I came around to Brian K. Vaughan by a backwards route. I knew he had been involved in the later seasons of the television show Lost. Later, he was mentioned in relation to the television adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome (first season was good; second season was not). When I began listening to podcasts such as The Ming & Mike Show and I Sell Comics, his name was mentioned often during discussions about the comic book series Y: The Last Man and this one, Saga.
Here’s what I know about Saga as I begin reading Volume 1, which collects the first six issues of the series, published in 2012. It’s a space opera/fantasy story written by Vaughan and illustrated by artist Fiona Staples. It’s won numerous awards, including the Hugo. Both Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen recommend it.
That’s it. I’m going into this unsullied by any preconceptions about it. As I’m reading the story, I’ll dissect it here, with commentary. If I’m enjoying it, I’ll continue on, of course. Volume 9 is being published in September 2018, taking the story up to Issue #54.
And now . . .
This is a splash page showing a female face in profile, in extreme closeup. She appears to be in some sort of distress. Her green hair is in disarray and spit and sweat seem to be flying from her mouth and forehead.
There is a sentence at the top of the page, possibly narration.
NARRATOR: This is how an idea becomes real.
The woman in the panel says, “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!”
Right away, with the use of coarse language, I know I’m in unfamiliar comic book territory. None of the comic book heroes I followed growing up used this kind of language, or, if they did, like Wolverine, it was represented as a series of typographic symbols. @#$%!
A male figure has his head under the female character’s dress. The female is lying on a table and is obviously having a baby. This is a medium shot. There are objects in the background that I don’t really recognize, machines maybe, and what appear to be electric lights. There’s also a large vase or pot of some sort and a brazier. In the foreground, a couple of pots with bubbling liquid in them. We’re not getting a good look at the male yet, since his head is under the dress, but, in addition to the green hair, the female has what appears to be diaphanous green wings. The wings themselves seem too small to allow flight for a character her size.
MALE: “Just keep pushing. We’re so close.”
FEMALE: “Seriously, you’ll never have sex with me again if I defecate all over you. Unless you’re secretly into that. Please don’t be into that.”
NARRATOR: But ideas are fragile things.
Closeup on the male. He has ram’s horns on his head and ears like a goat. He’s smiling and otherwise handsome. He also wearing what appears to be a wedding band on the ring finger of his left hand.
MALE: “You have never been as beautiful as you are right now.”
NARRATOR: Most don’t live long outside of the ether from which they were pulled, kicking and screaming.
FEMALE: “Right, because nothing’s more lovely than a fat woman spread-eagle in the back of an old body shop. It’s like something out of a fairy tale or . . .”
NARRATOR: That’s why people create with someone else.
FEMALE: “AHHHN Holy Fuck!”
MALE: “Do you need a healing spell? We agreed, Alana! No shame in managing pain!”
Yay! The mom’s name is ALANA.
NARRATOR: Two minds can sometimes improve the odds of an idea’s survival.
Closeup on Alana, eyes closed.
“It—-ehn—doesn’t hurt at all. It . . . it feels good. Is it sick that it—ehn–feels so good?”
The male character appears to be crying.
NARRATOR: . . .but there are no guarantees.
Alana says, “You’re crying. You never cry. What’s wrong? Marko, what is it . . .?”
The character we now know as MARKO is holding the newborn baby, the umbilical cord still attached. The infant has little nubs for horns. Marko is still crying, but he’s smiling.
“It’s a girl,” Marko says.
Alana takes the infant from Marko and gives it her breast. There’s something else you never saw in the pages of Action Comics back in the day.
Marko says, “She’s perfect.”
The winged mother says, “Look, she’s gonna have your horns.”
“And your wings,” Marko adds.
“But what’s up with those eyes . . .?”
“They’re not the same green as mine,” the new mom continues. “Not quite your shade of brown either. They kinda change depending how you . . . Marko! What the hell are you doing?!”
“Cuhhing thu mbilical?” Marko’s words are garbled because he’s trying to chew through the umbilical cord.
“You have a sword! You are wearing a sword!”
“I made a vow, Alana. I’m a father now, not a soldier, and that blade is never again leaving its scabbard.”
Marko bites into the cord again. “Rnnf. Wasn’t expecting . . . this much gristle.”
“Well, Pico,” Alana says. “That’s your daddy.”
“Pico?” Marko asks. “What happened to calling her Beatrice?”
“Honey, Beatrice is a name for a good girl. Does this look like a boring good girl to you?”
“It’s just, Pico means something kind of . . . filthy where I come from.”
“Well, we don’t have to make a final decision until her wing-bleeding.”
“What?! No way! You said when we started this – no politics, no history, and no more barbaric religious nonsense!”
“Wing-bleeding isn’t religious,” Alana says, “It’s cultural.”
“What is cultural about mutilating an infant?”
“Are we really having a fight now? Because that’s how we ended up making this one.”
There is a loud BANG from outside.
Both Marko and Alana look towards the closed garage door.
“What was that?” Alana asks.
“I don’t know. The grease monkey I paid off swore we’d have this place to ourselves all weekend.”
A voice that I’m imagining as mechanical or synthesized (like one of the original Cylons, maybe) comes from outside the garage.
“Private First Class Alana, you are under arrest for abandoning your post and aiding the enemy.”
“We’re dead. We’re dead!” Alana is panicked.
“Steady on,” Marko advises. “That door’s made of dragon bone. How long will it take your people to get through?”
“Three minutes? Less if they have a blueblood with them.”
“This is Baron Robot XXIII of the Coalition Forces, commanding you to surrender at once.”
We get a medium shot of the characters outside the garage. Baron Robot XXIII appears to have a cannon for a right arm and a television set for a head. He’s dressed in what appears to be an archaic military uniform, with a long epauleted coat and high boots. There are four other characters visible, three with more futuristic-looking uniforms and wings. Large birdlike wings, like Angel from X-Men, not like Alana’s little fairy wings. The fourth character appears to be a monkey-man dressed in overalls. I can only assume that this was the “grease monkey” Marko mentioned earlier.
Here’s where I’m going to stop the breakdown of this volume today. It seems to be a good spot. We’ve just had a childbirth scene and we’re about to have some sort of showdown. I’m not sure what’s going on yet, but Vaughn and Staples are giving me all kinds of hints and doing some serious worldbuilding here. There’s a definite science fiction/fantasy vibe.
Here’s what we know. Marko and Alana are hiding out to have their baby. Alana has deserted her post and is being accused of aiding the enemy. I’m going to make the logical leap and assume that Marko’s people are the enemy. This is a Romeo & Juliet story. There’s talk about spells and magic, dragon bone and wing-bleedings. A robot with a television head has come to arrest Alana. Marko wears a sword. There seems to be a definite clash of time periods and genres here. I’m intrigued.
I’ll post more as I read ahead.