Posts Tagged ‘Brian K. Vaughan’

While the topic of R-ratings and comic books is currently circulating, I thought I’d throw in something that should actually be rated R and animated. And that comic book, my friends and frenemies, is Saga. From the wildly imaginative and filthy minds of writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, Saga is about as cinematic as you can get and I for one think it would make an incredible limited-episode animated property suitable for the likes of Netflix, HBO, or any digital distribution platform.tliid_252__saga__animated_style_by_axelmedellin-d94j5f6

When I talked with Fiona recently, I mentioned the rumor that Brian K. Vaughan purposefully writes Saga in such a way that would make it impossible to adapt. There was definitely some debunking of the rumor, but what it really boils down to is Saga’s story with its sweeping alien landscapes, wide swath of fantastical and sci-fi characters, and its tendency to “go big or go home” doesn’t make it an ideal property for live-action adaptation. Animation, however, would definitely keep the visual elements necessary for crafting those essential pieces. Where the series could potentially run into trouble is its unapologetic approach to sex and “on screen” nudity. Given HBO’s love of full-frontal (at least where women are concerned), there would probably be less push-back, but a digital platform like Netflix might require some strategic planning and omissions.

And before you say, “But animation argle flargle bargle think of the children,” Netflix has a big hit already under its belt with BoJack Horseman about the tragic yet humorous life of the eponymous character voiced by Will Arnett. And though they have yet to announce a second season, Netflix took a chance on F is For Family based somewhat on comedian Bill Burr’s family and childhood experiences during the 1970s. I’m just saying, you see Frank Murphy’s (voice of Burr) balls swinging as he has sex with his wife. It’s from the perspective of their youngest son, but if they’re willing to lump that into a mature content animated series, then I’m pretty sure an animated version of Saga could get away with a naked troll-like monster. You know the one I’m talking about.

But we all know what makes or breaks and animated feature or series is the voice cast. The characters of Saga are fully realized people in the hearts and minds of its devoted fan base and they deserve some pretty stellar voices to bring them to life. I know voice director Andrea Romano would probably choose differently, but I’m gonna save her the trouble and cast the series for all of you lovely people. So, here’s my Saga voice cast.

 

Marko – Ian Anthony Dale

 

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Marko wants to maintain that he’s a lover, not a fighter, but push him too far or threaten his family and he will tear you apart. Dale has spent a lot of his career playing well-meaning yet flawed characters and his time spent playing cops and the occasional criminal would help him find the balance in a conflicted character like Marko.

Alana – Janina Gavankar

 

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Alana is an all-kinds-of-kickass person, but her hot-headed, shoot first attitude is tempered by her romantic side and a fierce love of her husband and daughter. She also swears like a sailor and has a fantastic wit. Janina Gavankar has played plenty of badasses in procedurals and genre television, so I’m confident she’d knock this one out of the park. She’s also a huge geek, so I’m certain she’d jump at the chance to play someone as complex as Alana.

 

Hazel – Melanie Chandra

 

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Acting as narrator for the Saga comic, I could see an animated adaptation using the same framing device with an older Hazel providing context and her own special brand of humor. Though we’re not sure how old the Hazel in the book is, my thought is to pick an actress somewhere in the middle who could provide the maturity of the narrator but also provide dialogue for Hazel as she grows in the story. Melanie Chandra has a very youthful quality to her acting and voice, which gives her a lot of range to play Hazel through the many stages of life.

 

Izabel – America Ferrera

 

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If you’re seen How to Train Your Dragon and its sequel, then you’re aware of how America Ferrera’s voice sounds coming out of an awesome character like Astrid. Playing Izabel would be no different. Izabel is a goof and as sarcastic as they come but she’s also the result of the ongoing war between Marko’s and Alana’s homeworlds of Wreath and Landfall respectively. She needs to be fun yet capable of gravitas, which Ferrera has already proven adept at handling.

 

The Will – Brian Bloom

 

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I really enjoy Brian Bloom as a live-action actor, but he’s also one of the bigger names in the voice over industry where military-type games are concerned, which I think makes him perfect to play the jaded, heart-broken, yet well-intentioned freelancer The Will. Bloom could easily rely on the natural gravel of his voice or change it up and maintain a lighter tone to contrast with the morally ambiguous actions of a man thrown into the middle of a growing conspiracy. And is it just me or do Bloom and The Will share the same eyes?

 

Lying Cat/Sweet Boy – James Arnold Taylor

 

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If you’ve never seen the movie I Know That Voice, go watch it and marvel at the vocal gymnastics of one James Arnold Taylor. He and Frank Welker are two of the most reliable creature voices in the industry. I’m giving the role to Taylor, however, because I think his ability to do aliens creatures is needed more in this instance. Though Lying Cat and Sweet Boy are, for all intents and purposes, a cat and a dog, they’re still aliens and Taylor could definitely add layers to his vocals that would make these creatures shine.

