Review: Saga – Volume 1 is the perfect gateway comic for newbies

If you’re new to comics, working out where to start can be tricky. After all, there are dozens of superhero and indie titles released each month, and it seems like fans and critics can’t agree on which of these are worth reading – except where Image Comics’ Saga is concerned, that is.

Written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Fiona Staples, this sci-fi/fantasy series is both a critical and commercial smash-hit that easily rates among the best and most accessible comics of the past decade. So, if you’re looking for the perfect gateway to comic book fandom, there’s no better choice than Saga – Volume 1.

Saga_Marko and Alana

Saga – Volume 1 introduces us to young married couple Marko and Alana, who are on the run from both sides of a seemingly endless galaxy-wide war. Why? Because these star-crossed lovebirds aren’t just deserters, they’re also parents – and their interspecies daughter, Hazel, threatens the status quo.

And so, over the course of Saga – Volume 1’s six chapters, Alana and Marko must contend with the struggles of parenthood all while trying to elude the many assassins on their tail, including Prince Robot IV (who, incidentally, has a TV for a head) and bounty hunter The Will. Along the way, they’ll engage the services of ghostly babysitter Izabel and commandeer a living rocket ship, even as they’re forced to face up to their past and re-evaluate their relationship.

Thanks to titles like Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man, author Brian K. Vaughan has established himself as one of the best comic book scribes of his generation, and Saga might well be his best work yet.

While Vaughan has always had a knack for dialogue and layered characterisation (both of which Saga has in spades), this series marks the first time he’s used first-person narration in his storytelling – and boy, does it work. Unlike other comics writers, Vaughan resists the urge to squeeze too much prose into each panel, and he manages to convey an impressive amount of exposition and emotional and thematic heft with only a few lines of evocative text.

“I wanted to write about parenthood, but I wanted to Trojan-horse it inside some sort of interesting genre story, to explore the overlap between artistic creation and the creation of a child.”

Brian K. Vaughan, in an interview with Time.

And make no mistake: despite Saga – Volume 1’s crazy set dressing, all the ray guns, talking cats, and sex planets (seriously!), Vaughan has crafted an intensely personal, deeply moving examination of what it means to be a parent.

But more than that, he’s also served up a meditation on the parallels between childbirth and the creative process. Vaughan tackles this right from the off, using Hazel’s birth – an occasion where two individuals have come together to make something fragile and devoted their lives to helping it flourish – as a metaphor for the act of making art that’s as overt as it is stunning.

Fittingly, this core theme is reflected in Vaughan’s creative partnership with Fiona Staples, who elevates Saga‘s already stellar scripts with her jaw-droppingly beautiful artwork. Taking inspiration from animation aesthetics, Staples artistic style is unlike anything else on the stands today, marrying pen and ink figures with lush, painted backgrounds.

Saga_Alana, Izabel and Hazel

However, these aren’t just pretty pictures. Staples page layouts in Saga – Volume 1 are underpinned by a strong grasp of how to service the needs of the story first and foremost, and the deft characterisation in Vaughan’s scripts is vividly realised through her linework-driven “acting”. Even the handwritten lettering Staples employs for Hazel’s narration is a critical component of Saga’s storytelling – tying the words and pictures together even more tightly, and lending a grounded, personal feel to Saga’s decidedly flamboyant milieu.

Typically, when you review something you try to find something to be critical of, to avoid gushing, and to ensure you’ve delivered a well-rounded appraisal. Well, I’ve tried finding fault with Saga – Volume 1, and I honestly can’t. Vaughan and Staples are arguably the greatest creative team of their generation – and with Saga, they’ve created a flawless series that anyone can appreciate, whether they’re a long-time fan or brand new to comics.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook!

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