Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Comics Quickies: Saga

I'm strangely conflicted about Brian K. Vaughn as a writer. It's not that I don't like his comics; indeed, his work is usually a must-buy for me. But as much as I enjoy his stuff while I'm reading it, in the days afterwards there's always a cascade of "refrigerator moments" where the narrative logic starts to fray, or I start to find some of his narrative cutesiness and SHOCKING TWISTS annoying or cheap in retrospect. But the biggest criticism I have of him is that he's one of these guys who feels like he'd rather be writing for TV or movies--indeed, Vaughn wrote multiple episodes of LOST--and this sensibility mars his comics somewhat. As propulsive and page-turning as they are, the pacing and structure is pure TV, with little attempt to make use of the medium of comics. Even the visuals in his comics tend to be pretty low-key and mundane, relying heavily on naturalism, real-world reference, and the "acting" of his characters. To his credit, he almost always pulls this off, which is a testament to the quality of the artists he's worked with as much as his writing, but it's disappointing to see his focus lie so far from the kind of stuff comics can achieve.

Which is what's refreshing about Saga. This new epic SF/fantasy hybrid comic sees Vaughn stepping well outside his comfort zone, tackling more grandiose and comic-y subject matter, and even starting to take advantage of the visual possibilities of the medium in a way he generally doesn't. Some of the credit here must surely go to his artist, Fiona Staples, whose style is looser and more expressionistic than Y: The Last Man's Pia Guerra or Ex Machina's Tony Harris, but there's an overall feeling that Vaughn is stretching himself, too, creating narrative captions that are scrawled diagrammatically across the panels, robots who communicate their inner thoughts by flashing pictures on their TV-screen heads, and an unrelentingly fantastical universe full of weird imagery.

Though set against the backdrop of an intergalactic war and filled with pulp SF tropes like spaceships, robots, bounty hunters and pleasure planets, Saga is really a fantasy story in the sprawling, multi-book mode we're all familiar with. It opens with the narrator's birth, which makes it safe to assume that events will be playing out over an extensive period of time, and possibly spanning multiple generations, as the title would suggest. For now, the focus is on Marko, a horned magic-user, and Alana, a winged high-tech warrior, whose planets are at brutal, unending war. The two have defied their respective governments by falling in love, marrying, and producing a child, and now they're on the run across the planet, and eventually the galaxy, pursued by bounty hunters and a member of a strange, as-yet-unexplained robot royal family. The world Vaughn creates is rich and detailed and full of imagination, setting a grand stage for years of adventures to come, and his characterizations are more heartfelt than usual (though Alana can sometimes fall into the reflexive, hipper-than-thou posturing a lot of Vaughn's characters are guilty of). Vaughn has, ironically, stretched himself by embracing what could be considered a more traditional "comic book world", and the results are quite appealling. While the cynic in me is positive Saga will eventually fall prey to the slightly rushed and credibility-straining plotting that dogged Y and Ex Machina (though admittedly it never completely derailed either of those series), for now, Saga is another typically strong start for Vaughn, and an interesting promise of something different than what he usually offers.

No comments:

Post a Comment