In the first chapter of Saga there is a birth, a betrayal, a shootout, a giant cat that can tell when you’re lying, an exploding monster and a robot with erectile dysfunction. It throws new things at you with breathless abandon, and somehow not always feels like a cohesive world, but always as though there’s plenty more to come as well. Saga is a huge, epic sci-fi tale. Saga is also strongly focused on its characters, never letting the strange worlds and bizarre creatures distract from a well-told story. As it comes from Brian K. Vaughan, who has already put out two excellent high-concept and character-driven comics in Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Still, Saga is on a far larger scale than anything he’s attempted before.
Alana and Marko have a baby. They also happen to be on opposing sides of an intergalactic war that seems to have been raging pointlessly for as long as anyone can remember. So they’re being hunted by both sides, mercenaries of varying degrees of scariness, family connections, a species of robots with old-fashioned TVs for heads and a few other people who haven’t played their hand yet. Characters are introduced quickly, but the dialogue is so precise that you can glean a huge amount from just a few lines – the main characters’ introduction is a virtuouso bit of writing, not just setting up the story incredibly quickly, but making you care, too.
Artist Fiona Staples is a relative newcomer, but her work here is extraordinary. Most monthly books have a separate artist for line art and colouring, but Staples does it all herself, and some of the lettering as if that weren’t enough. A book this character-driven needs detailed linework, and Staples’ grasp of facial expression helps sell the dialogue well. The design of the worlds and the people, creatures and things (I don’t invent the taxonomy, I just work here) that inhabit it. Particularly strong is the design of The Stalk, a Freelancer with an armless humanoid torso blending into a giant spider. Horrifying and fascinating all in one, The Stalk is just one of many things in the book that show off an incredible imagination and the skill to execute it.
If you read Y or Ex Machina, you’re probably already reading Saga. If you’re not, even if you’re not normally a comics reader, you should remedy that soon.
At the time of writing, the first issue of Saga is free to download from Comixology.