Maybe 2015 is the year of Graphic Novels for me. For some weird reason, I never seem to get to like a graphic novel series so much that I want to finish it off. Buddha – the 8-volume series by Ozuma Tezuka was a stunning achievement. I raced on until book-6 and then never really went back to those books. I started reading The Unwritten – hopefully I will read them again ( I am currently on Vol.3)
So that brings me to the multiple award-winning series, Saga by Brian K Vaughan/Fiona Staples. This series first caught my attention when one of good friends, whose taste in books I respect was raving about it. It really had to be good – so to have Akshat actually rave about it. He never does actually.
So when finally I bought this book Volume 1 of the series on a steal deal from Amazon, I settled in for a good nice session of reading – in my newly renovated terrace-garden. To call this book a brazen little powder-keg of mind-blowing imagery full of revolutionary ideas that mock and hint at politics and war bundled with beautiful, explicit illustrations that border on the crazy and genius – would still be an understatement. Brian has woven a heart-rending story of a defiant couple in the midst of a global war between two different races – who fall in love against the odds and sire a kid amidst all the blood and gore – and then escape the clutches of all those who pursue them – by pure luck and then some badass pluck. But the focus is not really on the couple per se – choosing Hazel, their daughter to be an unreliable and somewhat duplicitous narrator for the whole story setting, Brian blows our mind by the stupendous world-building that has gone into this tale. The sheer scope is more than epic – the outer stretches of an unknown galaxy populated by sentient races, weird and familiar at the same time.
Take for example, the royal race of a sentient machine, almost like robotic beings with “Television” for their faces ruling planet Landfall; their citizens/beings sprout small “angel” wings on their back. These guys are in a state of constant warfare with the magical horned residents of Wreath, a moon that revolves around their planet. Perhaps a nod to the earthly conflicts based on greed, class and race – ha ha – after all, comics ARE supposed to be the satirical take on actual day-to-day proceedings of real life. And so Brian takes a good hearty dig at the unscrupulous ways of those in power today with the running war-story between these two different races. And right in the middle of this pointless bloody warfare, Brian drops our star-crossed lovers in space – utterly human and relatable in their need to protect their daughter, bring her up to the joys of childhood and beyond. With Hazel’s voice – we ultimately know that Hazel “grows to be old” with the help of these selfless parents but the proceedings are fraught with danger and horrors every step of the way.
It’s a science fiction-fantasy – rich in the manner of Star-Wars. Populated with all bizarre supernatural beings – Sample this. A topless limbless woman mercenary with the lower torso of a spider, a ghostly spirit baby-sitter who spouts ghetto-talk and is missing her lower limbs after having died in a landmine explosion, flaming gorillas, a talking cat that’s a compulsive lie-detector….the zany imagination knows no bounds and Fiona Staples isn’t afraid of colouring that up in rich tantalizing hues that fire up a reader’s mind even more. And yet inspite of all that suspension of disbelief, we are willing to embrace it. Just like we did with Star-Wars. ( C’mon a talking Wookie ? A tall hairy beast that can fly a space-ship? Who are you kidding? I know you couldn’t resist LOVING Chewbacca!!)
But inspite of the incredulity of this setting, it is the characters that breathe life into this series. Alana – a sharp-talking no-nonsense shrewd woman strutted with fey-like wings – or Marko – the horned charming smooth-talker with ram-like horns. Brian has managed to bring alive their love for each other – a soul-stirring disquietude pervades this whole love-affair. Hunted by more than one faction, each more terrible than the other, they are ultimately just a couple of parents trying to bring up their baby into this universe.
The side-characters are unbelievably well-etched out. Take, The Will – a mercenary with a strong sense of ethics who is tracking down the couple. You almost feel sorry for this big badass killer whose heart melts at the sight of a six-year old slave girl. Or the prince VI from the Royal Family on LandFall – who can’t wait to “clean up this mess” to get back to his pregnant wife.
The art is bright, colourful and sexy. A little too much perhaps – the splash of skin and kink but ultimately it very effectively brings out the debauchery of a self-indulgent society in space. And the dialogs – they are wickedly funny. Bringing a much-needed sense of levity amidst the dark sombre brooding atmosphere of worlds seeped in mindless warfare.
All in all, it’s marvellous storytelling in a medium that best combines words and art-form, comics. It’s outrageous, shocking and bizarre yes – but never before has such an epic story felt so real, so human and so raw. I absolutely loved this smash-hit beginning to a very interesting series – and while Volume 1 ends on a mild cliff-hanger, I cannot wait to find out what happens to Hazel in outer stretches of space. A full five-stars and richly deserving more.