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Fiona Staples

Saga: Volumes Seven-Nine

Here concludes my Saga saga (for now!) as volume nine came out in 2018 and author Brian K Vaughn and illustrator Fiona Staples took a hiatus from putting out new volumes until an undetermined future time. A quote from the series to set the stage: “Anyone can kill you, but it takes someone you know to really HURT you. It takes someone you love to break your heart” -Hazel

*Some Spoilers Ahead*

Volume Seven

Hazel has been reunited with her parents and they couldn’t be happier, especially as they are also expecting another child. A former prisoner, transgender Petrichor, has joined the family, as she slipped through the portal when Klara chooses to remain in the detention center with her new loved ones. Along with Izabel and the Prince Robot, the group needs to refuel their spaceship and their brief sojourn to the planet Phang ends up lasting for six months. The Will tracks down Gwendolyn and Sophie, but Sophie and Lying Cat remain with Gwen, despite The Will’s plea to join him. War comes to Phang and the family needs to leave quickly, leaving behind some friends they had made, and Alana gets hurt during their sudden departure.

Volume Eight

This volume was HARD to read. Known as a controversial series, I have to admit the opening page was a gut punch and it shocked and disturbed me. While I am 100% pro-choice, the picture seemed flippant, but of course, as you read on the narrative was nuanced and I hope it pushed readers to think critically about their beliefs.

This story had a lot of character development as it took a brief break from action (although of course there is some) for Alana, Marko, Petrichor, Prince Robot and The Will. Even little Hazel gets some poignant scenes with her ghostly brother. The volume ends a sweet note, but I know what that means- we are being lulled into complacency so we can be devastated in the next volume.

Volume Nine

Groups are converging for a show-down, as the lull in the action in the last volume was just setting the stage for this narrative. While some families have been reunited, and some couples are deepening their connections, other characters are so caught up in their hate that they can’t see the humanity in others. I felt like I was watching a horror movie, and wanted to yell at some of the characters to not do that, go there, or trust that person. And I was right- as there were additional deaths and betrayals. Then there was that ending- NO!!!!!!!

Now, I join all other Saga fans who are waiting and waiting and waiting for volume ten. With such a cliff-hanger it is almost cruel for Vaughan and Staples to make us wait so long. I read that they consider the series halfway done, so we are to expect another nine volumes in the future- but when will it start up again????

To wrap up, I noticed on these three volumes that artist Fiona Staples was given first credit, and I applaud that because in graphic novels it is often the ART that makes the story. Staples’ visuals are top-notch and while Vaughn’s storytelling is superb, it would not be the same story if not for the illustrations (I feel the same way about Locke & Key). I now impatiently wait for Saga to continue, as I wipe away my tears from the heartbreaking last page.

-Nancy

Catch up on previous volumes: Volume One, Volumes Two-Three, Volumes Four-Six

Saga: Volumes Four-Six

After taking two years between reading the first epic volume and then volumes two and three, I decided I will take a page out of how I read Harrow County and read and review the entire series (thus far) in close succession. *Some Spoilers Ahead*

Volume Four

Marko and Alana are hiding in plain sight while raising Hazel to toddlerhood on a remote planet Gardenia. Alana has improbably become an actress for a soap-opera type series called Open Circuit, leaving Marko and his mother to the day-to-day parenthood duties.  While the family might be disguised, they are taking incredible risks, and can’t risk making friends who might discover their secret. The luster is off their marriage, both parents are stressed, and they find out some of their choices have dire consequences. Prince Robot IV misses the birth of his son, and because of his oversight, the baby is kidnapped by a disgruntled janitor robot who feels the royal house has taken advantage of the populace during the war. When the kidnapper also grabs Hazel, the two feuding fathers need to band together to find their children before its too late.

Volume Five

All the various groups are separated- Alana and Klara are trying desperately to escape from Dengo the janitor who is holding Hazel and the baby robot hostage, Marko and Prince Robot IV are trying to find their children, plus The Brand, Gwendolyn and Sophie are trying to find an elixir to heal The Will. The Last Revolution, a radical anti-war group, gets added into the mix with shifting alliances and betrayals that lead to the death of several characters. While there are family members reunited, other family groups remain splintered.

I love how the character’s motivations are layered and deep, and not everyone makes the best decisions. Some people start with the best of intentions and then make cowardly decisions, and on the flip side, some weak characters end up standing up strong when needed.

Volume Six

Time has gone by and Hazel is now kindergarten age as she and her grandmother are being held in a Landfallian detention center. Marko and Alana are finally reunited and determined to find Hazel and Klara so they blackmail a certain someone to help them onto the Landfall prison. The Will has made a recovery but no longer has his sidekick Lying Cat, instead, he has his sister’s dog-like creature, Sweet Boy. He has become heavy and mean, and hallucinates frequently. Meanwhile Hazel and Klara have made the best of their detention and both have acquired some allies who help them when Marko and Hazel make their brazen rescue attempt. Nothing ever goes perfectly, and the family’s reunion is bittersweet.

