Saga, Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Writing cosmic stories must be incredibly difficult.  On the one hand, it seems a nearly impossible challenge to execute a storyline that doesn’t borrow from Star Wars, Star Trek, John Carter of Mars, etcetera.  On the other hand, if an author does somehow deliver an original plot, the characters must also seem familiar yet different.  We don’t expect space characters to sound like us, to look like us, or to talk like us, yet if they stray too far into that for which we cannot connect, they lose our engagement.

Brian K. Vaughan certainly had his work cut out for him with the first volume of Saga.

The storyline is tried and true: two soldiers from opposing sides fall in love, have a baby, and must now escape the wrath of their respective armies.

As a huge Vaughan fan, I couldn’t wait to read Saga.  After hitting the jackpot and winning a free copy on GoodReads.com, I devoured the book the day it arrived.

My feelings about this first volume are mixed.

As with Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, Vaughan has given us some charismatic, interesting characters.  Marko, Alana, baby Hazel, as well as various bounty hunters, ghosts, and television-headed royals, create a cast for whom I want to know more.  There is plenty of conflict, both external and internal, and the interpersonal relationships are rife with both passion and hatred.

But here’s where Vaughan loses me a little: this is a story that, for the most part, is full of very human characters that happen to be … well … not human.  They love to use the “f” word, they take God’s name in vain a lot, and they apparently rode school buses.  Now, if this were on Earth, I wouldn’t be as distracted by it, but why in the world do “aliens” know the “f” word?  How are they familiar enough with “God” to take His name in vain?  And school buses?  Really?

And though I’m far from a prude, there’s a lot of nudity and sex in this thing.  Vaughan has always pushed the boundaries within this medium, and, for the most part, I’ve always found him to put the story first and remain tasteful.  In this case, though, I get the feeling some of it is just for shock value.  There were times when I wasn’t quite sure how the overall story was being served by some of the things on the page.  I

So that’s what bothered me a bit about Saga.

However, make no mistake, it’s a fast, entertaining read, and the characters are extremely layered and charismatic.  Vaughan has several plots going, and I don’t doubt for a minute that Saga will soon be epic in nature.  Furthermore, Fiona Staples is extremely talented and her artwork is both beautiful and horrific.  Her particular style suits this story well.  Her humanoids are organic and plausible while her monsters maintain an air of biological credibility.  And, if you’re familiar with my reviews, you know a good colorist always gets my praise, and Staples is yet another example of an artist that deserves our commendations.  Her colors are muted, but they are still so pleasing to the eye, and when she does give us some bright colors, watch out!  She doesn’t miss the opportunity to make those vibrant colors count.

All in all, Brian K. Vaughan seems to be an author who works best when his fantasy is rooted on Earth within the here and now, but I cannot fault the man for trying something new and putting himself out there.  Any artist who leaves his comfort zone will always have my respect.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll stick with Saga.  For one, the sex and nudity were so graphic I wasn’t comfortable having it sit out on my nightstand with my little ones running around.  Secondly, the very trendy human dialogue just proved too distracting.  But, I admittedly want to know what becomes of Marko, Alana, and Hazel, so maybe I will stay onboard after all.

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MY?TERY SOCIETY #1 by Steve Niles and Fiona Staples – A Book Review

I usually don’t review single-issue comic books, but when Hometown Comics contacted me and offered me an advanced copy of MY?TERY SOCIETY in promotion of a visit from author Steve Niles, I counted myself very lucky and jumped at the opportunity.

If you’re a comic book lover, you know Steve Niles.  If you’re not a comic book lover, you probably know Steve Niles because he created the source material for the movie 30 Days of Night.  He’s something of a legend in the business, and excels at the horrific, grotesque, and provocative – but all in a good way.

MY?TERY SOCIETY, as of the first issue, is … well … something of a mystery.  The story features a husband and wife team, Nick and Anastasia, who proactively investigate the arcane, classified, and weird.  They’re trying to build a society, but to what purpose we don’t know.

The story begins with Nick Hammond being transferred to prison, and when he stops to field questions from reporters, he recounts a tale that we presume led to his current situation.  In the flashback, he is raiding Area 51while being navigated by his wife back home.  Soon, he meets with complications that threaten to keep him from his quarry just as his wife must deal with an invader in their home.  Since we’re talking about a periodical publication, we are, of course, left with a cliff-hanger ending meant to entice the reader to return for issue number two.

Niles has created a quirky, fun husband and wife team with snappy banter and plenty of action.  So far, the book reads as less horror and more adventure with some touches of the occult.  I’m most interested in what I can only assume will be a future storyline when Anastasia mentions that someone has stolen Edgar Allan Poe’s skull and that they must track it down.  How cool is that idea?  I was disheartened, though, by the use of Area 51.  It seems as though Area 51 is thrown into the mix whenever this type of story arises, and I could have done without it.  If Niles had called it “Area 52,” perhaps I would have been more forgiving.

The art, by the way, was fantastic.  I’ve never heard of Fiona Staples, but she is a real talent whose style meshes perfectly with Niles’ story.  Since there is no inker or colorist listed, I can only assume Staples pulled triple-duty, which makes her all the more impressive.  I’m a color guy, and hers are gorgeous.  She somehow manages to give us a wide array of colors but keeps them all subdued and dark, which, as I said, compliments the story very well.

So while there are touches of the familiar (Area 51), Niles and Staples have delivered a dynamic first issue that firmly establishes the characters, provides a lot of action, and offers plenty of reasons to come back for more.

And if you happen to live near Edwardsville, IL, be sure to drop by Hometown Comics on 110 East Vandalia from 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on June 8th.  Steve Niles will be there signing his work and conversing with fans in promotion of MY?TERY SOCIETY!  Call Doug at 618.655.0707 for more information or visit:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=114894441885082&index=1