This outstanding graphic novel series, often referred to as a “space opera,” continues the story of the little family of Marko and Alana – a mixed-race couple – and their daughter Hazel. The family is struggling to stay together in spite of a war between their two races.
Alana is from the planet Landfall, where inhabitants have wings on their backs, and Marko is from its moon, Wreath, where all people have horns on their heads. The two defied all convention (and propaganda, viz: those people have horns on their heads!) and fell in love. Hazel was born with both horns and wings, and it is Hazel who narrates the story.
There is an ongoing intergalactic hunt for Marko and Alana, because their love story gives lie to the party line that the people from these two species can’t, and never will, get along, and that their offspring would not be viable.
The three of them are currently on a ship racing from those who seek to kill them, but they are not alone. Hazel’s babysitter Izabel is there. Prince Robot IV is traveling with them in order to get back to his young son. Petrichor, who was sort of “adopted” by Hazel when they were in prison together, has also reluctantly become a part of this odd but increasingly bonded family.
“If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then a family is more like a ROPE. We’re lots of fragile little strands, and we survive by becoming hopelessly intertwined with each other.”
Unfortunately, they need to stop and refuel at the nearest source of power, which is the dangerous war-torn comet Phang. As Hazel, with her usual trenchant powers of observation, characterized this place:
“. . . an exotic land of boundless diversity, home to thousands of different tribes, sects, and species . . . almost all of whom despised each other.”
They end up staying six months, during which time IV confronts his guilt over how he has lived his life, Marko struggles to maintain his pacifism, and Alana is ever more heavily pregnant. Hazel has her first kiss with one of the denizens of the comet, and her babysitter Izabel has, much to Hazel’s consternation, gone missing.
In alternate chapters we follow what is happening with recurring characters who are looking for the family, including the mercenaries The Will and The March, as well as Gwendolyn and little Sophie, the latter two now accompanied by Lying Cat, who previously had been with The Will.
Discussion: There is more emphasis in this volume on the ongoing war with its violence and killing, rather than the notions of love and loyalty that usually take center stage in this series. Some of the best characters are eliminated. But there is never a dearth of nuance and pathos; in spite of the small space for picture and dialogue in the graphic novel, even the worst characters are miraculously made into beings eliciting our compassion and understanding.
Illustrator Fiona Staples is listed as first author, which seems appropriate. Her art work contributes to the meaning of the story in ways it would be hard for words to do alone. She not only imbues the vivid panels with dynamism and astounding creativity, but the way she captures emotions of all sorts of creatures is incredibly impressive.
The Observer recently reported about her:
“Fiona Staples is nominated for some Eisner Awards . . . again. She’s now been nominated ten times, and so far she’s won six [for her work on Saga]. The Eisner Awards are like the Oscars of comics, which would make her our Meryl Streep. The only difference is that Eisner categories aren’t divided by gender, and for any woman to get to the tippy top in comics is no small feat.”
Evaluation: This is an outstanding “saga” whether you like graphic novels or not. This is not by any means a series for kids – you will see graphic (in both senses) depictions of childbirth, oral sex, anal sex, masturbation – just about anything you can think of (or more accurately, might have never thought of!).
No one gender or race has claim to any particular qualities, whether courage or compassion. But overall, the females tend to be more formidable, powerful and tough, and the guys more nurturing. (My favorite scene in this book: Alana is handling weapons while Marko, in slippers and an apron, is doing the dishes.) The political commentary is as powerful as it is subtle. This series is hilarious, moving, exciting, romantic, action-packed, and crazily mentally stimulating, all at once. This volume may leave you sadder than usual, however.
Published by Image Comics, 2017
If you are new to the series, be sure to read the books in order!