For seemingly a thousand years, comic book enthusiasts have applauded the diversity, storyline and artwork of this science fiction fantasy tale of two star-crossed lovers and conscientious objectors from opposite sides of an intergalactic war between the Wreathers and Landfallians. As chapter 38 opens, we find Alana and Marko lamenting on when they originally came to make the comet their home after landing on Phang in search of fuel, which happened six months prior to the events in this issue.
Part Star Wars, part Romeo & Juliet, and borrowing heavily from many fantasy epics, Saga originally jumped off in 2012. Written by Brian K. Vaughn and beautifully illustrated by Fiona Staples, this Image Comics series has won numerous Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
I am somewhat embarrassed to say that it took me some time to get around to reading this offering. I am one of those comic book readers who is still biased toward superheroes and other graphic novel cliches. It was this realization that reminded me to put aside any preconceived notions and dive in. And, boy, am I glad I did. I come in on issue #38 and read up to #40, and I'm getting the overwhelming urge to go all the way back to issue #1 and read forward.
As the issue opens, Alana is pregnant with her second child after giving birth to the adorable and precocious Hazel back in chapter 1, and she and Marko are running from the authorities from both sides of the war. Since Chapter 37, Alana and Marko have allied themselves with a race of furry creatures. These creatures have become like an extended family to the protagonists, but the creatures themselves are actually war refugees.
Though cute as all get up, young Hazel is at a rebellious stage as well and is seen using her growing magical powers to kill bugs to the delight of her friend Kurti. Her malicious deeds are discovered by her babysitter Izabel, the ghost of a teenage resistance fighter killed by a landmine on planet Cerves who became attached to Hazel's soul when she was still in the womb as part of a deal with Alana to save Marko's life and get off the planet where she died. That connection is what allowed the once dead Izabel to manifest herself full into the living side of existence.
Tiring of Izabel's admonishments, Hazel throws a tantrum, as any child would. For her part, Izabel is eternally grateful to the child's parents for allowing her to see worlds she never dreamed of seeing. It is this loyalty that pushes the phantom volunteer herself for a scouting mission to the Robot Kingdom embassy in search of rocket fuel in an effort to leave the planet at the behest of Sir Robot IV - one-time enemy who has turned ally, for now.
Very early on it is clear that writer Brian K. Vaughn is a master at making the readership empathize with the connections between characters. Loyalty, love and family are consistently explored. Indeed, it is very necessary that certain bonds are fully fleshed out.
That way, the twinge is all the more telling when he violently rips them from the storyline. Through all the cuteness of young Hazel, and the furry "Disney-licious-ness" of the victims, this is a book about war, death, pain and resilience. Thus, the cute characters have to go through some really bad things. While on her mission, Izabel comes across a bounty hunter in pursuit of Alana and Marko named The March. The two-headed brute quickly surmises that Izabel is connected to the family due to knowledge of her spiritual nature. Unbeknownst to Izabel, the March has weapons that can not only bind her, but destroy her, and it appears to do just that after Izabel refuses to relinquish the whereabouts of her loved ones.
As #39 begins, Hazel is struck with a deep pain and tells her parents that her connection with Izabel has been severed. As is often the case when children speak, her parents immediately try to comfort her rather than investigate the validity of her concerns.
Meanwhile, The Will, a Freelancer who has long been in pursuit of the love birds, receives a message from his agent advising him that he has been fired and his license to kill has been revoked. Because of that, his lance weapon has been disabled right when he is in the middle of a life or death fight. The March, who we now know has been hired to replace The Will, arrives at the Robot Kingdom embassy in the aftermath of a brutal firefight and comes across the dying ambassador to Phang.
He tells The March of a secret that will cause the deaths of everyone on Phang, participants from both sides as well as the planet's nature inhabitants. As naughty children often do, Hazel and Kurti have developed a habit of pushing the boundaries of privacy of adults around them and have developed a habit of watching Sir Robot IV's dreams as they flash across his cathode ray tube head as he snoozes. His dreams are often carnal in nature and actually center on an unrequited lust for Alana that confuses him.
Awakened from his dreams by the children, he ingests a drug called Fadeaway as a way of dealing with these confusing feelings he has for a woman he once hunted. Toward the end of #40, he looks as if he's about to force himself upon her, but points the gun at his own head when the pathetic nature becomes an epiphany for him that may have been caused by the assassination of his wife.
I love how the story increasingly becomes about Hazel as she ages, and that she now narrates much of the arc. Beautifully illustrated, consciously diverse, Saga deals with many issues of diversity, war and pain, while providing a humanist view that is allowed to be purer than that espoused in reality. It illustrates love without shying away from the consequences of love, nor the hard choices it presents.
Beautifully drawn and with bright and joyous color patterns used throughout, Saga is a joy to look at without the words. But, when you add the story, you see why it's one of the most heavily awarded comic book series of the past three years. Saga is just that, a tenuous journey of emotion, ethics and love disguised a a sci-fi/fantasy comic book.