Reviewed by Galen Strickland
The first volume of Brian K. Vaughan's Saga won a Hugo as Best Graphic Story in 2013. The second and third volumes were also nominated the following years, but lost out to other creations. 2015 was the first year I voted, and at that time I received Vol. 3 in PDF format, and bought the first two in paperback in order to better appreciate the story up to that point. Last year's ballot was heavily controlled by the petulant puppies, and Saga did not get a nomination. I had not read any further until Vol. 6 was nominated this year, with another PDF provided by the Hugo committee. I settled for Kindle versions of 4 & 5 to get up to speed, and recently re-read 1-3 to refresh my memory before continuing with the story. I would love to collect all in print one of these days, maybe in paperback, but there have also been two hardcover editions as well. I'll provide links for all available titles below.
It's a combination of science fiction and fantasy, hard to say which element is more prevalent. Lots of high tech, space ships and weapons, but also some magic, although that might also have a scientific basis. Set on far-flung planets in the midst of a very long war, the main characters are soldiers from opposite sides of the conflict, one a prisoner of war, the other one of his guards, who fall in love and escape. We get parts of that story in flashbacks, but the first few pages of the first issue is set several months later, and depicts the birth of their first child. Alana is from Landfall, the largest planet in the known galaxy, while Marko is from that planet's only moon, Wreath. I can't recall now how long the war had been fought, but many years previously the two sides had come to the realization that their struggle might cause the destruction of one of their worlds, which would spell doom for the other as well. Since then, the war had been waged on other planets, the inhabitants of which are forced to take a side. Even before he was captured, Marko had made the decision to be a pacifist, to no longer participate in the war. Alana came to be a guard on Cleave after a reprimand for being unwilling to kill civilians as ordered. She is inspired by her favorite book to join with Marko to oppose the war too. The leaders of both sides cannot believe either of them would ally with the enemy willingly, but when they learn a child has been conceived they do all they can to hide that information from the general public.
Landfallians are of different species, but all have wings, although some are rudimentary or vestigial. Alana doesn't even know her wings can enable her to fly until the last issue of the third volume, and then it is mainly out of fear and desperation. Marko's world is also inhabited by various species, but all of them have horns of different types, his resembling a ram. Their daughter, Hazel, has both horns and wings, but both differ from her parents. Many other planets and species are represented, and one might get the impression it is similar to Star Wars, but this is not a kid's story. Image Comics has described it as "Star Wars meets Game of Thrones." There is quite a bit of violent imagery, as well as nudity and sexual situations, with at least one issue initially censored on digital platforms for showing a same-sex couple in the throes of love. Vaughan had his original idea long before he began publishing comics, and was influenced by many other stories, including Star Wars and Flash Gordon. It wasn't until he and his wife were expecting their second child that he came up with his two protagonists. He has said the story is as much about parenthood as anything else, but wrapped in a genre story in order "to explore the overlap between artistic creation and the creation of a child." Fiona Staples is not just the artist, including pencil, ink, and coloring, she also designed the look of all the alien species, the planets, and space ships, so I think she can be considered a co-creator. The lettering is credited to the company Fonografiks, but a search indicates that is primarily the work of Steven Finch. However, Fiona letters all of Hazel's narration herself.
Vaughan says he won't continue the story indefinitely, even knows exactly how it will end, but no specifics as to how many more issues that might be. Hazel is the narrator, but it isn't clear how far into the future she is relating her journey. We see her birth, their flight across Cleave, and their escape from the planet on a wooden rocket ship. Along the way we meet the various factions hunting them down, including government/military agents from both sides, mercenary bounty hunters, and investigative journalists. Being a pacifist myself, I was intrigued by Marko's story, although he has to go against his convictions a couple of times and resorts to violence, but in those cases it is only because the lives of his family are threatened. In Vol. 3 they meet the author of Alana's favorite book, which depicted a romance across species lines. I had read previously that the author was based on Chip Delany, and there is a resemblance (even though D. Oswald Heist is a cyclops), but upon re-reading I thought it could just as easily be Heinlein, since he talks about all the people tracking him down to tell him how much his book has shaped their search for meaning in life. Marko's parents join up with them for a while, his mother, Klara, initially antagonistic towards Alana, but the influences of both Heist and Hazel eventually bring her around. After several issues where the family is separated, including a time jump with Klara and Hazel, now a toddler, imprisoned on Landfall, they are finally reunited at the end of Vol. 6. At the same time we learn Alana is again pregnant. There has been one more volume published since then, which I haven't read yet, and another scheduled for early 2018.
Vaughan has worked in television before, writing for Lost, Under the Dome, and the upcoming Marvel series Runaways. However, he has no plans for an adaptation of Saga, and says he purposely wrote it with themes that would not fit TV, as well as being very expensive to film, but I'm wondering if he would reconsider if offered enough money. After all, with Game of Thrones and other HBO shows, and American Gods on STARZ, there's really no limitation on content these days. Add to that, films like the R-rated Deadpool, the wild and crazy Guardians of the Galaxy, and likely Luc Besson's upcoming Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, it's clear that studios will spend all kinds of money on SF and fantasy. Whether a filmed version ever happens, I do like this series and want to continue reading it. It didn't get my #1 vote for a Hugo this year though. That went to Ms. Marvel, and there were a couple of others, which I hope to review soon, that placed above Saga's Vol. 6 as well. It's still good, although likely not to everybody's taste due to subject matter. Funny in spots, gross in others, sexy and provocative, never dull.
Here are the links to all collections, Volumes in paperback are six issues each, Books in hardcover collect three volumes. None of the volumes have individual titles.
Volume 1 (issues 1-6)
Vol. 2 (issues 7-12)
Vol. 3 (issues 13-18)
Book 1 (vol. 1-3)
Vol. 4 (issues 19-24)
Vol. 5 (issues 25-30)
Vol. 6 (issues 31-36)
Book 2 (vol. 4-6)
Vol. 7 (issues 37-42)
Vol. 8 (issues 43-48, due Jan. 2, 2018)
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