September 26, 2013 by Jason Seligson
Comic book fans already know that Brian K. Vaughan is a master storyteller. But with Saga, his latest ongoing series—an epic space opera/fantasy tale—he’s somehow managed to soar to new creative heights. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have created a gorgeous and immersive world. Yet while the scope of Saga is expansive, the narrative is tightly-focused. Every single character jumps off the page—and when you add the fact that each chapter ends in true cliffhanger style, all the ingredients combine to form to make one of the best series out there.
At this point, Vaughan is a comic pro. Gaining his first writing credit with Marvel’s Tales from the Age of Apocalypse, he later went on to create his first monthly series, Y: The Last Man in 2002. The title received critical acclaim and launched Vaughan into the public eye—or at the very least, the comic book and television landscapes. Vaughan even caught the attention of Damon Lindelof, who was a huge fan of his work on Y: The Last Man. Lindelof went on to hire Vaughan as a staff writer in the third season of Lost, where he stayed for three years.
According to Vaughan, the seed for the idea of Saga has been in his brain since childhood. Citing Star Wars as a huge influence, he decided to build a science fiction universe of his own to live in. But despite knowing what the world looked like, it wasn’t until Vaughan was much older, specifically after becoming a parent, that he began writing the story; which makes perfect sense, seeing how Saga is about a couple, Alana and Marko, caught in the middle of a war, doing their best to protect their newborn daughter.
Narrating the story is an older version of Alana and Marko’s daughter, Hazel. “This is how an idea becomes real,” she says as we see her mother give birth on the first page. It’s a powerful statement by Vaughan—everything that exists has a beginning. But so is what Vaughan tells us next: “ideas are fragile things.” Hazel, though a symbol for many things in this story, most represents what all newborns do—the collective hopes and desires of parents who simply want a better life for her.
While it isn’t revealed how old she is in the future, Saga is essentially one long memoir from Hazel, including the story of how her parents met and fell in love. As Hazel tells us, her mother Alana is from Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy; while her father Marko was born on the much smaller Wreath, the native moon of Landfall. Wreath and Landfall have been locked in battle for quite some time. “If there was ever a time when these two got along, nobody remembers it,” says Hazel. Hence the problem of Alana and Marko’s marriage: not too long ago, Marko was captured and being held prisoner until he was released by Alana who slowly began falling for him. Now, they’re being pursued by the Landfall government and his majesty himself, Prince Robot IV. It’s all very Star Wars and Romeo & Juliet but trust me, you have never read anything quite like this before.
Saga is as much a fantasy as anything Vaughan has written to date, but it is also very much grounded in real emotion. One of Vaughan’s seemingly limitless skills is how he imbues Saga with so much humanity that it’s easy to forget the unfolding story involves robot princes and inter-planetary warfare. Saga is the kind of sci-fi that makes you forget what you’re reading isn’t real (and as a big fan of the genre, I mean that in the best possible way). It doesn’t matter that Marko has horns; or Alana has wings; or that robots use their TV screen heads to emote; these characters feel as real anyone. And like all great sci-fi, Saga has a lot to say about the world we live in. “I guess it feels like the farther I get away from Earth, the easier it is to talk about Earth and what’s happening there. I don’t know how to not write about the real world,” Vaughan said in an interview with The A.V. Club.
Vaughan has dealt with controversial sociopolitical issues in his writing before. His highly acclaimed series Y: The Last Man is about Yorick Brown, the last known surviving male in a global ‘gendercide.’ The series talked frankly about politics, gender, and sexuality. Saga is the same way. Vaughan doesn’t shy away from controversy, but nothing in his books feels like he’s getting on a soap box; at the end of the day, he’s just telling a story.
Vaughan’s words are genius, but part of what makes Saga his best work to date is the stunning artwork done by Fiona Staples. The pages of Saga are brimming with detail. No matter what type of scene—action, romance, or strange robot sex—Staples leaves her unique stamp on every panel. Art has always had a big influence on how comics are perceived, for better or for worse; and Saga unambiguously falls in the former category—the artwork elevates the words. Even as a devout fan of Vaughan’s, I can’t imagine the story working nearly as well without the visuals to go behind the story and that’s a true testament to Staples’ talent.
As she is the only narrator in the story (and given that Saga is still early on in its run), we don’t know what Hazel’s future holds. But her closing narration in Chapter One gives us a lot to think about: “I started out as an idea, but I ended up something more. Not much more, to be honest. It’s not like I grow up to become some great war hero or any sort of all-important savior…but thanks to these two, at least I get to grow old. Not everybody does.” Saga is Vaughan’s biggest idea yet. Even though he is already revered in comic circles, my hope is that Saga will eventually attract an even more diverse readership so that perhaps in time, Brian K. Vaughan will become a household name.