Friday, September 26, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #267a: Saga, Vol. 2 by Vaughan & Staples

It is a joy to see natural, unforced storytelling in an adventure comic, with a story rolling out in carefully measured moments, informed by both precise flashbacks and knowing narration from some unknown number of years later. The format is so often used for retrofits and clumsy transitions, with editorial demands whipsawing characterization and plots back and forth, tacking to find that elusive bit of fan-favorite wind that will keep the clumsy ship floating for a few months more. So we get used to the latter, and forget that the former -- what happens with a team allowed to tell the story they want -- is even possible.

Saga is the good kind of adventure comic: writer Brian K. Vaughan obviously has a long-term plan for the series, and has been writing comics long enough that he's excellent at turning each issue into a story capsule, moving forward both his main story and his flashbacks, with little hints of the frame story. (And I shouldn't forget about artist Fiona Staples, who is the Ginger Rogers here: all she has to do is draw every idea Vaughan throws at her, turn it into compelling story pages, and make it look effortless.)

Saga, Vol. 2 collects the second cluster of six issues; it's not really a plot arc, since Vaughan isn't writing for the trade. Each issue of Saga ends like a chapter, and so this volume ends the same way -- it's satisfying enough, since we all know there will be more along the way. It's the story of two lovers in a dangerous space opera universe: Alana and Marko are soldiers from opposite sides of a huge cold war, whose respective civilizations have been fighting each other for generations, first directly and then through proxies across the galaxy. But they met in a prison camp, where one guarded the other, and fell in love, and ran away, and had a baby.

That baby is Hazel: she narrates the story, from sometime in the indefinite future. In the main story, she's still an infant -- the first volume got the young family off the war-torn planet where Hazel was born, into an tree-based starship, and off to either find a safe place to be or just to wander in obscurity and stay alive. Because both of those battling empires want Alana and Marko dead, with a zeal that is, so far, vastly outmatching the actual injury that the escaping lovers pose. (There may be a Secret Reason why their betrayals are considered so heinous, but I think it's just an obvious and natural source of narrative tension.)

So there are hellhounds on their trail, figuratively. A "freelancer" -- one might call him an assassin -- was sent by one side, and is joined by Marko's ex-fiancee in these issues. And the other side has sent a high nobleman of the Robot Empire -- which I think is one of the many client states mentioned in passing, though Vaughan is admirably not explaining every little detail of his universe, but allowing it to be big and confusing and complex like a real world -- with similarly murderous aims.

Even worse, the first volume ended with Marko's parents appearing suddenly on our lovers' ship,and this volume continues that thread of the story as well. But I'm getting a sense that the theme of Saga will not be so much "one family against all" but "building a family despite the odds." In the first volume, they gathered a ghost teenage babysitter, and Marko's parents find their own place in this group. I'm quietly hopeful that will continue to grow -- not, probably, to the level of a resistance movement, since that would be too much like Saga's model Star Wars, but maybe a few more people every few issues, and some safe places along the way.

Saga is a big, heady, complicated, multi-genre stew: it's the kind of space opera that thinks nothing of throwing in blatant magic, ignoring the inverse-square law, and playing fast and loose with every other law of nature. It's not a book to read with your Hard-SF hat on, but to enjoy as an adventure story filled with wondrous and terrible things, in a universe where nearly anything can happen, with characters as vivid and real as any in literature.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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