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Fiona Staples

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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