The Stalk – Nika Futterman

 

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In her role as Asajj Ventress on The Clone Wars, Nika Futterman brought pathos to the servant of the Sith who could have easily been a one-note villain for the showrunners to throw at Ahsoka Tano on occasion. Thankfully, she made the character dark and lively, a trait she’s brought to many characters like Catwoman, Gamora, Lady Jaye, and Smellerbee. Who better to bring the wildly wicked The Stalk to life?

 

Prince Robot IV – Neal McDonough

 

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The thing about Prince Robot IV is the actual voice behind him could literally be anyone since some digital manipulation is required to make him sound suitably robotic. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to lose the actor in the process. Neal McDonough is a brilliant character actor who can just as easily play the hero as he can the villain. And though Prince Robot IV is ostensibly the villain for the first two volumes of Saga, there’s no arguing that his motivations are based on his desire to return to his wife and son. He’s as complex as Marko and Alana and he deserves nothing less than a great actor to provide his voice.

 

Klara – Tamlyn Tomita

 

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Marko’s warrior mother is one tough nut to crack. She’s been hardened by the ongoing war and she’s only ever tried to prepare her son for the cruelty of the world around them and the suffering of their people. Her softer side is buried deep, but if you stick around long enough it will still take you a while to see it peek through. Tamlyn Tomika has had a long career of playing authoritative women and it would be exciting to hear her tackle such a robust character like Klara.

 

Barr – Sab Shimono

 

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Sab Shimono is a well-respected character actor who is always a welcome sight no matter what he shows up in. He can be authoritative but there’s a gentle quality to him that’s perfect for Marko’s father, Barr. The counterbalance to Klara’s more militant style of parenting, Barr is a warrior but his strength lies in his ability to craft the armor necessary for battle. Or baby clothes. Ya know, whatever comes first.

 

Gwendolyn – Regina King

 

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A member of Wreath’s High Command and Marko’s ex-fiance, Gwendolyn made herself known with one of the best splash pages in the early issues of the comic. There’s a Pam Grier-ness about her that immediately brings to mind a strong, powerful woman only interested in one thing: getting what she wants. I’m confident in the fact that Regina King could not only bring the forceful, no-nonsense attitude but her superb skills as a dramatic actress would be instrumental in peeling back the many layers of Gwen’s personality. And have you seen Boondocks? Girl’s got chops!

 

Slave Girl/Sophie – Amandla Stenberg

 

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Like Hazel, Sophie grows up in the eyes of the reader, so having an actress who can still capture the innocence of a young girl and the haunted maturity of a child forced into an atrocious situation is a must have. Amandla Stenberg found her Hollywood footing as Rue in the first Hunger Games movie, so she’s definitely capable of channeling that type of wise-beyond-her-years tone that’s essential for Sophie. Similarly, her recurring role as Macey Irving on Sleepy Hollow gave her a character dealing with circumstances outside her control. So really, Amandla has been prepared for this role for a while.

 

The Brand – Vanessa Marshall

 

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After listening to her voice strong, capable characters like Hera Syndulla on Star Wars: Rebels and Gamora on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vanessa Marshall is primed and ready to play freelancer The Brand. There’s a pragmatism and very Hellblazer-esque quality to The Brand, who also happens to be The Will’s sister, that makes her cool, calm, and collected no matter what the situation be it poisoning journalists or going after dragon splooge.

 

D. Oswald Heist – Keith David

 

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Guys, do I even have to justify this one? It’s the freakin’ voice of Goliath. Keith David could read the phone book and I’d find it compelling, so him reciting Brian K. Vaughan’s dialogue would be icing on the cake.

 

Yuma – Susan Eisenberg

 

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I may be biased, but that doesn’t change the fact that Susan Eisenberg has a wonderfully rich voice that would lend itself nicely to Yuma. One of Heist’s ex-wives, Yuma comes along a bit later in the book but she’s a visually striking creature and an artist to boot. And, yeah, she’s big on dealing drugs (metaphorically and in real life), but that doesn’t seem to stop her from being the hero when she’s needed most. I’ve always imagined Yuma with a very empathic voice and Susan, voice of the Justice League‘s Wonder Woman, just springs to mind where sympathy and empathy are concerned.

