Saga – #1
Names are interesting things in that they have a way of transcending the meaning normally attached to the words that they consist of. For example, think of most band names and the profundity they bring which is utterly out of place coming from a series of other-wise plain phrases. Over the past few months there has been only one name on the lips of comic book geeks globe-wide, the sheer mention of which would evoke excitement and epic imagery in their minds. Brian K. Vaughn, a veritable master of long-form storytelling on the page or screen was returning after Y: The Last Man with yet another awesome tale, this time at Image where his biggest ideas could fly free: From the previews it seemed that there was going to be an entirely imagined universe trapped in a terrible eternal war, one where there was magic, there were aliens, they would have battles and trapped in the middle a pregnant pair of tragic lovers, who would breastfeed! It was going to be huge, that much we knew for sure, and all of that expectation was trapped inside the two little syllables of an otherwise everyday word: Saga.
So sure, calling your book Saga is basically the equivalent of calling it Book or Comic which would without a doubt render the whole thing as more than a little mundane and yet it doesn’t, thus the magic of names. Strangely though this is not the only one of the names associated to be entirely on the nose, the protagonists get off lightly, as do their races (though Wreath is almost too Druidy) but the supporting roles are strewn with silly names: the partly mechanical people are known as the Robots and their leader Prince Robot the Fourth, the unstoppable freelance fighter with the Macguyver-esque ability to always finds a way out is called The Will, he also owns a lying cat which is quite literally a big cat that can tell when people are lying and then there is the name at the centre of the comics mystery, that of the baby. The overarching narration of the issue is all to do with the christening of this cross-breed child, the spawn of two sparring peoples, and although the seemingly most obvious answer is averted – Hope is too corny a title even for these two – they finally settle on one that is actually even more literal; Hazel, after the shading of her eyes. I almost wouldn’t have been surprised had someone shown up called Name, or for that matter The Nose.
None of this is lazy writing though, nor is the involvement of wizards, aliens and other beasties a sign that this is any less serious a story that Vaughn has given us in the past; it’s simply a matter of intonation. There is something subtly farcical about the world in which this tale takes place; not the way that Vaughn treats it, but the way that it treats itself. From the final result of the books opening fire fight to the map that leads our main characters through to the issues close there is something comedically contrived about the entire comic, but never in a negative way. The simplest explanation for this feeling would be to say that it is like that of a fairy tale, but that seems something of a reductionism in this current climate of Grimm oversaturation, though it is close. I guess a better comparison would be with the pulp stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs – The John Carter of Mars series – and the lineage of ludicrous, large-scale storytelling that they stemmed from; Saga is then, quite literally a saga.
This book though is not for children, or at least it contains far too much nudity and violence for most parents to happily let their kids read it. Though it’s important to note that none of this is glorified; the nudity is not sexual, even when it is depicting sex, and the gore is not glorified, it too will fail to turn any readers on. Saga is simply realistic: sometimes people don’t wear clothes (You involve nipples in breastfeeding? Perverted!) and at other times they die ( Casualties? In a war? Just wrong!), all of these things happen in our own world and so it only makes sense that they would here too. This connection is actually what saves the comic from miring in all that aforementioned cartoonishness; certainly the world that Vaughn has created is an interesting one and though the two warring worlds are uniquely established our own culture still bleeds through quite blatantly in things like the couples wedding rings. They may have wings, horns or monitors for heads but these characters are all humans at their core; thus the ways in which they act and speak are real rather than contrived for the sake of the comic medium.
Saga is such a fitting title for many more reasons than we ever could have known before reading it; Yes, it looks set to be a big, expansive adventure – a story, a tale and a history – but more than that it is a book that also happens to know just what it actually is: that it is a piece of writing, a story structured by an outside hand, a tale told by someone and a history conceived entirely inside one man’s head. This combination of cynical, modern meta-knowledge and the innocence of storytelling’s earlier iterations is inherently fascinating to me. So while I do have to admit that I’m not yet entirely sold on the story, it’s a fun framework but still a little too simple for me at this stage, but the style in which it is being told has kept me more than intrigued; much like a name has next to nothing on the surface and holds everything in its implications. So I could wax rhapsodical about the reasoning behind nomenclature all night but there are more important things that we could both be doing: in my case it’s going to my comic store and slapping my name down for a running order and for you it is signing your initials to the inside cover of your own copy of this issue, if there are any left unsold.