“Shot Through the Heart” is a weekly segment in which I rant about a story that means the world to me. Each week we’ll go over a film, book, short story, or game that touched me in ways that are hard to put into words without them just turning into word vomit. This week I’m going to get into the best Brian K. Vaughan series – Saga!
Sometimes you get in on the ground floor of something. There’s an incredible feeling to being able to share this wonderful thing with everyone around you and an increasing frustration when most of them don’t care about it. It’s the way of fandom and I’ve grown to be okay with it, but the few that get on board with you make the experience worth it.
I was first introduced to Brian K. Vaughan back in high school, where a friend insisted on lending me the first volume of Y: The Last Man (don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a later essay). I wound up devouring it and eventually hunting down his next original series, Ex Machina. I was a die-hard at this point and enjoyed his superhero output when I got around to reading it. The guy is weird and has some crazy takes on meta-storytelling, use of references, and character creation. His particular interests are clear – gender roles, class systems, power struggles, and survival stories. Almost all of his tales take this tone, and he really hammers it home.
None of this could prepare you for how beautiful Saga is.
Powerful juju is at work from issue one, with Marko and Alana (our hero and heroine) immediately introduced during childbirth in the center of a wild world we don’t understand. There are winged-monkeys, robots with blue blood (no subtlety here), and two warring worlds that have completely dehumanized each other in their respective societies. Alongside this, we get bounty hunters, alien species, and tons of conscious beings caught in the crossfire. Massive world-building and massive factions are one of the big draws. This was billed originally as Game of Thrones meets Star Wars, and in some ways, that’s the reality of the situation. Complicated plots within plots, larger than life characters (seriously…King Robot), and absolutely gorgeous design. That’s not what keeps you around, though. That’d be the characters.
Our hero family deals with a lot in this series, from drug addiction and racial prejudice to built-in penchants for violence. Depression, sex, and fear are all wrapped up together in a deep character study that reveals true issues between family members and the groups needed to help them raise a child. Babysitters, grandparents, friends, and even drug-peddlers join in to shape the life of this kid.
You see…Hazel wasn’t supposed to be. She’s the offspring of a winged woman from the planet landfall and a horned man from its moon, Cleave. The two consider each other animals and have been at war further back than almost anyone can remember. The Landfallians are aided by blue-blooded robot people, notable for their television-set-heads. When the young child is born the rumors spread, and freelance bounty hunters are called in to hunt them down. This little kid states (from a future narration) that she didn’t save the universe and doesn’t even wind up all that important, but what she represents is important because she proves that both sides aren’t quite honest with themselves when it comes to their opponents. She represents the potential for peace.
The metaphors in this are broad as all hell. No one is trying to shade any meaning, instead leaving it all out in the open for digestion. None of the characters are fully good people (few exceptions) and none are fully evil (few exceptions). Everyone has a goal, but they get side-tracked and make a multitude of decisions that are not only questionable but significant. Everything has meaning, butterflies can make hurricanes. We fall in love with all of them, despite their problems and catastrophic failures. This is the one comic series I’ve been with since day one, and I’ll stick with it to the very end because of the sheer beauty of the characters and writing.
Holy shit, speaking of beauty…I nearly forgot Fiona Staples! This is some of the most gorgeous artwork on the shelves right now, and she’s doing it all herself. No one is lettering or inking for her, just like BKV isn’t bringing in a pinch-hitter for some issues. Seriously, there’s nothing short of wonder in her artwork. She’s going as hard as she possibly can with every weird character, every strange planet, and every sexy sequence. Nothing is held back and I cannot tell you enough how much I love her work here.
Look, I shouldn’t have to sell you on this series. It’s a critical darling, a fan-favorite, and it’s by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. They’ve created a modern masterpiece that cannot be missed. I’ve seen it get people that dislike comics into an art form, and those that already keep up with weekly releases dove on it and never let go. It’s stunning, sweet, and heartbreaking. You’re going to love it.