We’re now up to the third and final title in my list of Favorite Comics of 2012. It’s a title that first caught my eye early last year when a promotional image for the comic was released depicting a woman with wings being embraced by a man with horns and breastfeeding an infant, also with horns. The image drew a little bit of controversy amongst industry professionals for nonchalantly depicting a woman in the act of breastfeeding, a controversy that I weighed in on right here, in this very column, last January.
The image struck a chord, showing three people, a family unit, in the middle of doing something very personal and very honest and very human, but there were enough clues in the picture to convey that these people are certainly not human. It was the perfect teaser for a comic unlike anything else on the market, one that I knew was going to become an instant favorite as soon as I read it. And it didn’t disappoint. That title, of course, is Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga.
Saga is a bedtime story for adults to tell each other after their kids have gone to sleep. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy story that harkens back to the planetary romances of John Carter. But with contemporary elements such as ATM cameras and smart phones, planets named Sextillion and Landfall, and characters that reference gun statistics and school buses, you get the sense that it’s a fantasy story written by someone who’s not terribly interested in fantasy stories. It’s less like a mythology and more like a heightened reality, a story about regular people that is being told in the language of dreams.
The story of Saga is pretty straightforward. There’s a war in space. On one side there’s the goat-ish people who inhabit the magical moon of Wreath. On the other side there’s the winged people of Landfall, the planet that Wreath orbits. It’s been a long, ugly war, and there is understandably great resentment on both sides toward the opposing species. Against the backdrop of this bloody interplanetary conflict, we are introduced to two young lovers, Marko and Alana. Marko was a soldier from Wreath who was taken prisoner by the other side. Alana was his guard.
The two fell in love and absconded, eventually getting married and conceiving a child, our narrator Hazel. We meet them just as Hazel is being born. It’s from here that their epic saga begins, as they fight to stay one step ahead of the deadly forces being sent in from both sides who want the traitorous couple destroyed and their baby captured. Along the way they dodge intergalactic bounty hunters, acquire a disemboweled teenage ghost nanny, soar through the stars in an organic wooden rocket ship, and reconcile things with the in-laws. It’s part Star Wars, part Lord of the Rings, part TV sitcom.
What really blows me away with Saga is the sophistication of it. Brian K. Vaughan has so many good ideas and so many cool characters. He’s got the baby narrating the thing as an adult, her words juxtaposed with the stuff on the page so perfectly that you have to wonder if he’s actually had this story written for years and he’s just now deciding to tell it to us.
Each character has their own voice and feels totally fleshed out and organic, and honestly each of the main characters already feels like they could be a lead in their own book. The Will? Not since Boba Fett has their been a more badass Intergalactic Bounty Hunter. Probably the breakout character in the book. And the thing is, Vaughan has all this going on and there’s so many layers to the book and he makes it look so easy. Saga is an effortless read. It’s breezy, fun, adorable and genuinely funny. An action packed rom-com set in space.
On the other side of the equation, you have Fiona Staples’ amazing art. AMAZING art. Holy crap, guys. I want to reiterate right here that for all of my top comic picks of 2012; Hawkeye, The Manhattan Projects, and Saga, I’m not just fawning over the work of the writer, I am equally as impressed by the artist and am overall in love with the finished work of art that both parties have created.
All three of these books so far have largely been writer/artist team books, wherein the writer and the artist have formed a kind of power couple that creates the fundamental identity of the title. Neither person could be replaced, is what I’m trying to say (even though Hawkeye had a few guest artists, and delightful ones, I might add). And Saga is no different.
Like the other artists on my list, David Aja of Hawkeye and Nick Pitarra of The Manhattan Projects, I hadn’t been previously introduced to Staples’ work before picking up Saga. And like those other two artists, I was pleasantly surprised to find that her style is exactly what I want to see more of in comics. Staples’ work, from her gorgeous and serene “painted” covers to her brutal, ballistic fight scenes, is consistently light, breezy, expressive and dynamic.
No matter what she’s drawing, it can be Marko standing straight up wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or it can be a beautiful arachnoid bounty hunter fighting off alien creatures, her art is always smooth, solid, and full of motion. There’s no need for a lot of heavy inks or balls-out detail. It’s all about finesse here, and she makes it look absolutely effortless. And as the backmatter in issue 8 reminds us, Staples is doing all of this herself. From thumbnails to the colors, even the lettering in the case of Hazel’s narration, that’s Staples. She’s a goddamn machine and you’d never even know she was breaking a sweat.
So yeah, that’s Saga. And that’s my list for best comics of 2012. Three titles with writers who are at the top of their game pairing with artists who make me want to draw every time I see their work. These book are smart, they’re unique, and they’re fun as hell. And they’re early in their run, so there’s still time to jump onboard and follow along. Which I hope that I’ve been able to encourage you to do. Because, seriously guys, if these books are any indication, 2013 should be an amazing year for comics.