Sunday, 15 September 2013

Saga volume 2 review

This is one of Staples's best covers so far.
I enjoyed the first volume of Saga much more on my second read. My expectations and preconceived notions were too disruptive to my enjoyment the first time I read it. Once I had a clear idea of what Saga was, I was able to better enjoy it the second time around. I was able to look at it for what it was. I paid attention to its multiple components as well as the final result without having to worry whether or not Brian K. Vaughan was still able to create good comics after leaving the medium for a few short years (his absence felt longer than what it really was because he stopped creating new comics years before he ever stopped writing them; Ex Machina was his only title for a while).

Expectations can be a funny thing and they regularly play a make it or break it role when it comes to our appreciation of entertainment. Because I have read and reread the first volume of Saga, I had pretty clear expectations for the second volume. Because I’ve read most of BKV’s comics, I was excited, much more than I was for the first volume, but I was still a little worried. One of them had to do with Fiona Staples’s art. Will it improve of diminish in quality? Already in the first volume there were a number of backgrounds that seemed rushed or unfinished. I know that Saga doesn’t have a strict monthly schedule. The creators are seemingly producing the comic on a daily basis but the issues are released six at a time at a one per month frequency and then there is a break of a few months before the next batch of six issues comes out. Canadian artist, Staples, has a lot to do on these issues. She takes care of the art from start to finish, including but not necessarily limited to pencils, inks, colours and cover art (on which she uses a more complex and most likely more time consuming colouring technique).

I had other concerns, too. Will BKV give the reader a sense of what the overarching story will be? So far, the main protagonists are simply running away from the intergalactic conflict between the people of their respective planets (or moons). The sub-plots are so far limited to other characters undergoing their own little quests which are related to the fate of Alana and Marko. At the end of the first volume, things still seem to happen seemingly without reason other than this is what must happen for the writer to set up his story. To BKV’s credit, it’s interesting but he can’t keep that pace for long and expect readers to stay interested. There needs to be more story and more character development. Get me hooked on this comic.

My last big concern had to do with the world building. Will BKV and Staples be able to make the world building into something that resembles a cohesive whole with a strong internal logic? So far we’ve had talking monkey, tv-headed robots mixing in with wooden spaceships, magic swords, ghosts, laser guns and more. They’re all interesting, if not from a storytelling or originality perspective, then at least from and visual perspective but it all seems too loose and chaotic at this point. I wanted them to tighten up the world building to help me truly believe in the setting in which the story is taking place so that I can let myself be immersed in Alana and Marko’s lives. In short, Saga volume 1 was a good introduction but the second volume really had to kick things into high great because the series at six issues wasn’t strong enough to support itself as the type of Vertigo style maxi-series it’s trying to be. I understand it’s sometimes difficult to see how a series will progress, even vaguely, on six issues but that’s the problem. When the main characters are simply running away, it doesn’t leave us with much to hang on to storytelling wise. The characters are pretty reactive in the first six issues and I need them to be proactive in order to provide me with a story and not just snippets of event that are happening concurrently between different characters.

It's unfortunate that Alana gestures right a the crappy background. 

I’ve glad to say, for the most part, Saga volume 2 did not disappoint. It was a distinct improvement on the first volume. All of the concerns I had going in were addressed. BKV provides us some history between Alana and Marko, how they met and how they ended up in their current predicament. BKV did this using a technique that will feel very familiar to his long time readers. What’s good about his writing is that he doesn’t tell things linealy from one issue to the next. There is always a current “present” story going on that intercut with flashbacks often taking place in the beginning of an issue that provides snippets from the past adding characterisation and sometimes setting up future storylines or, at the very least, adding context to the current storyline. It’s a technique BKV’s often used but he does well so I don’t mind seeing it here again.

Saga does feel like BKV is telling a new story using old tried and tested methods. There aren’t any significant differences in how BKV is telling his story compared to some of his larger works such as Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man. Part of me wishes he would try something new but the other part of me I knows that his tried and true techniques will make for a good comic.

This relates to one of the problems I have with Saga. If you read comic reviewing website, a lot of people are really losing it for this comic. You read some reviews and people are saying Saga is the best thing to hit the comic scene in years. Yes, it’s good. The second volume is very good but I wouldn’t call it the best. Saga despite trying to be edgy is a “safe” comic. It tries to be edgy. This book has more adult content than previous BKV comics but it’s portrayed in a juvenile way that takes away the bite out of the adult content. This comic is posing as an edgy work but it’s really just Star Wars in comic form with more jokes, more magic, more boobs, penis and butts and less mythos. That last part sound like a critique but it isn’t really. It just want to make it clear I think this is a safe comic for adult readers who are really only looking for a good space adventure story to read without being judged for it. At the end of the day, this is a fun comic is good twists and turns and a relatively fast pace. The fact there is a Mature Readers tag on the back cover simply serves as a defense against non-comic enthusiasm who might give a condescending look to adults reading a space adventure comic.

I went off on a bit of a tangent there but Saga provides so many topic for discussions and I still have a lot of things I want to say about it. I want to talk about Staples art some more. It hasn’t really grown on me. I like it about the same I did while reading the first volume. I think he character work and designs are great but, her backgrounds continue to be hit or miss with me. Some work very well, so well in fact I get pretty disappointed when I turn to the next page and look at a background that just fails to deliver. Her covers on the other hand remain top notch. I’ve been impressed with almost every cover she’s done for Saga so far.
The colouring is just great on this cover.
I've noticed that Staples doesn't really draw
backgrounds on her covers. Solid colours
seem to be her preference.

The absolute best thing about the second volume is the relationships that start to form. One of my favourite was the bonding between Alana and Barr while on the wooden spaceship. Their time on the ship together is primarily composed of talking, taking care of Mabel and giving parenting tips. It’s great and it shows just how good BKV is at writing seemingly everyday conversations that create depth of character. It's pretty impressive but more importantly, it was so enjoyable while also advancing the story and adding depth to the comic which is something it was missing up until this point.

Volume 2 improves on the first in part due to its development of the themes to be found in Saga. Themes of war and pacifisms which were apparent in the first issue are further developed but that's not the real focus. Neither is love the main theme, though there is quite a bit of material available to support that. I think family is the predominant theme. Monarchical families, adoptive families, broken families, inter species families; they all exist in Saga. I don’t want to be to descriptive but I’ve outline four distinct families in  the series so far they each bring forth interesting ideas of the notion of family. What’s a family? Is it something you’re born into or is it something you make for yourself? BKV seems to be arguing the latter but I’m certain he’s only beginning to talk about the families. Take a second look at Saga, it’s all over the place from Mabel’s narration to the parenting tips to the conflicting (and sometimes complimentary) roles existing within the same individual.

I’ve had a lot to say about the second volume of Saga and I’m very happy about it. I’m not worried about whether or not it will be a good comic. I know now that it is. I hope it continues to be and I also hope Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples continue to impress and surprise. One thing is clear; I have very few concerns left over the quality of Saga. Instead, I’m starting to build a list of expectations and I’ve got a feeling the creators at play will rise to and maybe exceed them.

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