What’s been especially interesting about Saga thus far is watching Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples find their groove. Most of this has been achieved by Vaughan weening himself off direct references to real life, though they still exist, and letting the universal themes of his setting move in, but Staples has also been undergoing a subtle but important transformation with each issue. Her backdrops are mostly impressionist blobs of color, with more emphasis and detail on the characters, but we’re starting to see more definition creep into the world. Whether it’s the Office Space banality of an intelligence operative’s office (cleverly juxtaposed with medieval castles) or the feng shui interior decoration of a tree that’s also a rocket ship, the worlds of Saga are breaking beyond those placeholder images from the first few issues and building a life of their own.
The series will never quite shake off those early, timid steps, as a number of the characters introduced (ghost Izabel, bounty hunter The Will, and Special Agent Gale, particularly) have those Earth-connections wrapped in their designs, but Staples has managed to work it into a functional aesthetic that just has an uncanny resemblance to our reality rather than mere shorthand. This might have been the plan all along, considering the running theme connecting child-rearing to storytelling, and those first issues were working out the kinks (or I could be giving them too much credit, hard to say), but either way I’m glad it’s working out. Previously, I thought Vaughan himself was hindering Saga with some of his excesses creeping into the script, but now that he’s established that this setting is slightly like ours, he’s able to focus on the more charming aspects of his dialogue, like the ominous proclamation “We got magic incoming” (a callback to the first issue) given by Izabel–her reaction when the magic gets there is priceless.
One of the other elements worked into Saga‘s meta-narrative I’ve been fond of were the various species of humanoid that populate the series and their interactions: the war between the horned magic-wielders and the the technology-obsessed (to the point of dependency) winged people is at the core, as is the relationship between Marko and Alana (soldiers on opposite sides of the war), but we also get the relatively normal-looking The Will react with seething anger, followed by grief, over the loss of fellow bounty hunter/former love The Stalk–a multi-limbed spider-lady–after discovering she was killed by the robot prince pursuing the heroes and their baby (as always, Staples’ use of body language is phenomenal). Using various races to represent socio-political, religious, and ethnic ideals is old hat, but again the key comes in the detail: The Will’s blunt, aggressive threat to Robot IV reflects working class directness, while the prince’s casual dismissal of Freelancers as being “psychotics” and citation of rules his family likely helped craft to justify his killing brings up class conflict without resorting to simplistic dialogue about being rich or poor. The Will’s moral compass follows unspoken guidelines (he used money meant for tracking down the heroes to go to a space brothel, only to try and rescue a child used as a sex slave), while Robot hides behind legality and formality with flashes of repressed anger occasionally surfacing (stemming from both shell-shock and a desire to be with his pregnant wife–yes, robots get pregnant in the Saga-verse). Neither is “wrong,” as Vaughan and Staples keep them sympathetic, merely different fixations formed by unique worldviews. The final page also indicates Saga will touch on generational differences as well as genetic, social, and regional ones, adding more flavor to the mix.
This melting pot of different “narratives” (fantasy vs. science fiction, wing vs. horn, young vs. old) extends the “child as story” text to a further subtext about culture clash without resorting to overbearing monologues on the subject (as Sean Witzke notes, where most comics are either “plot machines or Important Allegories For Modern Living,” Saga sidesteps that conflict). Everybody’s the hero in their story; it has become cliche, yes, but in a story about two races going to war for sketchy reasons and the attempt to break free of that regressive “plot,” it’s important to remember it’s also a truth. Reading Vaughan and Staples explore that truth, and redefine themselves in the process, is as much a joy in Saga as anything happening with Alana, Marko, and Hazel.