SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Saga #1A comic review article by: Nick Boisson, Danny Djeljosevic, Nick Hanover
Nick B.: It is odd to read the first issue of a comic and immediately think, "This is the best new series of the year!" The last time I could think of this happening was with another Image title in late-2010, Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma's Morning Glories. But that had come out in August of that year. We aren't even halfway through March! And yet, as I closed Saga #1 and put the issue down (or, technically, my Kindle) on my little foldaway table, the only words that could come out of my mouth were, "That was fucking awesome!" A bit simple and most assuredly crude? Yes. That said, as I am writing this, all I can think is, "This book is fucking awesome!" Well, that and, "Why did Vaughan stop writing comics again?"
Danny: Ask me a year ago and I would have told you Brian K. Vaughan would never, ever return to comics -- sure, he made some great funnybooks in his day (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Pride of Baghdad) but he had seemingly left the medium for the greener pastures of Hollywood, where his "heat" wouldn't depend on whether he's writing Spider-Man or whatever. Good for him, bad for comics, so I actually started to give in to the temptation of deeming him one of those creators for whom the medium was merely a stepping stone to cinema. Then comes Saga to remind me that this guy fucking rules when it comes to comics. Guy must have been sick of seeing his scripts go nowhere in the big entertainment machine.
Nick H: I don't know that BKV was a sellout so much as someone who wasn't appreciated enough by fans to make comics a viable enterprise for him, Danny. It's no coincidence that most of BKV's best known works are titles that he basically built from the ground up, whether it was the proto-Morning Glories promising kids in danger book Runaways or the epic look at gender relations through the post-apocalypse that was Y: The Last Man. I mean, the guy got his start thanks to a Marvel program at NYU and immediately set about getting off of writing random Ka-zar annuals in favor of doing work that pushed mainstream comics towards more nuanced, well-crafted storytelling.
Danny: Very true, and here's what I really love about Vaughan's comics: not only are his most famous works outside the traditional superhero genre, but they're books you can easily give to potential readers to get them hooked. He's done traditional superhero comics, but they're nowhere near his most popular work. Even though one of his biggest books is Runaways, it's still not the average superhero comic.
Nick H: For me, this all boils down to a single question: Why the fuck did it take this long for BKV to land at Image? Saga is a pretty incredible debut that shows exactly why BKV devotees swear by the creator and it pairs him with the always appreciated Fiona Staples, making this a bit like Thom Yorke and Johnny Marr getting together to blow minds everywhere. The instant Saga begins, BKV is displaying pretty much every writing trait that makes him such a valued writer, from the chemistry between our star crossed lover leads to the way BKV throws readers right into the action without pages and pages of painful set-up and handholding to the completely unique but surprisingly simple conceit of the story. You can easily boil Saga down to one pitch sentence (it's Jodorowsky doing a fantasy sci-fi Romeo and Juliet, except this time they live and have a baby who may or may not destroy all of creation) and you won't be selling the experience short but even in this first issue there's an entire galaxy of well developed subplots, twists and ample ways for the story to unfold. Fuck the television renaissance, what we're witnessing is the return of an all too valuable creator to the medium that gave him his start coinciding with what is looking to be the continued ascent of comics' most important publisher. First Brubaker and Phillips heading to Image to do Fatale and now this? We're not worthy.
Nick B.: It's interesting that you bring up that fantasy/sci-fi aspect because that is something that really had me wanting to read this title beyond hearing who the creators were. Saga does such a remarkable job of taking many fantasy tropes and throwing them into a vast science-fiction universe. A warped fairy tale set in an all-out galactic war?! Yes, please!
It also has robot-people having sex. Really, it's something for everyone.
Danny: We could really need more sci-fi comics now, especially now that the sci-fi comics creator is dead. Saga has what I consider a pretty low-impact pitch compared to some of BKV's other work -- "It's, um, about these two people from opposite sides of a star war who have a baby and now they're on the run" -- but this first issue proves that the greatness of a story is all in the telling as the writer provides colorful character building details (our male protagonist refuses to take his sword from its sheath now that he's quit soldiering) and all sorts of fun, world-building elements like freelance mercenaries with cats who can sniff out lies.
But it's not just the sci-fi stuff that makes Saga a compelling read. Like any of Vaughan's work -- even high-concept stuff like Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina -- it's all about personality and scripting. From the hilarious dialogue ("Am I shitting? It feels like I'm shitting!") to characters like easily fallinlovewithable Alana (easily the next great "strong female character" in comics), the script to Saga is classic Vaughan. It's like the dude never left, y'know?
Nick B: And Vaughan making his way to Image is something of a no-brainer now that it has come. He had some fantastic work over at Vertigo and Marvel and even wrote a great arc on Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 for Dark Horse during his "I can write for comics and television" period (a period we all knew would not last). After all the work he has done, it would be strange to see him make his return at DC or Marvel, even if we all really want Runaways to come back (and we most assuredly do). And bringing Fiona Staples along for this ride has to be one of the finest examples of why Image is the place to be in comics right now, both as a creator and a reader.
Nick H: I was quite impressed with Staples' work here, I honestly believe this series might wind up being the best of her career. Which isn't to belittle her previous works, but something about the setting of the story, the characters and Vaughan's scripting seemingly allows Staples to go bigger and crazier. Sure, we get the aforementioned robosexual scene, and a meticulously detailed (and tasteful) birth sequence that makes the minor hubbub from a little while back seem even more idiotic. But we also get excellent character acting and costuming, as Staples really makes the universe of Saga come to life, with even the foot soldiers and swift victims standing out for their personality and unique looks.
Danny: Saga is a tough book to draw -- it's got action scenes, animal-human hybrid aliens and high drama -- but Staples renders it all expertly, even the old pantsuit lady with the unicorn horn that could have come off as silly as it does when you describe it. There's a danger of all these characters with weird heads looking stupid or veering too close (or at all) to DeviantArt furry yiff-porn territory, which nobody wants, but Staples gives her art in Saga a seriousness and gravity that keeps you from questioning the horns and wings.
Nick H: Saga is a work that is filled with gruesome violence and potentially horrifying situations, but it's a testament to Staples' skill that it never comes across as tasteless or gratuitous, instead it's all in service to what seems to be one of the series' pet themes, the way the world can set out to thwart love and innocence, and the destruction that can result from that. It's not a new theme by any means, but Vaughan and Staples have both made it feel new again and in Staples hands, you can see every inch of concern etched on these characters' faces, every moment of happiness and terror completely believable.
Danny: I'm afraid to resort to critical hyperbole (for once) but Saga is probably one of the most impressive debuts of the year by virtue of giving 40 pages of story for three bucks. Because of the amount of time Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples allow us to invest in the characters I'm positive anyone who picks up Saga #1 will stick with it.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter at @nitroslick.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine (drawn by Eric Zawadzski) will debut in Spring 2012.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.