 

Ghüs – Yuri Lowenthal

 

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An adorable little seal who wields a giant ax, Ghüs was basically a drawing in Fiona Staples’s sketchbook who became an example of what makes Saga such a visual feast for the eyes. It’s the contrast that works so well and quickly pushed Ghüs up there with wonderfully memorable characters from the book. So, how does one capture the cuteness and the potential for sweet, sweet ax-swinging glory? Simple: get Yuri Lowenthal. And that’s all the context I’m going to give you.

 

Upsher – Carlos Alazraqui

 

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The writer of the dynamic duo of journalism, Upsher knows a story when he sees one and isn’t afraid to pursue it to the very end – even if that puts him and his partner (in career and life) in mortal danger. There’s definitely a desire to do good, but it’s countered by the love of being the one to break the story, which would make Upsher the fish-man version of Lois Lane. Carlos Alazraqui, I think, could bring out the sincerity and the ambition that drives the character.

 

Doff – Diedrich Bader

 

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Upsher’s better half – or is it the other way around? – Doff is more concerned with keeping out of trouble, but when given the choice to help himself or serve the greater good he’s a fairly selfless person. Diedrich Bader has such a deep, rich voice that sounds pleasantly kind even when he’s swearing up a storm. There’s something gentle about Doff that Bader could capture. Plus it would be kind of fun to hear him and Alazraqui riff like and old married couple.

 

So those Are my picks. Obviously not everyone is going to agree with my choices, so feel free to tell me who you’d cast if you got to play Voice Director for the day.

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Intro and Outro music “Cat Walk” by Saga

As a global consumer culture one of the first things we’re introduced to is media. Television, books, movies, and music all contribute to how we perceive and relate to the world around us. The Modern Age of comics has seen the saga-bannerdeconstruction of superheroes, the rise, fall, and rise again of comic book movies and television, and the elevation of geek culture. This has all been in conjunction with the proliferation of the internet where vocality is king and the biggest hot button topics sure to come up when any new movie, television show, or comic book comes out are representation and visibility.

We want to see aspects of ourselves in the media we consume but it’s painfully clear that Hollywood and media in general skew towards the straight, white male demographic. Denying anyone who isn’t part of the preconceived audience doesn’t just eliminate them on a visual level, it eliminates their voices and stories that could be told from the perspective of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. This paints an inaccurate picture of our society, which many demand changed. Hollywood has taken some sluggish steps forward, but a Renaissance of representation has occurred in comic books, at least in the smaller publishers. Marvel and DC Comics have made some strides forward, but it’s really in publishers like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and Boom! Studios that stories not predicated on decades worth of continuity are allowed to flourish under the writings and artistry of creators actively concerned with making their comics relevant to modern readers. One of those books is Saga.

SkishIn Saga, Alana and Marko, lovers from warring worlds, flee the war, marry, and have a child, Hazel, whose future self narrates the story of her family as they’re pursued by her parents’ peoples as well as robotic royalty, bounty hunters, ex-fiancés, and journalists across the galaxy. That’s as simplistic as the explanation gets without going into the complexities of the story, but suffice it to say that writer Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad) and artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, DV8: Gods and Monsters, Archie) purposely set out to make Saga a book without limitations and, by their own admission, difficult to adapt.

First released in March of 2012 by Image Comics, Saga has since received as much critical acclaim as it has controversy. It should surprise no one that the bulk of the controversy concerns the art, which is understandable since comic books are, first and foremost, a visual medium. For all of the critical analysis of Saga’s narrative through Vaughan’s writing, it’s Staples’ art that grabs our attention. The fully realized sci-fi/fantasy landscape of war, sex, magic, technology, and family is as much a product of Staples’ imagination as it is Vaughan’s scripting.

Vaughan’s writing on Saga has received high praise, especially from this author, for his criticisms of art, war, and media, much of which stems from what John Parker of ComicsAlliance refers to as Vaughan’s examination of the anxieties of post-9/11 America where the genre serves as “the delivery system to explore significant real-world issues.” Interestingly enough, Saga is one of the most diverse books regarding gender, race, and sexual oriFiona and Brianentation but never brings attention to it because, in the world of Saga, these aren’t issues.

