterfully, in the sense that issue #12 took place over the course of a conversation, probably not more than half-an-hour, and then the entire span of issues #13-18 is said to take place over about a week, leading up finally to the narrative present. Like an accordion, the story stretches out in the span of #13-16, then smooshes back together for the fast action of #17-18.

Among items of note in this third arc is that Vaughan introduces quite immediately in issue #13 two tabloid journalists following the story of Alana and Marko. Given Saga's stated structure along six-issue arcs, Upsher and Doff's up-front introduction is clearly purposeful; indeed as the reporters inquire about Marko and Alana issue by issue, we see Saga's scope broadening from a story simply about star-crossed lovers on the run to one with larger social and political implications for their world — with this arc, the story is expanding. For me, the most shocking (and understated) revelation to come out of these sequences was the suggestion that Alana is a spy (though, I imagine, unknowingly); this is presented as so obviously false (a lie to dissuade the journalists) that my gut feeling is that it's true.

The third arc also furthers the partnership between bounty hunter The Will and his Lying Cat, Marko's ex-fiancee Gwendolyn, and the young Sophie. They get the most screen time apart from Alana and Marko and family, making them obviously more than just base antagonists; clearly they're a family too, with even some one-to-one analogs to those they're hunting. An oft-repeated line in this arc is that Alana and Marko "have a family to think about now," and if indeed a theme of this book is how a having a family changes the relatively normal Marko and Alana, surely we'll continue to see an even greater shift in how having a "family" changes a bounty hunter like The Will.

The significant magic of Saga remains — aside from Vaughan's ear for dialogue and the auspicious combination of sex-positivity and raunch — the way in which Vaughan and Staples combine science-fiction with the mundane. One main character has horns, the other wings, but there's still a scene of Alana doing laundry with what seems to be a regular washing machine, detergent, and a laundry basket. Upsher and Doff track down Alana's step-mother and find that Alana grew up among the well-manicured lawns of suburbia, goth-ed out in teenage rebellion at her father's remarriage. After The Will's spaceship crashes, he has to wait on hold to talk to an insurance claims adjuster for repairs. Even the Star Wars on which Saga leans heavily had, by use of droids and holograms, a certain distance between audience and story; when Prince Robot IV has to pump gas into his spaceship at a gas station, Saga enters the running for the most relatable "alien" story yet.

Toward the end we get a vague outline of where Saga goes from here, with Alana and Marko considering ways they might stop running and support themselves. One suggestion is by way of joining the Circuit, an odd conglomeration of traveling soap opera featuring superheroes, in which Alana once dreamed of participating. My hope is this isn't it, actually, either not at all or not for too long; though it's been a while too since I've read Vaughan's Y, The Last Man, hooking up with a troupe of traveling performers feels a bit too Y for me, something where I feel I already know Vaughan's storylines and themes more so than doing something else entirely — though, of course, Saga's been great at every turn so far, so I'm not particularly worried either way.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Saga: Book One

Saga: Book One includes a rather significant 40-page behind-the-scenes discussion of almost every aspect of the book's production, from story conception to covers, script, art, lettering, and printing. Far from too much insight into how the sausage is made, the real affection that the whole team has for the book (including Fonografiks and Image publisher Eric Stephenson) shows through. There's also a six-page Fiona Staples sketchbook, too short by far. Given so much detail, I'm curious then what they'll do for an encore at the conclusion of Saga: Book Two.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Saga: Book One
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)


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