Ben’s Review: “Saga” (1-6) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The first six-issue arc of Saga, Brian K. Vaughan’s new creator-owned comic book series, concluded last month. It’s not fair to judge a comic as a whole on its first six issues, but, nonetheless, this first story of Saga left me cold.

Saga is set in the midst of an galactic-spanning conflict between the planet Landfall and its moon, Wreath. Two races, each with distinctive non-human features (wings and horns respectively) have been battling each other for generations. But because the planet and the moon are dependent on each other to maintain a stable orbit, the armies outsource the conflict to other planets, turning them into enormous, hellish battlefields and leaving Landfall and Wreath planets relatively unscathed. The entire galaxy, it seems, is affected by this conflict, and there is no end it sight.

The story centers on Alana and Marko, two deserters from either side of the conflict, who, in the first issue, are on the run. In the first pages, Alana gives birth to the couple’s first child, who is an uncommon hybrid of the two warring races. People in high places on both sides of the war view the child as a threat and want the parents murdered and the child taken in custody.

The story is occasionally narrated in first-person by Hazel, Alana and Marko’s daughter (whose birth we witness is the first issue), from an indeterminate point in the narrative’s future. In frequent in-panel asides, Hazel will comment on events that are happening in an oblique, sage-like way. These asides underscore my biggest concern about Saga: tone.

I have no idea what the tone of this story is. Hazel’s narration is dramatic, with a lot of emotional introspection about the nature of family and insights about the other characters. However, the actual world of the story and the characters who inhabit it don’t cohere with this emotional tone. Moments that could be dramatic are undercut by strange attempts at humor and levity, and truly violent and dark moments occur abruptly with little narrative follow-through. The story is unfolding, and I anticipate that we will learn more about the strange behavior of these characters in later stories, but for now I’m left with a large cast of characters that I care almost nothing about.

The reason I don’t care about these characters is because I don’t know who they are. Much of the characterization feels very surface-level, in a frustrating way. Everyone, from Hazel’s mother Alana, to the crazy freelance murder The Stalk, talks like a teenager (in addition to the actual teenager in the story, who is also apparently a ghost). Each character speaks with an affected, cavalier, pseudo-witty comical tone that undercuts almost every moment of genuine drama. The dialogue and character attitudes recall the snarky, referential speech patterns of Joss Whedon, but the story does not yet have the strength of character and emotional core to support it. Again, there have only been six issues, and there are certainly pages and pages of story left to tell, but, to be frank, I just really don’t care about anything that happens in these first six issues.

One highlights of Saga is the art by newcomer Fiona Staples. Her line work is heavy, almost sketchy, and she is able to evoke the scale of this universe, the gleeful weirdness of the character design, and satisfying facial emotion with her pencils. The art is colored in a deceptively simple, almost pastel style. Saga is a beautifully book too look at. I was continually impressed with Staple’s art, even when the story fell flat.

The first issues of Saga do all of the things we would expect from the first part of an epic–it introduces us to the principal characters, the world they inhabit, the conflicts they’re likely to face going forward–but in a fairly bland, uninteresting way that left me with a book that I’m even sure I want to continue reading.

Saga 1-6 gets two pieces of lasagna.

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