Saga / Brian K. Vaughan ; Fiona Staples
I’ve been trying not to review comics unless they are completed, but I wanted to review this one so here you go.
One of the reasons for this review is that Saga placed very well on the ALA’s most frequently challenged books list.
One of the most common reasons it was challenged represents a hilarious misunderstanding of the story at its most basic level. I’ll address that later.
The other most common reason is “unsuited to age group”. Considering the “for mature readers” label and the fact that the first line of dialogue is “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting” I’m really wondering who these complainants think the target audience is. Part of the fault here is probably on libraries who keep graphic fiction with YA and/or J fiction (I’ve worked in libraries where this is the case. At my current library we have a John Le Carré novel classed in LC class K (Law), so there’s obviously a continuum of how seriously fiction gets taken). The other problem is the association of comics with “kiddie stuff” which hasn’t been true in the history of the genre. There have always been comics targeting adults, and since the 80s at the latest more “mature” fare has represented a huge chunk of the market.
These must be the same people who complain about how R rated movies and Mature rated video game are inappropriate for children.
Overly basic plot summary
There’s a lot going on in Saga but this will keep it as simple as possible.
A war between a planet and its moon has been going on for generations. To save their local environment, most of the combat has been outsourced to other worlds. Marko and Alana are two soldiers on opposite sides of the war. After Alana breaks conscientious objector Marko out of the POW camp where she works as a guard, the couple find themselves on the run, hunted by both sides. Then they have a baby.
So how is it?
At the risk of hyperbole, Saga is one of the best things I have ever put in my brain. This is sff at its absolute best, and a landmark achievement in its medium.
There’s a lot to talk about here. The setting in particular is absolutely amazing, featuring a whimsical imagination combined with a great sense of adventure and some serious pathos.
The characters are exceedingly well designed, from the lovers on the run to the blue blood Prince Robot to the scene-stealing Lying Cat. They populate a universe with a fantastic diversity of characters in a universe that’s familiar (bored housewives buy bodice rippers from supermarket checkout stands) yet also unfathomably bizarre (one of said bodice rippers is about a couple who spends most of their time playing board games and ordering takeout).
There’s some fantastic details there: the moon dwellers have their own language that is fictional but that anyone with basic familiarity with a Romance language should have no problem deciphering. It’s that blend of exotic with the easily understandable that makes Saga so great.
It’s a serious, heart-wrenching story here that’s not above absolute silliness (wait until you learn what the opposite of war is …)
The third volume of Saga features the most emotionally powerful single page I’ve ever seen. In my most recent reread I had to put it aside for over a week before continuing. I cry just thinking about it. (Full disclosure: I also cried while rereading Shards of honor recently. So it doesn’t take much).
Saga is a space adventure with serious heart, where the line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is exceedingly fine. Not because the good guys are grim badasses, but because the “bad guys” are just regular folks.
There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of Saga as well, but I don’t want to spoil it.
I realize I still haven’t mentioned the artwork. Staples is great and the art is wonderful and is vital to making the story work.
The other reason why Saga has been challenged is that it is “anti-family”. Saga. A story about a man and woman struggling to raise their baby in the face I overwhelming opposition. A story whose most obvious theme is “family is important”.
I can’t help but think that there’s a racist component to that complaint.
Saga is amazing. It is also very violent and “perverse”. There’s no denying that this is a “mature” title but as much as it revels in excess it’s not gratuitous. It’s a must recommend even for those who don’t normally read the format. I’ve won over more than one non-comics reader with Saga.
It’s explicit which might be a stumbling block but it’s not intentionally offensive so I’m generally more willing to take a risk and recommend this one.
It’s something I encourage everyone to try for themselves.