Vaughan is certainly no stranger to casts of characters with a high female count. Saga continues this predilection, sporting an ensemble cast of at least seven female characters in play, as of the current run, compared to the roughly four or five male characters that appear. It’s the diversity of race and sexual orientation, however, where Saga earns major points with readers. While both Vaughan and Staples have pointed out that race and skin color have no correlation in Saga, Staples was instrumental in the multicultural design of the characters, creating a book where only one of the main characters, out of roughly twelve, who could even be considered white (hint: it’s The Will). According to Vaughan at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con:

“When I was pitching to Fiona, I said, ‘I don’t care how Alana looks, but no redheads. There’s a glut of redheads in comics.’ And Fiona was like, ‘Well, she doesn’t have to be white either.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, right.’” [Source: Hero Complex]

GwenThis revelation from Vaughan shows the importance of diversity amongst creative teams alongside their books. Would the story have changed if Alana was white? Probably not, but by not defaulting to white, Staples gave Saga its own default and a galaxy enriched by diversity. Said Staples:

“Representation and diversity in comics is something that’s important to me, and I also think it just makes a more realistic universe when you’re constructing a brand-new world and you want it to feel authentic. Most of the people on Earth are not white. Why would this galaxy be?” [Source: Hero Complex]

The same is true for the visibility of LGBTQ characters. Though Alana and Marko are the straight couple at the center of the story, the Saga universe is far more fluid when it comes to sexuality. Gwendolyn, Marko’s ex, is most likely bi-sexual since she lost her virginity to a woman named Velour. Upsher and Doff are journalists and a committed gay couple trying to put the truth out about Alana’s defection. And Hazel’s babysitter Izabel recently talked about her girlfriend Windy with whom she loved and lost after stepping on a landmine. Sexual orientation is incidental to upsher and doffthe characters of Saga. The more pressing concern is the struggle for love amidst the tragedy of war.

When asked why he wrote so many strong female characters, Joss Whedon infamously answered, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” The same is true for Saga. We still have to keep pointing out just how diverse it is because there’s a dearth of comic books like Saga for readers interested in anything other than what mainstream publishers think is “diverse”. Thankfully, more comic books are beginning to emerge in the same vein as Saga, giving readers a playground of characters where they can see themselves without having to rely on surrogates due to lack of options. I’d like to be able to say things will change as time goes by, and I’m confident it will, but for now we’ll have to rely on Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples to continue delivering in their gorgeous, poignant, and heart-wrenching space opera.

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This article was originally written for Comics and Human Rights week on Talking Comics and the London School of Economics.

 

Okay, we’re gonna go about things a little differently here. Since I’ve decided to strike out on my own – updates forthcoming – I don’t necessarily have the time or the funds to read every comic and write the fairly long, detail-oriented reviews I did in the past. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m shirking my analytical duties of reviewing comic books. It just means these reviews are going to be much shorter.

What’s the approach? Your standard pull list of comics for the week and my thoughts on why you should read them with a specific Spotlight position set aside for what I think was a standout issue. There’s also room for highlighting new books from smaller publishers or collected graphic novels and such. Pretty much whatever I think is worth your time, which means – obviously – that this will be heavily biased to my tastes. In all likelihood, some of you may or may not agree with my picks and that’s fine. If anything, it leaves us open for discussion about what you think were the best books of the week and to make recommendations of your own.

Sound good?

I’ll take your silence as a sign of agreement. To the list!

 

C.O.W.L. #5 – Image Comics

COWL_05-1Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel with Art by Rod Reis, the first arc of the series comes to a close with the dissolution of C.O.W.L. Or does it? Higgins, Siegel, and Reis started their story of the first labor union for superheroes at the beginning of the end, but everyone knows that the end is only the beginning. In tumultuous post-WWII, Cold War era Chicago tensions have finally escalated to the point of strikes and rioting with the city content to wash its hands clean of C.O.W.L. Not that the heroes are too broken up about it, at least most of them. While the world of C.O.W.L. has been slowly built within the era of equal rights, paranoia, and disillusionment, one man’s story has been cutting through the narrative: Geoffrey Warner, C.O.W.L.’s Chief formerly known as The Grey Raven. From the beginning of the book, Geoffrey has been trying every tactic possible to keep C.O.W.L. alive only to see it crumble before his eyes. It’s his desperation that makes his actions at the end of the issue – the last panel in fact – all the more shocking. Does Chicago need heroes? Geoffrey thinks it does and he’s willing to do anything to prove how necessary C.O.W.L. is to the Chicago, if not the world.

 

Low #3 – Image Comics

low03_coverWritten by Rick Remender with Art by Greg Tocchini, Low #3 is a beautiful cacophony of juxtaposing images and ideas set against what is ostensibly the end of the human race. While most of the people inhabiting the undersea city of Salus are set on counting down the days until they’re done for, Stel Caine holds on to the hope that humanity can be saved. The appearance of a long forgotten probe that may have found a planet suitable for human habitation prompts her to confront the decadent and corrupt councilmen who, like most people, see Stel’s optimism as some sort of disease. No one believes this more than her son Marik who, after being arrested for corruption and the death of a hooker, tries to kill himself because he can’t imagine his life could get any lower. Luckily, Stel manages to save him, which is debatable if you’re Marik, and takes him with her to find the probe. The issue mostly consists of a huge argument between Stel and Marik, a mother and son who’ve both experienced tremendous loss and have dealt with it in very different ways. But in this issue, there’s finally some catharsis and Tocchini’s art gorgeously captures the beauty and wonder of the ocean that Marik sees for the first time.

