Review: Saga Vol. 1

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Details
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Issues: 1-6

Spoiler-Free Review
I gave it 4/5 stars on GoodReads. I love the story and the protagonists so far. I mostly hate the antagonists, which is honestly fairly rare in a comic and that makes me feel like it accomplishes a more realistic approach than most despite the fantasy setting.

This is a story about a war and a romance and a baby. It’s about cycles of violence fueled by bigotry and misinformation, the difficulty of escaping that cycle, and the choices we make to either reinforce it or tear it down.

It starts with the birth of a child whose parents are from each side of a very long and wide-reaching war. Visually, they’re basically a fairy and a…satyr-ish but more human-y person? But that also has obvious visual parallels to angels and demons, and the child that’s not quite one species or the other definitely winds up bringing Jesus to mind, though she’s quick to explain she’s not a savior or anyone special. I like that twist on the story, that you don’t have to be “special” to inspire people and be worth fighting for.

My favorite part of the book is Lying Cat. That’s not even a contest (although big-ear-alien-ghost Molly Hayes is a close runner-up).

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I can’t give it a full five stars basically because of a problem I seem to always have with Vaughan – the unchecked use of slurs. Yeah yeah, there’s points to be made about realism and flawed heroes and whatnot. But I never feel like his use of them challenges anything, it just serves to reinforce bigotry that’s already normalized in our culture. So I’m not a fan of that particular thing and it always sort of drags down my enjoyment of his admittedly awesome writing. Your mileage may vary.

This is also definitely not a comic for kids, it features sexual themes including sex trafficking and child sexual abuse, as well as a lot of violence. A lot. But for adult readers, it’s an interesting look at some familiar narratives and the destructive power of ignorance and hate.

Spoiler-Filled Reflection
MARKO.

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Oh my goodness Marko. This was supposed to be the year of No Dudes but that is over in my very first book of the year because Marko.

Marko is a soldier, and an extremely capable fighter. But he’s also the one pushing hardest to leave violence behind and start a family away from all that, even to the point of giving up his prized weapon and therefore potentially putting them all at greater risk. I like the flip in gender roles, but even moreso that he’s never portrayed as weak for it. Both he and Alana get to be strong and vulnerable, threatening and nurturing. Often within the span of just a couple of panels.

I’ve talked a bit on this blog about the omnipresence of violence in our culture and my frustration at the lack of truly non-violent, non-competitive stories and games (that are any fun). I’ve struggled with trying to decide whether the violence in some of my favorite works can be justified, or if I’m betraying my principles by continuing to read/watch these things. Saga provides an interesting answer.

It’s true that our world is built on violence, that we have to destroy to live, that even breath kills organisms in our environment. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t help, and it can only be avoided to a certain extent. It’s not enough to try not to harm – at some point we have to realize that we do harm and that we cannot live without that reality. So what we have to do instead is choose to be anti-violence, not just non-violent. We have to make choices to give back, to restore peace and occasionally even to put ourselves and maybe even our loved ones at risk to stand against the harm that can be stopped and repair broken relationships.

That’s a scary step. It’s scary even to think, even to see in fictional characters. I worry about this family without Marko’s sword, like I worry about my own safety and my family’s safety in a violent world. That’s how violence works, it feeds on fear and escalates by showing us our vulnerabilities and making them seem like something to be covered up and avoided rather than embraced and nurtured. Fear makes us strike out at imaginary enemies who could instead be future friends, who have just as much to fear from us and just like us could use some comfort and reassurance.

It’s never enough to be non-terrible. This is a point that has been made in the context of anti-racism and I think it’s important to embody it in the face of all violence and bigotry. Anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-violence, anti-hate. We need to recognize the ways we hold up oppressive, dangerous systems and do the hard work of undoing it even when it’s hard and scary. And we need more stories like this, that acknowledge the violence and face it head on, to show us the way.

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