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Best of 2012: Saga and the Opening Gambit

I think we likely place too much emphasis on our “top ten” comic books of the year, as obviously with the thousands of comics out there in any given year, there is a much bigger difference between the cream of the crop and the bad books than there are between the best books. So rather than giving honorable mentions in my Top Ten Comics of 2012, I will spotlight a few of my favorites through New Year’s Day. – BC

The beginning of any work should obviously try to both grip you as a reader and give you a strong sense of what the work you are about to read will be about. In comics, I think the opening is likely even more important than a novel, where you have a bit more time to lure your reader in (since you have a whole page full of text). Heck, Greg is just finishing a year-long examination of the opening pages of comic books. What strikes me about Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga is just how perfect the opening to their great series is. Read on to see what I mean…

Here are the first two pages of Saga #1…

Even after re-reading these pages in preparation of this piece, I was struck by just how expertly this opening scene explains to us what this series is all about. Besides Staples’ excellent artwork and striking sense of design, these pages tell us that this is a comic book that stars fantastical characters but characters that are ground in the same sort of reality that we all live in. This is not a comic about a miraculous science fiction world. It is about a miraculous science fiction where the wonders of the world are contrasted against the ever preset grit of everyday life. This is an unvarnished comic book. Childbirth will be depicted as it actually is, not some pasteurized version of the event. When we meet a ghost girl later in the series, while there is certainly some degree of “cuteness” about her, it is contrasted with the fact that she appears in the same state she was in when she died, namely missing everything below her torso as a result of a mine exploding (we see her guts and everything).

While this approach is admirable in and of itself, it would mean nothing if Vaughan and Staples did not create compelling characters that we’d like to follow through this unvarnished fantasy world. Luckily, that’s just what they do, and you can tell that right from the opening pages, as Alana and Marko are clearly two interesting characters who also just as clearly care a lot for each other. Their bond makes the journey we go on work.

Of course, it is not just their journey that we are seeing. Slowly but surely, Vaughan and Staples populate this world with a variety of fascinating characters. Most notable are the the bounty hunters hunting down the couple and their child (Alana and Marko are a sort of intergalactic Romeo and Juliet, one is from a moon and one is from that moon’s planet. Their people have been at war for many, many years) and the robot prince who is tasked with their capture, as well, in an official governmental capacity.

Some of the most striking aspects of the series come from the bounty hunter known as The Will, who is accompanied by a Lying Cat, a cat who can tell if you are lying. The Will is not a good man, but he is also driven by a certain code of honor that comes up in a bizarre fashion while on a pleasure planet. The Will has had his heart broken by a fellow bounty hunter and their interaction is fascinating in how it drives him.

I’ve long been an admirer of Staples’ prodigious talents (I believe I’ve spotlighted her here before) and she is absolutely destroying this series. Her designs are excellent, her character work is sublime and she is an amazing storyteller. Vaughan sure is lucky to be working with her.

The story is narrated by Hazel, the baby in the series, as she tells her story from the future and Vaughan uses this plot device very well, as he allows certain hints to drop here and there about future stories. Also, the way that he breaks off her narration to form powerful cliffhangers is quite impressive. Vaughan has always been a big cliffhanger guy, but I think that Saga is his best use of the cliffhanger that I have seen from him yet. They’re much more fluid. They feel like they arise naturally and are not being forced.

I like that we get consistent flashbacks filling us in on Marko and Alana’s courtship. It is a strange one, to be sure, so I think it was a smart move to begin the book with them already together and fill us in as we go along.

All in all, Saga is a wildly exciting adventure filled with great characters and excellent artwork. I feel really lucky that we have years more of this series to look forward to!

Highly Recommeneded.

9 Comments

This is one of my favorite new comics period, let alone 2012. I’m glad to see a mention. After your top ten list, my first thought was “no Saga?!?” but I didn’t push it since it was a personal list, and only ten deep.

Staples and Vaughn are really doing something special here.

Another book I recommend for inclusion is Matt Fraction’s Defenders. Issue 12, the final issue, may be my favorite super hero book ever.

It’s funny how different taste can be sometimes, because I thought the first two pages of Saga were the worst series beginning I’ve ever read. Overall I thought the whole first issue was only so-so, and I debated not continuing with the series. But the design of the second issue cover lured me back in. I still wouldn’t call Saga an excellent series, but I think it’s a good one, and I’m glad I stuck with it. And like Greg, I have much more leeway with creator owned works.

But man, I really hated that opening. It felt like it was trying to capture the shock of language and content that served Preacher so well, but without any character context, the shock is just that. While I think there is definitely a lot to like in the first 8 issues of Saga, I still think the series is at its worst when its visuals try to shock us, such as the giant ogre with his huge swingin’ scrotum in the latest issue. In Preacher stuff like that worked, but it feels out of place in Saga (at least for me).

But oh well.

Other comics I loved in 2012, that I’m hoping to see spotlighted here, include: Manhattan Projects, Prophet, Fatale, Glory, Underwater Welder, Wolverine & The X-Men, Hawkeye, and New Deadwardians.

And man, how sad is the New 52 that after buying 40 of the first issues, I’m already down to like 7 of the monthly titles, and none of them are better than B/B+ range. I don’t think a single New 52 title will make my own top ten, though Batman, Flash, and Animal Man/Swamp Thing (impossible to separate at this point) are at least in honorable mention range. The best things DC published in 2012 were (in some order) Scalped, New Deadwardians, Judas Coin, and Sweet Tooth. What a fucked up company.

Though I do think this is a good analysis with well-made points, even though I disagree with them.

This is one of my favorite new comics period, let alone 2012. I’m glad to see a mention. After your top ten list, my first thought was “no Saga?!?” but I didn’t push it since it was a personal list, and only ten deep.

Yeah, what I want to stress here is how the distinction between “Top 20″ and “Top 10″ is not a significant one.

@TheThirdMan: No love for Morrison’s Batman? At this point, I think it’s the only great work coming out of DC’s superhero world, and his Batman Inc has been da shit(sporadic releases killing momentum aside). It’s kinda been overshadowed by the more popular, accessible Snyder Batman series, but I think when it’s all said and done in 2013, Morrison’s gonna have the definitive longform statement on the character.

Another thing about the opening of Saga, is even though the series is grounded, there is a high- minded, literary quality to it, given the metaphor used in the first two pages.

Agree. Saga easily gets my award for best comic of 2012.

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That opening scene is just terribly written- pure cheese. I haven’t read any of Saga except for the issue previews available but most of it contained soap opera level (or worse) dialogue. However, I do really like Staples ultra clean artwork.

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