 

Wayward #2 – Image Comics

Wayward_02-1Written by Jim Zub with Art by Steven Cummings, John Rauch, and Zub, Rori’s fresh start in Japan hasn’t exactly gone very smooth. What with the pressures of being in a new city, reconnecting with your mother, discovering you have strange powers that allow you to see monsters and getting saved by a cat-person – wait, what? Seriously, the worst thing that could happen after that is starting at a new school where you’re treated like an idiot and judged for your appearance while trying not to be a burden to the one parent you don’t want to hate you. Which is why that’s exactly what happens. Though I’ve never been to school in Japan, Zub finds a way to make Rori’s circumstances relatable despite the cultural shift. We can all sympathize with feeling like an outcast or a loner as well as the intense pressure that comes with being a student. Heighten that with the intense nature of Japanese schools and we see just how stressful Rori’s world has become. How she copes with that stress, however, left me gasping out loud. The art continues to be a lush and vibrant world of anime and manga influences. Even in the darkest settings, the colors still pop off the page as Rori tries to make sense and connect the dots especially when it comes to one of her new schoolmates.

 

Storm #3 – Marvel Comics

Storm-003Written by Greg Pak with Art by Matteo Buffagni, Storm’s solo book is only three issues in and, on the surface, the stories feel like vignettes in Ororo Munroe’s life between the myriad events going on in the X-Men universe. But what Greg Pak has been doing is taking the reader back to her roots, showcasing exactly what makes the former goddess and Queen of Wakanda tick, which inevitably leads her back to Africa; specifically Kenya where she was once worshipped because of her powers over the weather. After meeting the locals, she also finds herself confronted with another part of her past when Forge is revealed to be the one behind bringing her back so he can create a method of weather control so the local villagers can grow their crops. Unfortunately, Forge’s machine is too unstable and the leader of the village is a little too eager to harness the power of a god. Through the lessons she learned from being falsely worshipped as well as her time being de-powered and betrayed, Storm shows what makes her a true leader as she shows the wisdom necessary to strike a balance between Forge and the village. Neither are ready to move on, so she makes sure they find a way to do so together.

 

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5-6 – DC Comics

sensation5Written by Ivan Cohen with Art by Marcus To these two chapters serve as a full story that sees Diana’s belief in the gods challenged when she supposedly loses her powers. The writers and artists involved with Sensation Comics have been doing a stellar job of showcasing the various aspects of Wonder Woman and Ivan Cohen pushes the concept of belief into the forefront. Diana is a paragon of justice, truth, honor, and compassion, but even in this day and age her origins involving the Greek pantheon give people pause when she’s also wrapped up in the stars and stripes. The brilliance of this story, however, is Diana’s cleverness in sussing out who the true villain is and besting him through the sheer force of belief in one thing and one thing alone: herself. Without that she’s nothing and it makes all the difference.

 

Spotlight: Saga #23 – Image Comics

Saga23OneAs if there was any doubt! Saga is an ongoing emotional roller coaster and, as always, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still manage to pull the rug out from under the reader. The penultimate issue of the current arc finds Marko nearly giving into his feelings for Ginny after Alana kicked him out and Alana continuing to turn to drugs to cope with how miserable she is, but our favorite married couple find that even the greatest temptations can’t completely pull them away from each other. Oddly enough, it isn’t the calming and placating platitudes from Ginny to Marko or the story of lost love from Izabel to Alana that snaps everything into place, it’s Hazel’s toy Ponk Konk. Marko knows how much his daughter loves the toy and it spurs him to return to his home. Alana, on the other hand, sees how much she’s been missing out on by working the Open Circuit and getting high while Marko practically raises their daughter without her. Unfortunately, Dengo and the princeling show up before the family can reunite, fulfilling Hazel’s earlier statement that this is indeed the story of how her parents split up when Alana activates their rocket ship tree to blastoff, leaving the planet and Marko behind as a means of stopping Dengo. At the issue’s end, Marko is stranded, unable to reach his family, but he’s not the only father desperate to get to his family.

 

So those are my picks for the week. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what comics you’d highlight, either as regular pulls or new comics people should check out.

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I friggin’ can’t. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are slowly, but surely, tearing my heart out as I watch a train wreck happen right in front of me. It’s painful and yet I can’t look away. I’ve laughed at a lot of comics (because they were intentionally orsaga_21 unintentionally funny), I’ve gotten angry at comics, but this may be the first time that I’ve been depressed after reading an issue.

