Thursday, April 17, 2014

Loving Your Enemy Is Harder Than It Sounds (Saga Vol. 3)

I'd apologize for this article being a little later than I'd like, but then it was late because I was busy rewatching Captain America: The Winter Soldier last night, and then chatting with my friends, so... Oh, and I locked my keys in my car and then I had to get them out and it's raining and one of my comics got ruined in the rain (sob), and so on. Long day.

Anyway. Saga Volume 3 came out a couple of weeks ago, and reading it has reminded me, yet again, of how much I freaking love this comic. It's not the most original thing in the world, nor is it the most family friendly (or at all family friendly, let's be real, this is a comic that starts out with a graphically realistic birth scene), but it is good. Genuinely truly and unabashedly good. Partly because its storyline is well-crafted, its characters compelling, and its dialogue hilarious, but also because the meaning of the story itself is both important and well told

The meaning, of course, being Saga's underlying message about the futility of war as a mechanism of change, and the importance of remembering the humanity of our enemies.

This theme can be found throughout the whole book, woven into every storyline, and personally, I think that's what makes Saga great. Not that it's so monolithic in its message, but that it's so consistent without ever falling over the line into being preachy. It is, it turns out, possible to keep a story like this on a single topic for issue after issue without it becoming staid or boring or mechanical. It helps when the topic itself is important and worth discussing, but it also helps when the writer and artist are freaking spectacular.

But what is Saga, Volume 3, actually about?

Volume 2 ended on a flash-forward to where Alana, Marko, baby Hazel, and Klara (and also Izabel, but no one is super worried about her, seeing as she's dead) were hiding in Dr. Oswald Heist's basement (or attic, I wasn't sure) while Heist was being interrogated by Prince Robot IV. And for those of you who are completely baffled by that last sentence, I shall now go back even further and explain a little more.

Saga is a love story told from the perspective of the couple's child, at some point in the future. Hazel, our protagonist who just so happens to be a baby, is the daughter of Alana and Marko, a much in love couple currently on the run from pretty much everyone in the universe. They're on the run because Alana, a soldier of Landfall, and Marko, a citizen of Wreath, are enemy combatants, having first met when Alana was assigned to guard duty over Marko's battalion of detainees. They fell in love slowly, and bonded over a cheesy romance novel, written by Dr. Heist, that's about two seeming enemies falling in love. 

Sick of the endless war between Landfall and Wreath, a war that's consumed most of the galaxy by now, bringing in mercenaries on both sides, conscripting whole planets, and destroying civilizations, Alana and Marko run away. They then proceed to get married, have a baby, and become the most wanted people on any planet anywhere. Why? Because their very existence threatens the war, and this war is one profitable and valuable commodity.

Along the way they've picked up some stragglers, like Izabel, a ghost whose planet was destroyed by the war, taken on to be Hazel's nanny, and Klara, Marko's mom. They also had Marko's father aboard, but he sadly died. That happens a lot. And we've gotten to know the group very well. They're not perfect (far from it), as Alana and Marko have a lot of issues, which makes sense for a couple on the run, and tend to argue. There's a bit where Klara isn't overly fond of her daughter-in-law, and while all of them agree that Hazel must be kept safe, they disagree about how that is best done.

We also follow the stories of their hunters, the people trying to bring Alana and Marko to "justice". There is the aforementioned Prince Robot IV, who is just as weird as he sounds, hunting them down so that he can go back to his increasingly pregnant wife. Prince Robot is a cool character - at once nihilistic and cold (he is a robot), but also deeply contemplative of his own life and choices, and whether Alana and Marko ought to be brought in at all. 

They're also being pursued by a mercenary, The Will, who has his own host of companions. There's the slave girl he rescued from a brothel and named Sophie, his Lying Cat, which announces whenever someone is lying, and his reluctant ally Gwendoline, who was Marko's fiance before the whole Alana thing happened.

It's a motley bunch. Especially since The Will is being haunted by the ghost of his ex-girlfriend, and because he gets stabbed and ends up in the hospital...long story.

Anyway, this collection of issues, which includes number 13-18 of the comics, deals with our heroes as they finally get to meet their hero, Dr. Oswald Heist, and really examine what they hope to achieve in their lives. Do they want to raise a child on the run, or are they willing to risk settling down somewhere and trying to hide? What is safer? What is actually better for Hazel?

And amongst all of this, Alana and Marko are trying to deal with the day to day details of their relationship. What with all the running and hiding, they haven't really had a chance to settle in and get comfortable. There's a lot they haven't talked about, which makes sense. They're lost and screwed up, but they do love each other.

Unfortunately for them, literally everyone in the universe is trying to kill them, so their respite doesn't last long. Prince Robot IV finds them, then Gwendoline and The Will do, and it all comes to a head in a really scary showdown. Our heroes escape, but barely.

There's also a side story about two tabloid reporters working on a story about the Landfall soldier (Alana) who was "kidnapped" by a terrorist from Wreath (Marko). As they dig into the question of whether or not Alana really was kidnapped and what's going on, they meet with increasing resistance, and also dig up a lot of interesting crap on Alana's past. But mostly, we finally see why the authorities are so scared of this story: because it has no side. Because it doesn't suggest that either Wreath or Landfall are right in their justifications for war, and instead it suggests that no one is right. That there is no right here.

More than that, though, if Alana and Marko could fall in love, get married, have a child, it suggests that Landfall and Wreath really aren't that different after all. And no one can allow that message to get out.

I think that's what I find most fascinating about this series. The idea that loving one's enemy is such a revolutionary act that it must be banned. That a single marriage and one child could possibly bring down a war that has lasted decades and consumed entire solar systems. The simple concept that love is bigger, much bigger than we have given it credit for, and that it is dangerous.

Because, well, it is. Love is dangerous. Love is a hell of a lot more scary than we give it credit for, and it is so much more powerful than we let ourselves believe.

I also, for the record, love love love the way that female characters are represented in this series. Alana is just as much the main character as Marko is, but the story is narrated by their currently infant daughter, which gives it all an implicit feminine edge. And the thing is overflowing with complex, compelling female character (and male ones, too, to be honest). Klara and Izabel present totally different but both intriguing perspectives on how to raise and protect a child, while Gwendoline is a fireball of vengeance and confused maternal feelings for Sophie. Sophie herself is a touching image of a child who has seen things no kid should know about, and who is learning how to heal. Even the one off characters we meet are super cool. Man I love this comic.

So for all that Saga maybe isn't the most original thing in the world, for all that sometimes it can get a little repetitive, I love it because I believe it's true. I believe in this story, that love will conquer hate because love is stronger, and also because hate is scared of it. Call me an optimist. I don't mind.

Teenage angst Alana is my favorite.

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