Saga is the strangest, most twisted, perverse comic ever. It’s also the sweetest, most romantic comic ever. This is a story about a happily married couple, and a story in which the fate of many, many planets hinges on a romance novel. It’s funny and touching, and I did mention strange and twisted?
The premise for Saga is pretty simple. Alana and Marko come from different sides of a vast interstellar war. They fall in love, go on the run together, and have a baby, Hazel. Now they are trying to live on the run while dealing with a newborn. They aren’t trying to end the war or find a magic thingamabob or anything – they just want to adore their baby and figure out this diaper thing and be left alone. But the warring powers won’t stop chasing them, for fear that people will hear about this couple and see their relationship as a symbol that peace is possible.
What isn’t simple is all the insane stuff that happens and all the insane characters that show up. For instance, there is a babysitter who is the ghost of a teenaged girl. She was killed in an explosion in the war and her ghostly intestines dangle, glowing, as her torso, head and arms float through the air. She used to gross me out, but now I think of her like a sarcastic, gory nightlight – it’s strangely comforting.
There’s a hit man who seems pretty normal except that he’s accompanied everywhere by a large blue cat who knows when you’re lying and says so. At one point there is an actual, legitimate reason for this line to be uttered: “You’re going to ram a missile? With a plant?”
This comic is rated for ages 17+ which is not surprising as it is both sexually and violently explicit in very unusual ways. For instance, there’s a character who has a humanoid, naked, female torso, a humanoid, female face with eight glowing eyes, a giant spider abdomen and giant spider legs. I can’t even think of her without whimpering. There’s also an entire race of robot people with TV screens for heads. In one of the very first panels of the series, two of them are depicted having doggy style naked sex, which wouldn’t be that weird except for the TV heads.
But the thing is, all that stuff is sort of interesting but not what the book is about. The book is about hope, and relationships, and family, and survival. And the weirder things get the more normal they get, too. Of course the TV heads are strange, but it turns out that Prince Robot likes to read on the toilet just like anyone else. That explicit sex was happening because his wife is trying to help him overcome his PTSD (remember that interstellar war?). She’s pregnant, and he wants to fulfill his mission and find Alana and Marko, in time to make it home for the birth. The hit man suffers with unrequited love for the woman/spider character. All these weird beings are people, basically, with motives and emotions and needs. Only sometimes they have spider legs or TV sets for heads.
So, since this book revolves around the love story between Alana and Marko, let’s discuss. Alana and Marko met when Alana was a guard and Marko was a prisoner, and they bonded over a romance novel. Alana read it out loud to Marko and he loved it. Alana is a ferocious fighter, deeply protective of her family. She’s also a practical person. She’s impulsive and hot-tempered but she likes to think of herself as the pragmatic one – which she is, compared to Marko.
Marko is a pacifist. He uses spells to defend himself and his family non-lethally (this series has technology and magic). Marko is more of a dreamer than Alana. His thoughts on having a baby are,
“I know it wouldn’t be easy, but is there a better symbol for the terrifying new peace that you and I have forged than a child?”
To which Alana replies,
“A child isn’t a symbol, it’s a child! It needs applesauce and, and playpens and an ass-load of other things we can’t provide while we’re on the goddam lam!”
I just love that the first thing Alana can think of that a baby needs is applesauce. She’s not wrong; I just think they should line up some diapers before they skip ahead to applesauce. Alana and Marko are deeply devoted parents, but they haven’t got a clue about how babies work. They figure it out, though. And although Marko is a dreamer, he’s often right about how to handle things. Plus his spells are pretty kick-ass.
Alana and Marko as a couple are just made of win. They fight fair. They talk out conflicts. They balance each other. They have great sex, they make each other laugh, and they would do anything to support and to protect each other. When Alana meets Marko’s father, they have this conversation:
“It’s clear you love my boy very much”
“I haven’t always. At first, he annoyed the shit out of me. Marko can be a self-righteous ass, he has no idea how to sit still, and worst of all, he laughs at his own jokes.”
“Then why do you risk everything to be with him?”
“Because your son is so goddam beautiful”.
“Ha. I assure you, looks aren’t forever.”
“Oh, I know. I wasn’t talking about his looks.”
OK. I just…I…happy sigh…I have drunk of the Kool Aid that is Saga. Look at that art, you guys. Look at her face.
I adore the writer Brian K. Vaughan, but without the art of Fiona Staples this comic would be terribly diminished. She has the rare ability to create realistic faces and images and combine them with surrealistic images of alien landscapes. Her art is warm and wonderful and marvelously imaginative. And oh, BTW? The women and man come in various shapes and sizes, but they are all realistic. Marko is gorgeous with his shirt off but he doesn’t have crazy 12-pack abs. Alana’s breasts are proportional to the rest of her frame (bonus points for the fact that Alana refers to having “squishy bits” a few weeks after having given birth). When Alana and Marko are seen naked, or with shirts off, or, in one hilarious scene, in a towel, it’s for a specific reason, and most of the time they wear baggy, not very clean, practical clothes. They haven’t spent their time on the lam picking up spandex.
Here’s another great moment that combines romance and realism, and shows the chemistry and comfort between this couple in a single image:
I love this couple SO MUCH.
But seriously, before we all get too emotionally invested here (whoops, too late) I have to issue a warning. Brian K. Vaughan is a wonderful writer. Y: The Last Man and his time on Runaways were astounding. BUT, and I cannot stress this enough, his comics tend to end on heartbreaking or on bittersweet notes. I don’t know how Saga will end up and I cannot promise a HEA. I have tissues ready at all times, just in case, because unlike a romance novel where I have the intense comfort of knowing things will be OK, in this case I have no idea how this will all end up and it is freaking me out.
I have read the two collected editions of Saga (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). That takes me up through Issue #12 and currently it looks like the writers have published two additional issues. I like to read comics in collection as opposed to individually, so technically I can’t vouch for the most recent two issues. But I sincerely doubt that they suck because nothing I’ve read by Brian K. Vaughan has ever sucked although it has occasionally ripped my heart out, put it through a shredder, and converted it to compost. So there’s that. I could say, “Read Saga, everything will be happy” But then a big blue cat would glare at me and say:
So I won’t. But read it anyway. If nothing else, because in this book a rmance novel is the catalyst for personal and political liberation – and that’s exciting! For formatting purposes, I’m typing up this review as a review of Volume Two, but of course you’ll want to start with Volume One.
As Alana says about her favorite romance novel, “Just promise you’ll at least read the first chapter? I’m so jealous you get to experience it for the first time!”