Okay, so after volumes 1 & 2, I didn’t expect the series to get better. I assumed that since it was already so fantastic, it would stay at that level of fantastic. But volume 3 doubles down on everything that’s made Saga its wonderful, unique self. I am joyously flabbergasted.
While plenty of texts turn the tables to get the audience to sympathize with an antagonist and others create villains one loves to hate, Saga creates antagonists that become protagonists. So here I am in volume 3 rooting for, like, almost everyone, even though they’re in conflict. I mentioned the metafictional element of this book in the last volume’s review, and here’s one example. A character wonders why this particular story is getting him such an aggressive response and gets back, “It’s the stories with no sides that worry them.” And that’s Saga in a nutshell now. Can’t everyone win? Can’t everyone have what they want? The answer is simply, no. The tension produced by wanting all sides to achieve their goals and knowing their goals are at cross purposes fuels the emotional impact throughout this volume.
I continue to be delighted by the mix of the familiar and the fantastical. On the planet Landfall, where Alana hails, one panel depicts the familiar image of a homeless man pushing his belongings in a shopping cart. Except he has wings. Those wings are drawn as weathered and tattered, fitting what could be inferred about his life by what we recognize in him. Up in the air, a familiar corporate suit flies to work with his wings. The romance novel Alana is obsessed with has a traditional, American-looking romance cover with the ripped bodices and whatnot, but the author is a cyclops. The juxtaposition of these elements–familiar and fantastical–continually give the book a sense of irony and winking wit.
Speaking of wit, Saga is subtly punny. Two amphibious tabloid reporters start piecing together the story of Alana’s “kidnapping.” Are they slimy? Alana and Marko arrive on Quietus in the middle of a battlefield, skeletons littering the ground. Quietus means death. Hazel narrates that Quietus was the first place they laid down roots as a family. Since they’ve got a rocket tree, they are quiet literally laying down roots. And if those little jokes don’t keep your joyful engagement, the visual storytelling uses cinematic reveals to keep the surprises coming. We’ll see the reaction of a character to what s/he sees the panel before the reveal of what s/he’s looking at.
But ultimately, this volume just keeps twisting the knife–making the reader fall in love with the characters and then putting them in all sorts of crazy trouble. You’ll get a wonderful page like where slave girl/Sophie tests Lying Cat’s abilities by rattling off facts about herself, but then she says, “I am all dirty on the inside because I did bad things with–” and he responds, “LYING.” It’s the sweetest moment, where Lying Cat won’t let her shame herself. But endearing Sophie and Lying Cat means Vaughan can take our hearts on a roller coaster. (But it’s a helluva ride.)
And amongst all this cleverness and brilliant plotting, there’s a story building about war, the opposite of war (not peace), family, responsibility, and love. With its head in the stars, its feet in the gutter, Saga Vol. 3 delves deeply into the heart. (Is that too cheesy? I freaking love this book.)