If you haven’t read Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga so far, the fourth volume might be a jarring entry point; the opening pulls no punches. The first image is of a naked woman, legs spread, giving birth. You see the baby’s head with the amniotic fluid leaking out around it. The fact that the head is a television set (the alien race giving birth all have TVs for heads) and that the amniotic fluid is blue, does nothing to distract from the rawness of the scene. Boom—in your face!
I wouldn’t recommend starting with volume four as there is a lot of plot to juggle by the time the volume begins. At this point, even though I’ve read the whole series to date, I could use a cheat-sheet for all the characters and plots. The main protagonists are two people from opposite side of a war—Alana, a winged humanoid from the planet Landfall, met Marko, a horned humanoid from Landfall’s satellite and adversary, Wreath, when he was brought into the prison where she was a guard. They quickly fell in love and ran away together.
In volume four, we meet up with them while they are hiding out on the planet Gardenia with their daughter Hazel. Accompanying them is Alana’s mom, Klara, and their ghost babysitter, Izabel (complete with intestines hanging out). They are experiencing the frustration that comes with inaction. While they agree that keeping a low profile is a better environment for raising a daughter, the stagnation of their life is wearing on them.
Meanwhile, in the Robot Kingdom, the baby prince is born (in the volume’s aforementioned opening scene). Prince Robot IV, suffering from amnesia, misses the birth. Complicating the situation, his wife is soon murdered and his newborn son kidnapped. Add to all this a handful of assassins who are hunting for Alana and Marko (and maybe each other), and things start getting very complicated very quickly.
This story’s interlocking plots and subplots are complicated by the fact that the original war between Alana and Marko’s peoples has been outsourced to other worlds. Other races have been forced to take sides and take up arms in a war that really has nothing to do with them. The Powers That Be are convinced that general knowledge of Hazel’s existence will threaten troop morale and undermine the war. So as Alana and Marko (and other characters) travel around the universe, every planet is either involved in fighting the war or supplying the war. It’s hard to know who’s on which side, or even if there is a side the reader should be rooting for.
Despite all the details and characters, or maybe because of it, Saga continues to be an excellent work of art. The plots all flow naturally, interlocking together in ways that make it clear that Vaughan knows where he is going with the story. He manages to pack an enormous amount of meaning and feeling into the characters’ interactions, showing you who the characters are without extraneous exposition. For example, when Marko and Alana have a huge fight toward the end of the book, you see both their frustration and their love, the complexity of their relationship all played out in a stupid exchange over what they each have been doing with their time. It s the kind of argument any couple would have and it gives their relationship depth without having to have a block of text stating “Alana and Marko’s frustrations boil over into a fight”.
Staples has put great detail in the art—even the backgrounds are fully fleshed out. The art, pen, and ink drawings with color, seem reminiscent of the best fantasy books. In a Time Magazine article from August, 2013. Staples herself has said her color palettes were inspired from video games.
While this graphic novel is not for children, it is family-centric. Despite coming from warring planets, Marko and Alana love each other and want what we all want – a chance to be a family and raise their child. They don’t want their actions to be political statements. They just want to live their lives.
Saga, vol. 4
by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples
Image Comics, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: Adult