Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review - Saga, Volume Two by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Short review: Marko's parents get to know their new granddaughter, Prince Robot IV does some light reading, and The Will meets Gwendolyn. There's also a planet sized egg, a ghost, a lost little girl, and a pacifist author.

Hello Mom and Dad!
Flashback to falling in love
Giant space baby

Full review: Volume Two of Saga picks up right where Volume One left off, with Marko's parents making an unexpected visit to the living tree-spaceship that the couple had used to escape Cleave accompanied by their hybrid progeny and ghost babysitter. While Volume One set the main lines of the story in place and hinted at the greater universe surrounding the central characters, Volume Two is focused on developing the relationships between the main actors in the drama and filling in the back story of how Alana and Marko met, fell in love, and had a child while on the run from two galaxy-spanning superpowers.

The story opens with a brief vignette taking the reader back to a time when Marko was a young boy, and receiving his first lesson from his parents Barr and Klara about the generations long war that his homeland has been involved in. From there, the book jumps back to the present, as Marko introduces his somewhat befuddled parents to his somewhat vexed bride before heading off to recover the banished ghost Izabel. Even this somewhat tense scene is laced with a bit of humor as Alana remarks on the fact that she met her in-laws while wearing nothing but a towel. The arrival of the elder Wreatheans sets the stage for the deepening of the characters as Alana and Barr take care of Hazel, and Marko and Klara travel to a nearby planetoid that isn't quite what it seems to be. Each pairing provides substantial character development, revealing their secrets and agendas.

Large portions of this volume take the form of flashbacks giving the back story of Alana and Marko's relationship, although the entire story is a reminisce told by Hazel, which would make the back story flashbacks really just memories recalled and presented out of order. Be that as it may, these sequences reveal that the love story between the two is not so much a deep and wonderful bond as it seems to be an impetuous and somewhat foolhardy fling driven by a shared love of a trashy romance novel with a supposedly secret but seemingly entirely unsubtle message. From their first violent meeting, to Alana's impetuous decision to free Marko and go on the run with him, to the essentially unplanned pregnancy resulting from poor decisions made in the heat of passion, the book portrays the relationship between the two central characters not as a love affair, but rather an almost adolescent crush that got out of hand.

The story also doesn't let one forgets that this is an adolescent crush with consequences, as both Prince Robot IV and The Will are still on the trail of the impulsive lovers and their child. The story of Prince Robot IV's pursuit in this volume is mostly important as it shows just how obvious the anti-war message in J. Oswald Heist's book A Nighttime Smoke truly is. One might suspect that the obvious nature of the message in this book could be the reason that the powers that be in both Landfall and Wreath want Marko and Alana hunted down, as their act of pacifist rebellion could be taken as evidence that the spark provided by this literary work would spread widely should it become known to the general public. On the other hand, when Prince Robot IV reports the existence of the book to Landfall's intelligence, they appear to know nothing about it, which casts doubt on this theory. Even so, the rapidity with which Prince Robot IV uncovers the hidden message bodes ill for the pro-war factions of both Wreath and Landfall, although this is probably tempered somewhat by the response the Prince gets when he asks one of Alana's former comrades in arms why she didn't read the book despite Alana's entreaties that she do so: "Who has time to read these days?"

The Will, in contrast to Prince Robot IV, begins the story having decided to abandon his search for Marko and Alana and instead focus on getting revenge on the person who killed his ex-girlfriend The Stalk, who happens to be none other than Prince Robot IV. He appears to have made little progress on this front, wallowing in fantasies centered around teaming up with The Stalk to rescue the nameless little girl held as a sex toy in Sextillion. This sets the stage for Gwendolyn, Marko's jilted ex-fiancee, to show up and jar him out of his maudlin daydreams and set him back on the trail of Marko and Alana by pointing out that this would be the best way to also locate Prince Robot IV. Introducing Gwendolyn, which leads to the recovery of the nameless girl who is subsequently dubbed Sophie, adds much-needed interest to The Will's story line by giving him something of a crew beyond Lying Cat to interact with. And while having Gwendolyn on his ship helps The Will develop as a character, it also helps Marko develop as a character by showing the reader who Marko was involved with before he turned himself over to Landfall's forces as a conscientious objector. Putting Gwendolyn in the story also serves to develop the surrounding world by giving the viewpoint of a citizen of Wreath who is committed to the prosecution of the war against Landfall, a viewpoint that had not been given much voice to this point.

Overall, Saga, Volume Two serves to deepen the story started in Saga, Volume One without really expanding it significantly. Most of the action in the story is either background for the characters, or little more than character development. The one major development in the story is the death of a newly introduced character that serves mostly to provide character development for the others in the story. This is not to disparage this volume, as fleshing out the main players in the story serves to make the story itself more interesting. Volume One gave the reader the story and hinted at the possibilities held within it. Volume Two delivers on several of those promises and makes the reader care about the people involved in the drama, even some of the ostensible villains of the piece. By delving into the histories and personalities of the characters, Saga, Volume Two gives depth and weight to the story started in Saga, Volume One and serves as an excellent continuation of the high quality found there.

Previous book in the series: Saga, Volume One
Subsequent book in the series: Saga, Volume Three

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