Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Fiona Staples
Lettered and designed by Fonografiks
Covers by Fiona Staples
Release Date: August 14, 2013
Cover Price: $2.99
It’s difficult to imagine a better return to creator-owned comics than Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) has had with Saga, the science-fiction/fantasy series described as a cross between Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Heavy on subtext, but just as rich in characters, world building, adult themes, and surrealistic humor, justifiably impressed everyone who picked up the first issue or the first trade. Not surprisingly, Saga received Eisner nominations for Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, and Best Writer just last month. It won all three awards. What Saga isn’t, however, is a series that can be picked up and read at random. Readers would have to go online for a recap and even if they did, their reading experience would be limited to only a superficial understanding and appreciation of what Vaughan and Fiona Staples have managed to accomplish with Saga.
Vaughan was (and is) nothing if not ambitious, setting Saga against a long-running interstellar war between two planets, Landfall and Landfall’s moon, Wreath. Vaughan based the appearance of Landfall and Wreath’s respective inhabitants on Judeo-Christian iconography, a fancy way of saying Landfall’s inhabitants, of which Saga’s female protagonist, Alana, is a member, resemble angels (they have wings and can fly), while the Wreath’s inhabitants, including Alana’s lover, Marko, resemble demons or devils (they have horns and antlers and wield magic). Alana and Marko initially met under inauspicious circumstances: She was his jailer, but over the course of twelve hours, they connected and fled.
Their attempts at starting a new life together proves nearly impossible, especially after Alana gets pregnant. Their daughter, Hazel, occasionally steps in to narrate the series, as she does in issue #13. Presumably, Hazel survived to adulthood, but in a universe where some characters linger on as ghosts, as does one of Alana and Marko’s makeshift crew, Izabel, nothing is certain. Given the forbidden nature of Alana and Marko’s relationship, not to mention Hazel’s existence, they’re being pursued by The Will, a freelance bounty hunter, Gwendolyn, Marco’s ex-fiancÃ©, and Sophie, an ex-slave girl under The Will’s protection (he’s far from the one-dimensional villains found in typical space operas). Another bounty hunter, Prince Robot IV, is also on their trail.
Each character or set of characters get their moment to advance their respective storylines in #13, but given the number of characters, it’s unsurprising that several make only token appearances this time out, a product of Vaughan’s approach to long-form storytelling which favors reading Saga in collected story arcs rather than individual issues. It’s not so much a fault, however, as it is an observation. Even then, Vaughan’s ear for character-building and story-furthering dialogue, plus an encounter with a bone-monster and, in the last panel, a meet-up with the disheveled author of one of Marko and Alana’s favorite books (a bit of commentary on writers and their inability to live anything approaching a normal life, obviously), add narrative and visual value to #13 (again for longtime readers, not casual ones).
As slim and thin as #13 feels at times, Fiona Staples art makes it all the more worthwhile. Some comics are meant to be read primarily for their narrative value, for the stories they tell, but the better ones are meant to be read at least twice, once for the narrative value as conveyed through dialogue and individual/collective panels and second purely for the inventiveness and intricacies of their visuals. Thanks to Staples, Saga falls into the second category. She draws simply in a pen-and-ink style, but distinctively. Even a casual reader won’t confuse individual characters on a page or in a panel. She also mixes clean, strong lines (for buildings on Landfall, for example) with more organic shapes (Alana and Marco’s spaceship, for another example). She also handles her own coloring and provides Hazel’s cursive script. In short, individually and collectively, with #13 no exception, Saga perfectly melds Vaughan’s narrative inventiveness and Staples’ artistic talent.