Tuesday, 4 July 2017

SAGA: NEW AGE SPACE OPERA by Brian Vaughn & Fiona Staples

The winged people of Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy, are in a state of perpetual war with the rams-horned people of their planet's moon, Wreath. But because the destruction of either planet or moon could wind up destroying the other, the war has been out-sourced across the galaxy, with planets and their creatures forced to take sides. This bellicose state of being becomes threatened when Marko, a Wreathian who is as close as one can come to being a conscientious objector, is captured, and guarded by Alana. Sparks fly, and twelve hours later the two are escaping together. And when Alana gives birth to a Hazel, a feat not believed possible by either race, the new family are pursued by both sides, neither of which has any interest in rapprochement.

Saga is an epic space opera which is the most entertaining thing I've read over the past two years. It's been billed as a cross between Star Wars and Game Of Thrones, but that's much too limiting. Writer Brian K Vaughn draws on familiar tropes, but what brings them together is the way they are used to tell stories which reflect on our present state, while constantly surprising with their innovation. The myriad, mostly humanoid, races include the Robots, androids with video monitors for faces, who, like most of the races in this galaxy are perfectly able to have sex with, if not procreate with, other races. There are mercenary assassins, including The Stalk, with an arachnid body. There is a Lying Cat, who says 'lying' whenever someone does. There is Izabel, a ghost with half a bodywho floats alongside the family. And D. Oswalt Heist, a writer reminiscent of the Man In The High Castle, whose offbeat philosophy seems to mirror the entire Saga itself.

But what makes it work is the way this inter-planetary chase, this violent existence, simply brackets the more human, as it were, problems. Marriage, parenthood, relationships, drug use, reality TV (Alana at one point is acting in a soap opera on 'open circuit'), love, sex, friendship, loyalty...all the things we expect epics to draw upon, and when it is done well, it reflects on us in ways we recognise. Artist Fiona Staples has a wonderful knack of moving from the mundane to the galaxy-busting which complements Vaughn's leaps of imagination and daring.

Saga is published in volumes which collect six issues of the comic. I find this the more satisfying way to read the series, because it operates on cliffhangers which would become too frustrating on a regular monthly basis. I've just finished Volume Seven, which may be the best, and is certainly the most powerful, since the start of the series. It appears to be a pause, a holding pattern, for the series, but really it is a book of losses.

The family has been reunited, and with the unlikely group they've gathered on their tree-based spaceship, they land for re-fuelling on the war-torn comet Phang. In fact they land in the middle of a group of meerkat-like creatures, one of whom, Kurti, becomes Hazel's friend and her first kiss. But pursuit is never far behind, and in the conflict a timesuck is released which threatens to engulf Phang. It's necessary to abandon Phang, and they want to take their meerkats with them, especially Kurti, but the meerkats believe their deity will see them through the crisis. I don't want to spoil this, but near the end of the story is a panel that made me think of Goya's Dog, and the final pages are stunning in their power. These are creatures who would fit the classic comic book definition of 'funny animals', yet Vaughn and Staples have given them life we belief in, and told a story which has the power to bring even cynical adults to teary sadness.

SAGA Volume 7
written by Brian K Vaughn art by Fiona Staples
Image Comics, £13.99, ISBN 9781534300606

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