But, like I said, I still want more. Apparently I’m a masochist at heart.

Marko and Alana continue their slow slide towards the possible destruction of their family as Alana continues to take the drug Fadeaway while working in the Open Circuit and Marko finds that he may have a slight attraction to Hazel’s dance instructor, Ginny. Elsewhere, the Robot janitor who killed Princess Robot and stole her child makes his way towards a familiar planet and the memory-deficient Prince Robot IV finds out some devastating news.

Short, sweet, and simple right? If only Saga was like that. Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me reading this arc is the off-chance that Vaughan and Staples will pull a one-eighty on me and completely turn the story around as they seem to do in order to get readers pumped for the next chapter. Unfortunately, this creative team have been brutally honest when it comes to the relationships depicted in their story. As Hazel wisely states, “From the moment it’s formed, a family is almost always under attack.” Of course there’s always a literal and figurative example of anything Hazel says. In the past, Marko and Alana would’ve been the primary example what with their fugitive status and all. Now it’s Prince Robot’s family. His wife’s been killed, his child stolen, and he’s only now recovered his memories after his battle at Heist’s lighthouse…more or less. Even though he’s been one of the primary antagonists for Marko and Alana, we’ve always known his motivations for going after them. Now that he’s been delivered the crushing blow of news, his war has become far more personal.

Marko and AlanaOn a more figurative level, Marko and Alana are facing internal attacks on their relationship that are entirely their own doing. The strain of Alana being at work all the time to support their family and Marko’s lonely house-husband routine have kept the two apart for most of the story; their coping skills aren’t exactly healthy either. This is perfectly illustrated when Marko surprises a still high Alana with candles and sexy times that turn out to be anything but sexy from the reader’s point of view. In fact, the whole scene is heartbreaking. Alana is still tripping after taking drugs to get through the day at work of product placement in lingerie (Vaughan continuing his jibes at media) and Marko is desperately trying to connect with his wife after Ginny shows some interest in him that’s a bit more than complaining about the trials of parenthood. What should be a romantic and/or erotic scene of two people who love each other coming together is juxtaposed by Hazel’s narration regarding how close and yet so far apart two people can be even if they love each other. Vaughan’s words and Staples’ beautiful art tell the same story in very different ways, neither of which make the reader feel good about the scene since we know what circumstances have spawned this “spontaneous” love-making. Though one has to wonder how long Marko was waiting in the shadows all naked-like before Alana entered the bedroom.

Final Thoughts: I would love an entire issue of Klara and Izabel interacting. Those two are definitely Saga’s Odd Couple!

saga_17-1This was originally posted at Word of the Nerd on December 19th.

I tell myself I’m not going to get emotionally invested in a comic and then what does Brian K. Vaughan do? Kill all your darlings…well played, Mr. Vaughan. Well played.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the penultimate issue of the current arc, we finally catch up to where we left off at the end of the last arc. Before that, we get to check in with our journalist couple, Upsher and Doff, who receive an unfortunate visit from The Brand and his partner, Sweet Boy, a demonic-looking Saint Bernard complete with a tiny cask around his neck. The Brand has been hired to silence the reporters. He does, just not in the way you’d expect. Back at the lighthouse, the family of fugitives try to form a plan of escape while Prince Robot IV continues to interrogate a bleeding Heist, unaware that the people he’s hunting are right above him. Gwendolyn and Lying Cat have also caught up to the group, converging on the lighthouse in order to assure that Marko remains alive so he can heal The Will who hasn’t been doing so well since Sophie stabbed him in the neck while under the influence of a planetary hallucinogen. Marko prepares for the worst, implying that he’s willing to kill their daughter in order to save her from the torture she’s most likely to receive. Alana doesn’t see the situation as that extreme, assuring Marko that she’ll do anything to save their daughter, though killing is a step too far. Klara, however, takes matters into her own hands and, of course, this being Saga, nothing ever works neatly, or well.

The focus of Saga has, for the most part, been on Marko and Alana’s love affair and the disruptive nature of two individuals from warring peoples finding a way to be together. They choose not to participate in a war that has destroyed so many lives, but in having a child, they’ve produced proof that union between the armies of Wreath and Landfall is possible. They’ve inadvertently discovered the opposite of war, which, according to Heist’s latest novel of the same name, is sex. Actually, they use a more explicit term, but I’m trying to keep this review as clean as possible considering the subject matter of this issue specifically. Since their arrival on Quietus to visit the author, The Opposite of War has come up a few times in conversation between Heist and his house guests, though it isn’t until Prince Robot points a gun at his head that the author coaxes the answer out of his unwanted home invader.