Wow, although I had a slow start with this series, the storytelling keeps amping up and I am now devouring the volumes. Staple’s art remains strong, with additional crazy aliens and planets, yet it all remains relatable. Expect reviews for the next three volumes to drop next week!

-Nancy

Saga: Volumes Two and Three

Although I was a big fan of the first volume of Saga, it has taken me almost two years to start reading further into the series! An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex, this series is a favorite of many but also criticized for the illustrated depictions of said violence and sex. Author Brian K. Vaughan jokingly described the series as “Star Wars for perverts.”

Volume Two

Marko’s parents showed up at the end of the first volume and it is immediately established that they don’t approve of their son’s marriage to Alana, who is of an enemy species. But within minutes Marko and his mother Klara need to leave to rescue Isabel, the babysitter who was just sent into another dimension by Marko’s mother on accident. And right away we see why this series is so controversial, we get an extreme close up of a giant’s privates (and I do mean giant). During this time Alana bonds with Barr, Marko’s father and as he tries to make items that will protect his extended family, and we learn a sad truth about him.

There is some important backstory to how Marko and Alana met, which is crucial, as in the first volume the reader was just dropped into the story and expected to pick up what was going on. We also learn of Marko’s upbringing and start to see a more nuanced view of why the different alien species are at war. Interestingly, a key reason why Alana was open to a romance with a warring species was a pulp romance novel that she was crazy about that showed interspecies love in a flattering light. Saga has a huge cast of characters and we also get some backstory on the Prince Robot, The Will and a certain someone from Marko’s past. Plus, there is a lot of chaos natch.

Volume Three

Marko and Alana’s family is reeling from their recent tragedy and take refuge in an unlikely ally’s home. The ragtag family has a brief time to recover and bond, but soon enough they are on the run again. If you think there is a large cast of characters- think again, as even more are added. Now we have two journalists who are following the scandalous story of Alana and Marko’s marriage and their infant Hazel, while the government wants to cover up that a child has been born of their union. The Will is joined by another morally ambiguous assassin and a six-year child they saved from prostitution.

Snappy dialogue and great art are trademarks of this series. Artist Fiona Staples has created an authentic universe with a myriad of different aliens and varied planets. I’m amazed at how much background she fits in, as many artists would simplify the panels, as the aliens themselves are a lot of work, but Staples doesn’t skimp. She also very ably shows emotion, and thus the whole cast of characters seems more authentic because of how she draws and colors them.

On a side note, I have this series at the library I work at and had the most recent Volume Nine up on display with all the other newly bought graphic novels. I was in my office when one of the circulation clerks came to get me to report that one of our library patrons was lodging a complaint against it. When I came out to speak to her she said the book was pornographic and we should not have it in our library. I explained that as a library we offer diverse reads and can not dictate what our patrons read. I said that we kept it in the adult section, and it had a Mature label on the back that lets readers know of the adult content. While I agreed that the content was indeed mature, we would be keeping it on our shelves as we do not ban books. She calmed down, and while she was not happy, she did not ask for the paperwork to formally lodge a complaint. I took that as a win.

Once again, I enjoyed this series, and I hope I can catch up on the remaining volumes (thus far) soon.

-Nancy

In-jokes abound, as Vaughan makes this sly dig against writers (like himself!).

Northlanders: Books Four & Five

Northlanders continues to wow, after my initial rough start with Book One. The fourth book in the seven book series was my absolute favorite!

The Plague Widow: Book Four

The story takes place in the frozen Volga region in AD 1020. A plague has come to the seven hundred person settlement in October, and as winter has started, burials in the cold ground are impossible so pyres of dozens of bodies are lit to dispose of the diseased bodies. Frantic with worry the inhabitants listen to their elderly leader plus the local priest Boris. Boris counsels strongly that the settlement go under quarantine and those who show any sickness be banished so those remaining may live. But what they don’t take into account is how claustrophobia sets in, and they find they locked the greater danger inside their walls with them.

Hilda, a young beautiful widow with an eight year old daughter, is caught in the crosshairs as her former status as a wealthy woman is stripped when her husband dies of the plague. Destitute, with a long winter ahead, she struggles to survive and is targeted by Gunborg, who is the second in command and has it out for her after she votes against him in council. Two other men want her as a wife, but each man has different motivations and their jealousy of one another results in bloodshed. A final battle between Boris and Gunborg comes to a head, and Hilda and her daughter are given a chance to escape.

The art by Leandro Fernandez is a perfect match to the story. He captures the isolation of a Viking settlement shown mostly in dull colors with overlays of blue wash, which effectively shows the icy coldness of Russian winters. Some of the changing artists in this Northlanders series have not been to my liking, but the pairing of this excellent story with Fernandez’s precise artwork made this a winner.

Metal and Other Stories: Book Five

After how much I loved The Plague Widow, this book turned out to be disappointing in comparison. Metal is the long middle story, with two much shorter stories book-ending it.

