Writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples’ Saga has received such an outpouring of acclaim since its debut that it has become difficult to discuss without treading ground that other critics haven’t already covered—especially since, for the most part, Saga is just as great as everyone who’s been reading it has been saying. As redundant as the answer may turn out to be, the question still remains for Saga #16: is it good?
Saga #16 (Image Comics)
The current arc of which Saga #16 is a part has been more of a slow burn than the previous two (in this case, let’s consider a Saga arc to be every six issues before every six month hiatus), as Alana, Marko, and baby Hazel finally enjoy some quiet, even sweet moments together as a family. It’s not as breathtaking as previous issues with their rapid-fire plot developments, yet as disappointing as this may be to some readers, it’s a smart move on Vaughan’s part. To continue such a breakneck pace throughout what is intended to be a long ongoing story would have been unsustainable. A story of such scope and ambition needs room to breathe, giving the storyteller an opportunity to flesh out his characters and their relationships with one another.
Nobody does opening splashes quite like Vaughan and Staples.
That’s not to say that the story stops moving, though. The wheels are turning as fast as ever for characters elsewhere in the galaxy, building an increasingly ominous atmosphere around the knowledge that little Hazel’s family will not be safe for long. The lack of completely unsympathetic antagonists only builds the tension. We still root for Alana and Marko more than anyone else, but the trio of The Will, Sophie, and Gwendolyn in particular are quickly shifting from important-secondary-characters status to full-fledged protagonists, even as the threaten the livelihoods of our primary protagonists.
Just about every character that has played a major role in the story thus far is multidimensional, and there’s ample reason to believe that the few who still seem to be throwaway players are going to have their own moments in the spotlight in due time. Hell, even Lying Cat has his nuances. And it’s also a testament to Vaughan’s talent that the sympathy he builds among readers to his characters never feels forced. He’s no stranger to common sympathy-building tropes like cute kids, pregnant wives, and broken hearts, but ultimately we care for these characters not because they have obnoxiously “tragic” backstories as lesser writers would rely on, but because they feel like fully-realized human beings. Well, human-ish.
One of the few qualities of Fiona Staples’ art that I haven’t seen praised much is her skill at depicting facial expressions and body language. Everyone moves and emotes with just enough subtlety to feel genuine. Staples is great at portraying action sequences too, of course, but with this relatively calm arc she proves that she doesn’t need weird imagery or over-the-top sex and violence to show off her talents.
- Carefully paced, smartly plotted suspense.
- Vaughan and Staples don’t rest on their laurels.
- Grounds itself in humanity amidst all the fantastic weirdness.
- Not the greatest achievement in the history of art and literature… at least not yet.
As exceptional a comic as Saga continues to be, it still feels a bit over-praised (heresy, I know, but can you please put your pitchforks down for a moment and here me out? Thanks). Make no mistake, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better ongoing series on the stands right now, but let’s ease up a bit on the “BEST COMIC EVER” rhetoric, okay, internet? It’s not unlikely that ten or fifteen years from now, after the series finally comes to its conclusion and the dust of the hype settles a bit, that we’ll all be looking back at Saga as the next generation’s Sandman. But for now, let’s just enjoy Saga for what it is: a great comic that fails to shatter every notion of sequential art that came before it, but succeeds in just about every other way a comic book can.
Is It Good?
Of course it is! It is Saga, after all.