Heist and Prince RobotWhile we’re conditioned to believe the opposite of war is peace, when Prince Robot is pressed by Heist to tell him where his mind went during one or two of his near death experiences, he reveals that he was involved in an orgy with the men and women he served with in battle, people he loved and respected, though never in a romantic way. It’s worth noting that Fiona Staples renders a very tasteful orgy – a splash page with Prince Robot standing in the center surrounded by the memory of what he experienced. It actually puts a splash page of Prince Robot from issue 12, wounded and possibly dying, into context. On his face is a sex scene, which may be proof of what Heist means. War is an aggressive act of violence but, as Heist says, peace “is just a lull in the action.” Peace time means waiting around for the act of violence, the next battle, the next war. In Heist’s philosophy, sex is the opposite of war because while war is an aggressive act of death and destruction, sex is an aggressive act that creates. It doesn’t have to be a child like Marko and Alana. It could be the creation of anything: love, joy, ecstasy, or just a sense of being part of something else, something that is not entirely you.

It’s a beautiful thought, actually, if only Vaughan didn’t have to go and wreck it with all the other stuff that happens. I swear, Saga is just going to ruin me when it ends someday. Not now, thankfully, but I can only imagine what Vaughan has planned for the long-term.

Final Thoughts: Things are not looking good, but I can’t look away!

This was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 27th

Oh, Saga, you certainly do know how to make a girl’s jaw drop one minute and squeal in delight in the next. Saga-16

Continuing their search for the truth regarding Alana’s possible kidnapping/defection, the intrepid reporters Upsher and Doff confront yet another of Alana’s former commanders, Special Agent Gale of Secret Intelligence. While Gale is reluctant to speak with them, which is putting it mildly, when they show him a picture of Alana snagging her poncho from a clothesline while wearing her wedding ring, he ushers them into his apartment and reveals to them that Alana never defected. She’s a spy for Landfall, one of the best, according to Gale. However, if Upsher and Doff continue digging for the truth, it could endanger millions of lives. He then undercuts a reasonable request by blackmailing the homosexual journalists who’re considered criminals on their home world of Jetsam and calls for a hit on them once they’ve left.

Unfortunately, the best man for the job of taking the two out isn’t returning anyone’s calls because he’s be brutally stabbed by a little girl high on the opiates produced by a planet’s ecosystem. Which I’m sure happens all the time. Gwendolyn, while searching for Sophie with Lying Cat, falls prey to the same hallucinations when she sees the woman who took her virginity calling to her. Thankfully, Lying Cat lets her know that the woman isn’t really there and Gwendolyn figures out that Sophie and The Will are in trouble. When she discovers the damage done to Will, she knows there’s only one person who can save him: Marko. On Quietus, the family of fugitives are still soaking in the restful few days they’ve had in Heist’s lighthouse, giving Marko and Alana some time to think more about how they’re going to earn a living and raise Hazel. The solution appears to be putting Alana in Circuits – Saga‘s equivalent of television – since she does have a previous background in acting, which she tries to downplay. The illusion of luxury, however, disappears quickly when the plot catches up with itself and Prince Robot IV shows up.

Alana SpySixteen issues in and Brian K. Vaughan has managed to create a menagerie of fleshed out, nuanced characters and suddenly he’s put the motivations of one half of the romantic duo into question. A lot of time and effort has been put into showing Marko and Alana’s romance, building it up like a science-fiction version of Romeo and Juliet. The lovers meet, quickly fall for one another, and run away together, though their actions have significant consequences. Now, Vaughan is setting up a new wrinkle in the story. Is the love between the two real? It certainly looks that way on Marko’s end, but the scenes involving Upsher and Doff uncovering Alana’s past, as well as brief scenes of Alana and Marko meeting for the first time and supposedly falling in love over Heist’s book can be viewed in a new light with this information. Vaughan reinforces our suspicions of Alana when she and Marko discuss her possibly becoming an actor on the Open Circuit. Alana says there’s more to acting than what Marko briefly saw and when Marko suggests he’d rather Hazel grow up around actors than soldiers, Alana quietly implies that he’s never been around actors enough to make that call. All of this is meant to keep us guessing about Alana’s true allegiance and Fiona Staples does a remarkable job of making Alana’s expressions as cryptic as possible. She’s becoming less of the open book she was at the beginning of Saga, which is almost uncomfortable to look at because Vaughan and Staples have made us care so much about Alana and Marko as a couple.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope that Alana’s defection was real for the reasons we think. Hazel’s narration implies that she was raised by her parents, so if Alana was a spy, perhaps she truly did fall in love with Marko over the course of their time on the run that resulted in Hazel being conceived. There’s also Hazel to consider. That’s some pretty deep cover for Alana to risk getting pregnant just to somehow spy on the enemy when it seems Marko isn’t all that involved in his people’s affairs. There’s also the possibility that Special Agent Gale said Alana was a spy to throw the journalists off, though his call for a hit on them a clear indicator that they’re getting to the bottom of something. All I know is Vaughan is going to do his damnedest to keep us guessing until some sort of reveal occurs.

