So, today I’m going to do something a little different, and talk about Saga. Or at least the first volume of Saga. For those of you, like me, who are new to the world of graphic novels, Saga is a sci-fi series, which looks at the trials and tribulations of a family whose worlds have been at war for, seemingly, forever.
The conflict between two worlds is one of the defining facets of the first volume of the series. Originally a local conflict between two species, it’s become a sprawling war across multiple planets, as the civilisations have evolved. There’s a casual racism on both sides, and hardened attitudes are clear – the divide between “us” and “them” is entrenched and toxic, even though both sides appear to have their fair share of heroes and villains. These super-states have pushed their antagonism out into smaller theatres; their own homes appear unthreatened by violence, even relatively peaceful – whilst war machines grind blood into mud on occupied or ‘liberated’ worlds. As a social fabric, it feels like a call back to the Cold War and aftermath.
But if the setting encourages a degree of despair – winged and horned antagonists throwing their proxies into meatgrinders – the worlds on which this takes place are vividly, eldritch places. A forest of trees also serve as a rocketships. Ghosts erupt from the dark woods, and take up child-rearing duties. It’s a kaleidoscope of the imagination, each new idea slotting into the wider fabric – sometimes quirkily, but always blending into the existing world. There’s a lot of imagination on display here, and a feeling of discovery on turning every page.
The duo at the centre of the text are rather charming; articulate, often aggravated with each other, a husband and wife from species at war. That conflict seethes around them, but their refusal to identify with it, to be anything other than what they want to be, rolls impressively off the page. Both seem to have their own strengths, but this is a couple which is believably complementary. They bicker and banter with an effervescent charm, but there’s moments of emotional honesty laced through the dialogue, and a feeling of loyalty and trust which is wonderfully genuine.
They’re joined by a superb supporting cast - from the robot prince with a ruthless streak, determined to capture our heroes so he can get home to his wife, through the aforementioned babysitting ghost, to the brilliant ‘Lying Cat’, which interjects whenever anyone around it tells a lie. These characters don’t have as much time on the page, but they do feel like individuals, with their own oddities, agendas and quirks.
The plot is a journey, of sorts, as our heroes attempt to get off of the planet they’re trapped on, and find a new home for themselves and their soon-to-be-born child. It’s got the occasional moment of violence, but that’s wrapped up in the larger family story, the dialogue shaping a relationship for the reader. There’s a lot of fun stuff going on; the various hunters looking for our couple are tenacious, and have a tendency to walk into odd situations of their own. But this is a story about the characters and their journey across the world – and on that basis, it’s a compelling, perfectly formed narrative.
I don’t dip into graphic novels often, but this one was a very pleasant surprise. I’ll be looking out for the later volumes.