Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: Saga, chapter nineteen

The cover of the new issue of Saga says "Chapter Nineteen," but in the hands of any other publisher, this would be the first issue of volume two. This would be a reboot or a new season or a bold new direction. This is a new status quo, with parents Alana and Marko hiding out instead of on the run. Consider, also, the first respective pages of chapters one and nineteen:

But Saga is published by Image, and as such it remains under the control of creators and auteurs Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Vaughan and Staples continue to present Saga with the confidence and authority of master storytellers, telling a story that already exists -- they've only just decided to share it with a wider audience. Saga doesn't feel like it's being created for the reader, so much as found by the reader. Which makes its creation all the more impressive.

But, okay. There are two pages everyone who talks about Saga has been talking about since the release of chapter nineteen: the first page and the last page. The first page is reproduced up above. It's beautiful and weird and compelling. The last page is provocative and shocking and inevitable. I won't reproduce it here, or discuss the reasons that make it these things, except to say: if you read Saga, you will love the last page and fear the last page. You will be confused and excited, the way Battlestar Galactica's "One Year Later" jump confused and excited you. That's all to say that Saga continues to not only be an impressive comic book narrative, it also continues to push upward the ceiling of what periodical comic books can accomplish in the 21st century.

Specific reasons why Saga chapter nineteen are successful: we're reminded of the overall plot with as little expository text as we need, and with as much beauteous artwork as we deserve.

It also trusts readers -- even new ones -- that they'll get the gist without needing a "previously on..." style recap.

It spends time checking in our major characters, but also takes time to show us relationships, not just plot devices.

It's funny.

What did Saga chapter nineteen not do very successfully?

Er... that's a tough one. The cover, while rooted in the story, looks a little too much like other comics on the stands, comics which Saga is not. 

It places the whole, entire responsibility of its story, and its success, and its brand, on Saga itself. It doesn't tie in to a larger story -- it is the larger story. It doesn't advertise its importance in the New York Times -- it just is important. Vaughan and Staples are embracing and proving their mastery not only of how to tell a compelling story in the medium of sequential narrative, but also how to publish an engaging monthly comic book that feels like part of a 75+ year tradition, while also feeling nostalgia-free. Saga is a comic book. Saga has a letters page. Saga is a genre story. Saga has characters that feel like people, people who have relationships, relationships that resound.

Saga #19 is written by Brian K. Vaughan, with art by Fiona Staples and letters + design by Fonografiks. Coordinated by Eric Stephenson. Published by Image Comics and dated May 2014.

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