Saga: The Space Opera I’ve Been Looking For

Saga 1

Saga is space opera at its finest, telling the story of a star-crossed relationship against the backdrop of a sprawling intergalactic conflict. The couple are from opposing sides in the war, and are being hunted down as traitors, since their union proves peace between their races might be possible.

Saga: Volume 1 collects the first six chapters of the ongoing series by writer Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, which started in 2012. Volume 1 introduces us the continuing war between the inhabitants of the planet Landfall and its single moon Wreath, as well as to the series’ main characters Alana and Marko. Alana, a winged Landfall soldier, and Marko, a horned prisoner who can wield magic, become the focus of a manhunt when the two disappear together after meeting on the distant planet Cleve.

Landfall and Wreath began outsourcing the war when both sides realized the destruction of one would mean the other would spin out of orbit, destroying it as well. While peace had now come to the planet and the moon, the war never stopped as other planets and other species were required to pick sides and continue the conflict.

When the story begins, Alana and Marko have been on the run for months after their escape from the prison. And if that wasn’t enough to keep them busy, Alana gives birth to their baby just as the authorities catch up with them. Now that there’s evidence in the form of their daughter Hazel that their two races can create viable offspring together, the hunt for them takes on a new urgency. 

Saga 2I really liked how the story of Alana and Marko’s relationship doesn’t start with them meeting for the first time. Instead of exploring the first flush of romantic feelings and their inner conflicts about being with someone from the opposing side, Vaughn starts the story right in the middle of their maturing relationship at a new beginning point: when they become parents. Most often the central mystery with a romantic story is how the two lovers get together. Not so with Saga. The thing we don’t know at the end of Volume 1 is how Alana and Marko get together, and I found that mystery to be much more compelling.

Pairing the stress of being new parents with the challenges of escaping multiple bounty hunters is new territory for the space opera genre. I enjoyed getting to learn about Alana and Marko as they debate parenting strategies while running through sewers or navigating a spaceship-growing forest. It was refreshing to see these characters disagree, but still have to work things out in order to protect their child and keep each other safe. Alana and Marko’s relationship is nuanced and more adult in ways that we don’t often see represented in other stories about romantic relationships.

Staples’ artwork matches the sweeping scale of Vaughan’s story panel for panel. She gives us a visually diverse and imaginative set of aliens, robots, and spirits that populate the world of Saga.  Staples doesn’t shy away from combining ugly or horrific qualities with sexiness or cuteness, making the world feel fresh and unpredictable. My particular favorite is the scarily chopped-in-half wraith Izabel, drawn with her intestines clearly visible, who is great at caring for Hazel.

Staples has also created distinctive clothing and styling for each of her characters that makes each new page a delight. Alana’s aqua-green swoop of bangs and tan poncho and Marko’s grey trench paired with low-slung distressed trousers would be equally at home in the sketchbook of an up-and-coming fashion student as they are in Saga. The scenic settings are often kept smeary and evocative, putting all the focus on the characters’ detailing. I really liked this strategy, as the details of the environment never competed for attention with the characters. It left the backgrounds free to set the emotional tone for the scene, which Staples did masterfully with color and gestural shapes.

Saga: Volume 1 is a satisfying entry into this sprawling story. I thought it was a welcome advancement in the space opera genre and I will definitely be reading more of the series. Six collected volumes of the comic have already been released, and the next comic in the ongoing series, Saga #38 will be released September 28.

//Images via Image Comics and Science Fiction Book Review.

Kate Gorman is editor of Art & Literature on Paper Droids. She is also the author of the speculative fiction novel ON THE ICE, the screenplay and creative how-to collection INT-EXT, and the locative fiction audio walk series GREENWAY QUARTET.