The Sea Road

Illustrated by Fiona Staples who is now known for the Saga series, this short story takes place on the open sea in AD 760. Captain Dag is running cargo along the coast when he suddenly decides to turn the tiller and sends him and his crew westward towards the unknown. Putting his men at risk on a moments whim, he wishes for greater glory but instead encounters storms, mutiny and crew members experiencing hallucinations and going berserker. When they finally make landfall on Greenland, the few surviving members are met with treachery by the captain and their epic journey is for naught. This was an interesting take to show that many unknown sailors died ignobly with their discoveries unrecorded.

Metal

I recently read Boxers & Saints, about how Christianity changed China forever, and how many fought the new religion as it significantly changed their culture and resulted in many old traditions being outlawed.  So it was quite a coincidence that a week later I read another graphic novel story about Christianity changing Norway in AD 700.

Erik is a young blacksmith who is tied to traditional Norse Gods and is against his settlement allowing a new Christian church to be built. He watches as priests and nuns move in, along with a teenaged albino girl whom the nuns mistreat. In the night Erik burns down the church but first rescues the girl Ingrid and they run off together. The story then becomes a Bonnie and Clyde caper, with a strange magical realism aspect, that doesn’t match the rest of the series of realistic fiction. There was no subtlety, it was just Eric slaughtering any Christians he encountered, so the reader could not take his side at all in his wanting the Nordic Viking traditions to live on.

The art by Riccardo Burchielli was awful. Not only was I unable to get into the story, but the people he drew were grotesque looking. Erik is drawn as a hulking troll, not even resembling a human (the picture in this post makes him look normal, the rest of the series does not). Ingrid is drawn slightly better, but there are some sequences that she was drawn so horribly, and I didn’t understand why. In the concluding pages, Erik is drawn so differently that I question if the same artist drew him.

The Girl In The Ice

The best of the three stories is illustrated by Becky Cloonan and is a character study of an Icelandic fisherman set in AD 1240. Jon is an elderly widower who discovers a young girl frozen in the lake ice. He carves her out and brings her back home to investigate who she is and how she died. With no obvious trauma on her body to explain her death, he doesn’t understand why no alarm in the nearby settlement would have been sounded when a girl went missing.  Soon some patrolling soldiers discover Jon trying to hide the body and take him into custody believing he is the killer. He is taken into town to be tried for the murder, and we learn how the girl came to be in the ice. It ends on quite the melancholy note.

I have the last two volumes on hold and look forward to wrapping this series up. My only real complaint is that the art in the various volumes is so inconsistent. While I liked the first and last illustrators in this book and the cover art throughout by Massimo Carnevale was top notch, when a story has sub par art the entire story suffers.

-Nancy

Book One

Book Two & Three

Book Six & Seven

Saga: Volume One

An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! Hey, if that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

I have been circling this graphic novel for years and kept on pushing it off for one reason or the other. But recently Dani from Perspective of a Writer reviewed it, and I was pushed to finally pick it up myself.

The story drops you right into the birth of our narrator, Hazel. Literally THE very moment she is born with her mother Alana cussing and screaming, while her calm father, Marko, helps. You can tell that the parents are of different species, with their baby showing characteristics of both. Alana has no time to recover, as moments after the birth, the two fugitives are on the run as soldiers burst into the room trying to capture them. We learn that their two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child is strictly forbidden.  That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and was eerily reminiscent for me of one of Star Trek: DS9 best plotlines on the series that showed the hate between the Bajorans and the Cardassians that cruelly ruled their planet for years.

See the source image

The action never stops as this new family seeks to escape certain death and we find out that not only are the leaders of their respective races plotting their demise, but paid assassins are also on their trail. Just as they maneuver out of one scrape, they are thrust into another; however, with so many multi-layered villains, you are not sure if perhaps one will prove to be their salvation or not.

With the plot device of Hazel narrating the story, we obviously know that she survives until adulthood, but her references to her parents are deliberately vague, as to invite questions of their fate(s). Alana is sarcastic but kind and a true warrior, but Marko is my real favorite. He reminds me of my husband – a handsome and strong man who will do whatever it takes to protect his family. Marko is incredibly battle weary and will only use his family sword when absolutely necessary. Spoiler alert- there is a time it becomes necessary.

Fiona Staples’s art is perfect for the story. She immediately establishes the looks of a large cast of unique characters and creates believable alien worlds, with some awesome two page spreads. She definitely does not shy away from the explicit, for as I mentioned in my introduction there is a lot of sex. OMG, a lot. In many comics, sex is implied, but you don’t see the actual bits and pieces. Here you do. There is also a lot of violence, but it wasn’t gratuitous, as that’s realistic for a story about warring nations.

Now that I have finished the first volume, I will definitely be picking up future volumes. While the sex was excessive, the rest of the narrative is top notch. For me to be reminded of Star Trek: DS9 is the best compliment. I want to find out what happens to Alana, Marko and their baby, who is a symbol of their love and of hope for the warring empires.

-Nancy

Related image
Vaughan, Brian K & Fiona Staples. Saga: Volume One, 2012.

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