Saga, Vol. 1
by Brian K. Vaughan , Fiona Staples Image Comics, 2012
The Saga saga seems to be a graphic novel favorite among readers who don’t ordinarily read graphic novels. The buzz on it has been very good since the series began, and the Goodreads and Amazon ratings high. It was even recommended to me, and friends don’t usually do that.
So I read Volume 1 and…ehhh…
I admit the story moves, the artwork is good, the characters are diverse and rounded; they are not clichés. The themes are adult, dealing with moral ambiguity, parenthood, sex, and love. There’s no juvenilia; the sex scenes are frank. There’s a sly, snarky sense of humor.
So why didn’t I like it?
Because none of it made any friggin’ sense.
Saga is set in a sort of space opera universe as depicted on the covers of 1930s and 1940s pulp magazines. Robots, magic, mythological creatures, and spaceships all co-exist. As in Star Wars, this galaxy is long ago and far away. There’s an intergalactic war going on which is never explained, as in who is fighting for what and why. One side utilizes winged humans as mercenaries, and they wield firearms and ray guns. The other uses horned humanoids, and they use swords and magic. Graphically, this is intriguing, as in the “Wings” have insect, bat, bird, etc. wings, and the “horns” sheep, gazelle, bull, and unicorn horns. All are different, and individuals. (Which, if they are actual species, doesn’t make sense, but none of this really makes sense.) The trouble begins when a Wing woman and a Horn man have an affair, then desert their platoons and run away together with their newly born daughter, causing consternation on both sides.
Why this miscegenation is so alarming is never explained. I can guess it’s because *gasp!* having both wings and horns, the child is destined to become this universe’s equivalent of Satan, or whatever.
So, the Horns hire a bounty hunter known as The Will to bring the couple back, while the Wings ask a character called Prince Robot to do the same. Prince Robot is from a planet of robots who all have video moniter heads, but human bodies… they even have sex, doggy-style being a preferred position. Again, this is not explained. Nor is this monarch’s name. Are all the royal family called Robot? What about the plebian robots? It’s like having a human king named Mr. Human or Mr. Man. Do robots nurse their young? If not, why does the female robot have breasts?
Anyway, Prince Robot goes on the hunt for the deserters, and he’s really not a bad sort. But he runs into a bounty huntress called The Stalk who’s also after the runaway couple. She has the form of an enormous spider at least 8 feet in radius, topped by the armless torso of a multi-eyed goth chick.
The character is supremely creepy when encountered at the turn of the page, and of course the reader’s reaction is negative. But then, it turns out The Stalk is the sometime girlfriend of The Will, both belonging to the Bounty Hunter brotherhood, or something, and when Prince Robot shoots her, The Will is pissed. He vows revenge on the Prince, who is appealingly clueless… sort of like French comedian Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hurlot. But despite his being one of the “bad guys” The Will has more of a moral compass than you’d think. When he visits an interstellar brothel, he’s offered a ten-year-old girl to torture and rape. Disgusted, he shoots the brothel’s owner and takes the girl away so she can have her freedom.
This kind of moral complexity… along with the WTF’edness of the universe, and the clever writing… is what kept me reading, just to see how it would all turn out. But, it was all a bit too silly for me. The dialogue at times was too self-consciously hip and sitcom-like, as in one exchange where the couple, being alone and frightened, play a truth-or-dare game with each other, and the woman says “I enjoy the taste of my own breast milk” in response to some question. It was so out there it was almost a parody of itself, like something you’d see in Heavy Metal magazine mocking the psychedelic, boob-heavy stories that appeared earlier in that magazine’s publishing history.
At the end of Volume 1, when the couple find a forest of rocket trees (yes, rocket ships, fully furnished, that grow like trees) and blast off to safety, I said “Hmm, that’s what all the buzz is about” and closed the book.
But, if anyone else wants to check it out, go ahead. Maybe what bothered me about it wouldn’t bother you.