Review: Saga (Vol. 1)

[Note: The following discusses NSFW things and includes references to rape, sex-trafficking and child prostitution, and sexist and ableist language.]

This is how an idea becomes real.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile (or if you just read my post on Comic Con) you will know that I’m not really a comics person. It’s not that I have anything against the format (I do read manga) it’s just that the vast majority of comics don’t interest me. For one, I’m not into superheroes, like at all, and I’m very picky about art.

I’m also not really a science fiction fan. I can get into magic and dragons and all those fantasy trappings, but robots and laser beams have never really appealed to me.

Enter Saga, which blends science fiction and fantasy and includes war, family drama, and robots with television sets for heads that can apparently have sex and reproduce.

Saga tells the story of a massive interstellar war between the planet Landfall and its moon, Wreath. The conflict is the sort that has lasted several generations, to the point that no one knows what started it, only that it is. In the midst of this conflict, Marko (a native of Wreath) and Alana (a native of Landfall) fall in love, risking everything to bring a new life into a dangerous world. As you might expect, both sides of the conflict aren’t happy about the match and the young family will face a variety of challenges as they struggle to find a place in the galaxy.

Saga has something for everyone: a huge conflict, magic, political intrigue, assassins, ghosts, cats that can tell whether someone is lying, the aforementioned robots with TV sets for heads, and a couple arguing about such mundane things as what to name their newborn baby and how to raise her. Marko is a pacifist who keeps an ancestral sword strapped to his back, Alana is a bit more fiery and tough as nails (able to carry a dying man and a baby up the side of a mountain days after giving birth). Other characters include Prince Robot IV, one of the aforementioned robots with television sets for heads (robot royalty, actually) who has just returned traumatized from a battle and is tasked with hunting down and killing Alana and Marko because his father seems to think it’s a good idea, The Will, a “freelancer” (professional killer) and his cat partner, Lying Cat (who calls out “LYING!” when she hears a lie) whose been hired by Wreath to accomplish the same task, and Izabela, a ghost child who didn’t survive an encounter with a landmine.

Saga is very much an adult comic. The first issue (vol. 1 collects the first six issues of the comic) depicts Alana giving birth on the first few pages. There’s also robot sex, and the obligatory visit to an entire planet dedicated to the sex industry, where the gatekeepers are vulvae with faces and legs, and it wouldn’t be a visit to a brothel sex industry planet without an orgy (including a two girl kiss) and full frontal male nudity, and sex-trafficking, including child prostitution (in this last case, the character in question is absolutely horrified by it, kills her pimp in a fantastically gory fashion, and attempts to rescue her). I didn’t find any of the sex particularly gratuitous (although a planet-sized brothel seems ridiculously cliche). There’s also a reference to rape camps for prisoners of war (yes, they literally call them that). There’s also gore, although I have to say that it’s much less gory than I was expecting (seriously though, Marko may claim he’s a pacifist but you do not want to push his buttons).

No really, this series is about family, honest.

Saga is also pretty diverse. Both of the lead characters are characters of colour (as is their newborn daughter, who looks to be dark-skinned like her mother). I love how Marko is sensitive and calm while Alana is much more aggressive (each displaying traits traditionally associated with the opposite gender). There are some great female characters. Alana herself doesn’t see a whole lot of action in Vol. 1 but she’s obviously strong as an ox (and other characters outright state that she’s more dangerous than Marko), Izabela is surprisingly cheerful for a ghost child and ends up playing a pivotal role in this volume, and there’s The Stalk, another professional killer who would have ended the series prematurely were it not for Izabela and the other ghost children. Apart from the aforementioned orgy scenes, the only character who is remotely sexualized is The Stalk, but even this turns out to be a subversion. So far there aren’t any major queer characters, patience though, I checked the TV Tropes page.

In terms of language, Marko uses “retarded” at one point, which makes him sound half his age on top of being, well, ableist, and female characters trash talk each other by calling each other cunts and whatnot, and of course, the residents of Wreath call Alana all kinds of things for *gasp* having a child with Marko, also apparently she’s a “bit of a slut”, well, okay. It’s not that I’m not okay with potty mouth or that I wasn’t expecting ableist and sexist insults, just letting you know that they’re in there.

The one other complaint I’ve seen is that there isn’t a lot of explanation as to how things work. This is definitely not hard science fiction, it’s much closer to Star Wars, and while magic has definite rules (spells appear to require an ingredient and a word or phrase to work) questions like “How is Marko able to do magic?” are not addressed. This might annoy some readers who have no doubt read the entire Mass Effect codex, but for those of us who are just used to suspending disbelief, it won’t be as much of a problem.

I’ll be honest, I bought Saga because I was looking up something to do with Rat Queens and thought it looked cool. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at all (especially since I heard that the writer’s previous work, Y: The Last Man, was pretty misogynistic) however, I really liked this first installment, and when I’m done reading Vol. 2 I’m preordering the third. It’s got great characters, an interesting world, magic things and science fictiony things and sexytiems things but it’s really about family at its core.

Seriously, even if you aren’t a comics person, even if you aren’t into sci fi, give this one a look. It’s worth it.

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