Final Thoughts: It’s Vaughan’s story to tell and though Heist he proclaims that stories always follow a formula, but the best stories break all the rules for the fun of an adventure. Considering what the next issue has in store, this adventure is only getting started.

This review was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on October 30th.saga15-cover

If you’ll recall from Issue #12, the ending narration by Hazel indicated that she and her family had been residing at the home of author D. Oswald Heist for a whole week before Prince Robot IV arrived in his pursuit of Marko and Alana. The current arc is Hazel recounting those blissful few days before what I assume will be some kind of showdown or epic chase between her family and Prince Robot or the convergence of all stories with The Will, Gwendolyn, Lying Cat, and Sophie joining the fray as well. Though based on how this issue ended…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The benefits of Brian K. Vaughan’s slow burn of storytelling is that we get to spend a lot of time with these characters. In any other book, once Prince Robot shows up and we know the family is trying to escape, the narrative would pick up from there and run full steam ahead. Vaughan does the exact opposite. He takes his time, giving us more information not just in regards to our main characters, but others on the periphery as we see with the amphibious journalists, Upsher and Doff, who’re still unpacking the true story of Alana’s supposed “capture” by the enemy. After speaking with Alana’s step-mother, they’ve now moved on to Alana’s former commanding officer, Countess Robot X, who gets an amazingly badass splash page introduction. Fiona Staples continues to up the ante of impressive images with Countess Robot, her arm a sword, standing near the body of the dragon she’s just slain while ordering people to get the carcass off her runway. The women of Saga do not disappoint! Anyway, the Countess reveals to our journalists that Alana was sent to Wreath – where she would eventually meet Marko – as punishment for hesitating to drop bombs on civilians. She did bomb them with amazing precision, but it’s the hesitancy that got her sent away.

Vaughan’s focus on Alana’s past is interesting because, though a capable warrior, her priorities have now shifted to domesticity. In fact, she likes the idea of doing laundry and taking care of her child, which Klara points out shouldn’t be her focus at all. Apparently Marko’s mother adheres to the notion that women must immediately contribute to the workforce and the betterment of their society as a means of setting the right example for their children instead of coddling them. Alana is both impressed with her mother-in-law’s progressivism and offended by her assumption that she’s not doing right by Hazel. Heist gets in on the discussion when he points out that she and Marko will have to earn money at some point since their time with him can only be finite with patrols dropping in from time to time. Even Marko has his reservations about raising Hazel entirely on their spaceship tree, causing Alana to feel ganged up on as she storms out. I should also point out that this is happening during a round of the popular Wreath game Nun Tuj Nun with three rounds involving drawing, arm wrestling, and the psych-out. Guess which round this argument happens during?

Countess Robot XThe theme of domesticity as an illusion, however, is part and parcel to the dangers looming over Marko and Alana. Playing the role of doting mother and wife, despite being a fugitive, is important to Alana because it can’t last, at least not in the way she wants it to. Hazel’s narration drives the point home perfectly. Her parents never just let her win games as she was growing up because, in their own way, they needed her to understand loss. Here, we get to see where that lesson originated. Staying with Heist is out of the question, but there’s no way, as Klara confesses to Heist, that Marko and Alana can just fill out job applications while she plays nanny to her granddaughter. One way or another they’ll have to move on and find a way to survive. Both Heist and Marko allude to different plans for how they might improve their situation, but that’s for another issue. For now, Marko and Alana are content to enjoy their slight reprieve from being on the run. Which may or may not involve sexy times.

Vaughan extends the theme a bit further with the preparations made by The Will to continue pursing Marko, Alana, and Prince Robot. Though he seemed content to stay on the planet not so far away from his bounty’s location, he proves the appropriateness of his name when he resists the temptation to stay and play house with Gwendolyn and Sophie. The ship all patched up, our illusions of things working out for the anti-heroes of Saga are quickly dashed when we learn that the planet itself secretes a parasite through its food sources, creating hallucinations to lure hosts into its ecosystem. The turn comes swift as Will learns his visions were not his own and suffers what could be a killing blow from the last person he expected.

Final Thoughts: Nun Tuj Nun will be the next big thing, you guys. Invest now! Also, go read this book!