On March 14th, after an absence of several years that included a sojourn writing for television, and writing some screenplays that have yet to make it to screen, writer Brian K. Vaughan returns to the medium that made his name with Image Comics’ Saga #1. To say the debut issue - pencilled beautifully by Fiona Staples - is easily one of the best single issues of the year is probably an understatement: this is the start of what will probably be the next great scifi/fantasy epic, and we couldn’t be happier to have Vaughan back in comics.
Vaughan is probably best known for his original ideas, specifically Marvel’s Runaways, Wildtsorm’s Ex Machina, and most notably Vertigo’s Y: The Last Man... But the writer actually started in comics on numerous work for hire projects, including stints on Batman, X-Men, and more. He even wrote a Ka-Zar Annual, and an issue of Young Justice, so point being, Vaughan paid his dues and cut his teeth on a number of other series before making a gigantic leap forward in 2002 with Y: The Last Man.
If there’s a formula to Vaughan’s writing - and there isn’t, not really - it really began here, with Y: The Last Man #1. The first issue worked like a great TV pilot, introducing the various characters, before bringing them together, and then throwing in a huge cliffhanger. Here, we get to meet Yorick Brown, an aspiring magician and monkey owner whose girlfriend is abroad in Australia. Meanwhile, his Mom is in DC dealing with some shady members of the government; a secret agent is trying to recover a sacred amulet; and a doctor in Boston is giving birth to her own clone. All these events come crashing together, as at the same time, all over the world, all the men die... Except Yorick. Sure it’s given away in the title, but the last page, with Yorick alone realizing something is wrong is still pretty jaw-dropping.
The next year, in 2003, Vaughan perfected the formula with Runaways #1 Here, we got a group of disparate kids in Los Angeles who come together once a year to watch their rich parents party together and reminisce about old times. The issue ended, though, with a pretty huge revelation: the parents actually got together once a year to sacrifice a young girl to their evil gods. As we’d find out, along with the Runaways, the parents were actually a supervillain team called The Pride, and each of the kids had powers of their own they used to evade, and eventually try to take down their Moms and Dads.
Ex Machina #1 also hit some of the same beats, jumping around in time, introducing us to the cast, and ending with the shocking cliffhanger image of one of the Twin Towers still standing - clearly indicating that we weren’t in the same universe we know so well; and foreshadowing the series’ fascination with parallel universes.
So going into Saga #1, we expected some of these elements, and a lot of them are there. Like other first issues by Vaughan, a first line that draws you right in is there on the first page. With Y: The Last Man, that first line was, “All the men are dead,” with the image of a woman with a gun to her head. Here, we get a woman grimacing, saying, “Am I s***ting right now? It feels like I’m s***ting.” And like that, Vaughan makes you laugh in shock, and sets the tone for the whole first issue... The context of the quote is immediately changed on the next page, but we learn pretty much we need to know about Alana, one of the series two main characters, in that line. We also get the span of the series, as we jump from one planet to another, introducing the supporting cast that will inevitably crash together at some point.
What we don’t get - and what’s most surprising, in a way - is that last page shocking, turn the series on its head cliffhanger. There is a cliffhanger of sorts, mind you, but what Vaughan does here is instead provide an emotional cliffhanger, one that deeply, deeply invests you in the stakes and circumstances surrounding these characters and their eventual fates. Without spoiling anything, Vaughan even tells you straight out how the series will end, which should be the OPPOSITE of a cliffhanger. But it’s all so masterfully constructed, readers will be desperate not just to read the next issue, but the entire series at the same sitting.
I’m jumping around what actually happens in the issue for fear of spoilers, and because I think readers should discover the joys of the book for themselves. But what I can tell you is that this is a fantasy/science fiction world unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or read. It has elements of other works, like Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or even Romeo and Juliet. But like any great work of literature, it pays tribute to these elements, but boldly forges its own path. Quite simply: This is the most fully realized new world committed to any medium since Star Wars, and even that ripped off a bunch of stuff.
It’s a beautiful, emotional, exciting, and very, very funny story, and if you don’t hear a John Williams-esque score swelling in the background as you read the final few pages, you’re probably dead inside. What Saga is, is quite simply presented in the title. This is epic. This is a story that feels timely, and timeless at the same time. Saga is, well, a saga. Vaughan has expanded his storytelling, allowing him to not just say something about our relationships with our parents; or how men and women relate; or the role of government in our lives... But to tell a story about what makes us human. Funny that he had to go off planet to do that.
Last little bit, none of this would feel quite so epic if it wasn’t for Fiona Staples gobsmackingly good pencils. She seamlessly mixes lettering with the art to create a reading experience unlike any other in comics. And her character design is the perfect companion to Vaughan’s reminiscent characters, if that makes sense. Too many times, aliens and fantasy creatures all look the same. Here, you have characters that don’t just not look like each other, they don’t look like anything else you’ve ever seen. Fans of fantasy, sci-fi, or just genre fiction in general will fall head over heels in love with Staples’ work here.
If you missed out on Runaways the first time through; if you missed out on Ex Machina; if you missed out on Y: The Last Man... This is your chance to get on board from the beginning, not just of the next Brian K. Vaughan title, but also the next big story in comics. Years from now, when someone asks what’s a good title to hand to someone whose never read comic books before? Saga will be at the top of the list. The only thing this makes us nervous... What is Vaughan going to do next?
Saga #1 hits comic book stands on March 14th, 2012, from Image Comics.