Flicker flames and haunted faces
Shuffling feet find empty spaces
Moving shadows, someone's hurting
Huddle closer, campfire burning.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Saga #1 Vaughan/Staples

How often do you get to be at the start of something special? How can you tell this is the birth of something which will blossom and have significance for years to come?

If you’re reading the first issue of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga, you know this from the narration.

Like How I Met Your Mother, Saga is narrated from many years into the future; unlike it, its story is told by a girl whose parents are on opposing sides of a gargantuan galactic war. It’s a war so big, it can’t be confined to two nations, races, or planets. It’s spread across the galaxy, sweeping up peoples and places who’d otherwise have been left alone. We meet a few of these over the course of the first issue: a rat-tailed mechanic, a clan of robotic gentry, a cat who can smell lies.

We also meet protagonists and antagonists whose morals at this time are difficult to tell apart. This is a war between horned and winged peoples wielding magic and technology respectively, but their motives are murky and their causes indistinct. Both are alike in indignity; they are the Montigues and Capulets of another universe who draw noblemen and assassins to stab at our heroes, a star-crossed couple whose love for one another brokered peace and, in turn, conceived a child.

Saga’s inspirations are easy to spot. There are hints of Star Wars and Romeo & Juliet, the myriad races are taken from the pages of high fantasy, and Fiona Staples’s melancholic, whimsical artwork calls to mind classic European surrealist comic designs of Heavy Metal and the late Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. Staples is at her best opening panels into truly cinematic vistas, showing the war in full swing, or following a space-faring pod through planetfall. With such diverse subject matter at times it almost feels like there’s too much going on, but then, Vaughan and Staples are introducing an entirely new universe, something they show with great gusto as they pull back to display the whole galaxy before crashing from one solar system to another.

It’s at times like these the narration comes in handy. Though our narrator is only a newborn in this first issue she still has a great future ahead of her. Her birth gives us a focal point in the middle of all this strangeness, a very human story in the midst of inhumanity. Her words flow around the action, giving readers something to hold onto while we’re bombarded with images and ideas.

And there is a very human feel to it, particularly in the opening panels where our heroes bicker about circumcision, what to name their baby, and--in an opening line that has already become infamous--whether or not the mother has crapped herself while giving birth. Even the cover is an image of her breast-feeding, which, if not unprecedented in comics, is certainly very rare.

As issue one comes to a close it’s difficult knowing where the story will go next. Vaughan has laid some very obvious trails as to our next destination, but as with the map our protagonists follow there are too many distractions to stick to the path ahead. Saga might be ostensibly about a couple struggling to raise a child in the middle of a war, but with so many planets and possible destinations on offer, why would we want to stick so closely to them every step of the journey? We’re offered a little insight as to what might lay off the path--who can resist a couple of robots doing it doggy style?--and it just makes Saga’s universe seem more daring, more dangerous and more enticing.

We still have a lot of road to cover. Vaughan’s previous comics have asked a lot of questions and held a lot of mysteries; in Saga the whole universe is a mystery, and based on this first issue, one well worth unravelling.

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