Saga Volume 3
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Category: Best Graphic Story
Out of everything I’ve reviewed so far, this is my favorite. I decided to start from volume one, and I’m glad I did—it was so good I wanted to go back in time and vote for it in the 2013 Hugos. I didn’t need to, because it won anyway. This feels like a once-in-a-decade graphic novel, like reading Watchmen or Sandman for the first time.
Sandman is actually a good point of comparison, because there’s something dreamlike about Saga‘s setting with its spider-women, androids with CRTs for heads, and gigantic infants hatching out of planetoids. While Sandman drew from a vast array of real myths, though, Saga seems to draw from deeper in humanity’s collective unconscious, arranging the feelings and images that formed those myths into new combinations. It simultaneously feels familiar and alien.
All this is rendered beautifully by Fiona Staples’ artwork. Even the gross parts (and there are more than a few gory scenes—this is not a comic book for kids) are spectacularly drawn. The art alone would be enough to merit an award, and it’s paired with razor-sharp writing: Saga delivered a laugh-out-loud moment at least once an issue, an emotional gut punch anytime I was least expecting it, and always kept me eager to turn the page and see what happened next.
At its most basic it’s a Romeo-and-Juliet story: the protagonists are lovers from opposite sides of an ongoing interstellar war, and are being pursued along with their newborn child by their respective governments. But Romeo and Juliet’s skillset of fatal miscommunication in iambic pentameter has been replaced by sorcery and general ass-kicking. The first three volumes are essentially an extended chase scene, with volume 3 covering the confrontation when the pursuit catches up to the main characters.
One of the great aspects of the writing is that all of the major characters are sympathetic to some degree, including the antagonists; everyone has understandable motivations and no one is a straight-up villain (although some come close). This really pays off in the third volume, where the conflicts come to a head: you want to be able to root for everyone, but they can’t all get what they want. The resulting conclusion to the story arc is exciting and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Of course, this just concludes one arc; the series is still ongoing. I’ve got a lot more Hugo nominees to read first, but as soon as I finish working my way through the list and submit my ballot, I’m going to go buy Saga volume 4. However, you, dear reader, don’t have to wait. Stop reading my review, get yourself to your local comic book store (or online retailer) and start reading Saga. You won’t regret it.