-Review by Paul Ewbank-
Image Comics are totally owning the world of sci-fi comics right now. Image have always had some quality titles under their belt, and with the likes of Prophet and this, Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga getting into full swing in the last year or so, they really are showing Marvel and DC who’s the new boss of creative, intelligent comic books.
Though they’re both space faring sci-fi epics featuring aliens, wars and giant bug eyed monsters, Prophet and Saga couldn’t be more different in style and tone. Prophet is a dark, mysterious tale full of the vast emptiness of space, where action and story are often second place to sheer otherworldly awe and horror. Saga is all about the action. Its premise has been described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones meets Romeo and Juliet and while that’s a pretty lofty set of titles to compare yourself to, it definitely gives you an idea of where Saga is coming from. Set in a never-ending, galaxy spanning war between two rival species, Saga is the story of Marko and Alana, soldiers on enemy sides who meet, fall in love and go on the run from both their former races, who see their union, and the child they bore, as abominations. Alana is a native of Landfall, and her winged humanoid race are far more technologically advanced than Marko’s home world of Wreath, who are more primitive but masters of magic and swordfighting. So yeah, magic and ghosts and fantasy inspired monsters share this universe with spaceships and robots. Saga starts with the birth of Marko and Alana’s child, who narrates a lot of the action as her older self looking back. By dropping you straight into the action, and by using such familiar, recognisable reference points, Saga is able to hit the ground running, bypassing tedious setup and throwing you from one big set piece action sequence to the next. Said action is varied, inventive and has a habit of ending on some big cliff hanger to keep you turning the pages at a good old rate. One minute you’re in a spooky haunted forest, next you’re in a frantic deep space dogfight around a decaying planet with a giant space baby at its core. Despite its flaws, which I’ll get to, Saga is never dull.
Though there’s plenty of gore and some real menace to some of the creatures and settings, Saga is almost defiantly anti-dark; the sense of adventure and excitement are palpable and the typical brooding angst you might expect is totally unaccounted for. Fiona Staples’ artwork reflects this light, vibrant tone with a vivid, colourful style and gleefully weird character designs inspired by both classic alien stories and high fantasy. There’s a race of robots with giant TVs for heads and an Edwardian fashion sense, hookers who are literally just a massive pair of legs with a head, and an assassin for hire who is halfway between a beautiful blonde and a giant spider. Frequent use of full/double page panels really show off the glorious art style and are used well in a narrative sense to hold your attention at significant or shocking moments.
Both the writer and illustrator of Saga are clearly fans of such ‘big moments’- turning the page to reveal a twist or surprise or just something really nasty- and unfortunately the trick suffers from diminishing returns pretty quickly. The first time a main character gets shot only to be absolutely fine 3 panels later it was suspenseful and cool. The third time it was annoying. And we’re only two volumes in. Vaughan is gonna have to think of some new tricks for the next volume or it’s really gonna get stale. A bigger problem is his attempts to shock his readers with graphic sexual imagery, because he comes across like an immature teenage boy a lot of the time. I’ve never been sold on the idea of grossing people out in the name of ‘art’, but here it’s not even done cleverly. I would’ve loved to have been present when some of these decisions were made. I can only assume they went something like:
“And then they get attacked by a giant Cyclops.”
“And the Cyclops has massive balls.”
And that’s not even the worst bit (skip this paragraph if you find this kind of thing offensive). The aforementioned Robots have random images appear on their screens/heads every now and then. If there’s any logic to what these images are I’ve yet to figure it out, but at one point Prince Robot IV displays an image a bunch of willies ejaculating onto a guys face. FOR NO REASON AT ALL. Urgh, for goodness sake, grow up.
This immaturity also finds its way into the character depictions, especially the women. Marko is a likeable, unique character who is a total badass despite being a committed pacifist. Alana is pretty much the stereotypical hot black chick to the letter. There’s still potential for her to develop but for the time being one half of the main duo is pretty boring and prone to saying things no actual women would ever say. The supporting cast are pretty awesome though. A bounty hunter called The Will (‘The’ being a title much like Sir or Dr) has a sidekick called Lying Cat, who is a giant blue cat that says “LYING” whenever anyone doesn’t tell the truth, to often hilarious effect. In volume two Marko’s parents show up and are fairly unimpressed with his running off with an enemy soldier, and the family dynamic works well. But like I said before, the main point of Saga isn’t building a unique premise or deep characters, its telling a gripping, fast pace yarn and filling it with as much cool stuff as possible. And on that you can’t really fault it.
Despite the gore and tiring sexual nonsense I’m happy to recommend Saga to pretty much any fan of Science Fiction. Those who appreciate a bit of rollicking space opera over deep concepts and hard science will be especially entertained. In a time when so much of the comic industry is broody, convoluted and dull, the fast paced action and light hearted fun of Saga is a true breath of fresh air. It’s no classic, yet, but definitely worth a look.