Brian K. Vaughan established himself as one of the best comic book writers of his generation with Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, long-form serials populated with sharply conceived characters, crammed with witty, whip-smart banter and braided with storylines knotted with provocative philosophical ideas and controversial politics and charged with emotion. Nobody wrote smart people better. Few wrote women better. He rocked at writing superhero stuff (See: Runaways; Dr. Strange: The Oath), and even Iraqi zoo animals, too (Pride of Baghdad). Over the past few years, Vaughan has concentrated on planting flags in Hollywood. He worked for three seasons on Lost and is currently developing a TV version of Stephen King’s Under The Dome for Showtime. Now he returns to the medium where he made his name with Saga (Image; monthly series), a sci-fi/fantasy that explodes out of the gate with the energy of a champion racehorse. It would be premature to dub it a masterpiece. It would be stupid to bet against it becoming one.
Set in a universe filled with ancient magic and high technology, Saga feels like what might have hatched if Vaughan held a gun to the heads of George Lucas in his prime and George R.R. Martin right now and made them mate in Joss Whedon’s bed. “Chapter One“ introduces us to a pair of lovers (and new parents) whose respective cultures – one based on the planet Landfall, the other on Landfall’s moon, Wreath – are embroiled in endless conflict fought on countless worlds throughout the galaxy, but never on the homefront. Realizing that the destruction of Landfall would also obliterate Wreath (and vise versa), both sides agreed to “outsource” their hate and hammering to other celestial bodies. “Some of the locals never stopped thinking about the battles being waged in their names on distant soil. Most didn’t really give a s—t.” Like most sweeping sagas, Saga is a romance set against the backdrop of a far away, so close war.
The story begins with the birth of Saga’s narrator, Hazel, and ends with a kiss between her fugitive Romeo & Juliet parents, and in between features kinky sex between robots trying to start a family. I was sold on this thing the moment that Hazel’s father Marko used his teeth to sever the umbilical cord and began arguing with his lady love – Alana, a pistol packing powerhouse who gets all the best lines – about the cultural practice (or “barbaric religious nonsense”) of “wing bleeding.” (Think: Circumcision.) Classic Vaughan. I am ready to follow this nascent family anywhere and everywhere… although my favorite characters in this chapter might be Vaughan’s gloss on Han Solo and Chewbacca, a gunpowder-hurling unionized mercenary named The Will and his sidekick, a giant cat that can sniff out lies. I suspect Hazel is Saga’s true hero. I also get the sense that it might be manymany issues if not manymany years before the story catches up to the point in the future from which she’s currently telling her autobiography. “From the very first day, I was pursued by men,” Hazel tells us. “All of them tried to hurt me, but only one managed to break my heart. Sorry, getting ahead of myself.” Looking forward to getting there – but the journey to that place promises to be eventful enough. Saga clearly has a reams of yarn to spin.
Saga is the kind of comic that you get when truly talented superstar creators are given the freedom to produce their dream comic… or when they decide to empty their imagination of stored-up ideas they’ve never been able to use… or when they sit down behind a typewriter without a plan or destination in mind and just roll with whatever weirdness and whimsy comes out of them. “Chapter One” has spellcasting mystics with ram’s horns and insect wings and their own fully developed language, swearing sentient androids with TV set heads, leviathan tortoises with lazer eyes and monstrous dogs that belch fire and obsequious tuxedoed alligator butlers, plus swords and ray guns and magical staffs and dragon bone metallurgy and mystery maps marked up with locales with evocative names like The Rocketship Forest, The Uncanny Bridge, and Murder Valley, all of which must be visited. And more. There is no kitchen sink in Saga, but there is a bubbling cauldron. And nudity.
Whether the series is a magnum opus passion project that’s been gestating in Vaughan’s noggin for years or a creative rummage sale that Vaughan is making up as he goes along, the reader wins, because Vaughan doesn’t do anything half-assed. His world-making powers are extraordinary. His storytelling – inviting; brisk; poignant; funny; pure fun – is even better. He makes it look effortless, and for him, by now, it probably is. Artist Fiona Staples is his equal partner. She brings this grab bag of geek exotica to vibrant life – and grounds it, too – with casual flair, expressive characterizations, and earthy colors. Steven Finch on letters and design is the special sauce that gives the gumbo an artsy zest. Saga is Heavy Metal eclecticism synthesized into a singular, sprawling narrative a la Cerberus or The Walking Dead – a vast sandbox built for neverending castle-building. Welcome back, BKV. Please: Stay awhile. GRADE: A