I can't quite quantify what's keeping me from loving Saga, but I certainly like it.
The cover boy for Saga #5 is Prince Robot IV (the TV-headed guy who keeps me coming back because I really, really want him to become a good guy), who is stuck on the rotten planet of Cleave trying to hunt down "miscegenators and their horrid mistake," as his wife describes them. In actuality, Marko and Alana are a married couple from opposing species who are scrambling to escape senseless war with their newborn daughter Hazel, but the Prince has been charged with tracking them down, and he's had such traumatic experiences with Marko's people from the moon of Wreath that he has trouble seeing them as anything more than monsters. However, he has shown signs of a slightly opening mind, and in this issue, he learns he is about to become a father, so there's the chance my wish will come true. Although that revelation leads to a serious mistake at the end of the issue that might cause him a lot more trouble than he ever expected. It's not good to mix lingering PTSD issues with the news of impending fatherhood – especially when you're wielding a deadly weapon.
I suppose that's a sign that I'm invested in Brian K. Vaughan's story. And yet, when each new issue comes out, my initial gut response is "well, I guess I should pick this up" instead of "ooh, cool, the new Saga is out!" This shouldn't be the case, since I was a fan of Y The Last Man and Ex Machina. It's not as though I'm not rewarded for doing my perceived duty in buying each issue, as there's clearly a lot of imagination and social commentary at work here, and the art from Fiona Staples is certainly eye-catching. I'm just not sure why, five issues in, it still feels like a duty.
Perhaps it's because there isn't a character I really love yet. Sure, I like Prince Robot IV, but he's currently hunting down a nascent family to arrest them for mixing races. That said, he seems to be a part of the central theme of this series – people attempting to overcome years of hateful mental programming to appreciate those who are different. Marko and Alana deeply love each other, but as we see in this issue, when pushed, Marko can still slip into a rage and go apeshit violent against the "feathered fucks" from Planet Landfall – of which Alana is one. Even when bantering with each other, they occasionally lapse into casual racism against each other's respective people – which is hard to resist when both of their respective peoples are trying to hunt them down and kill their baby.
Perhaps it's because the events of Saga #4 crashed through the fine line between amusingly twisted debauchery and outright horror, and I remain entirely uncomfortable with that. I am thoroughly appalled and disgusted that the sexual abuse of children is so goddamned commonplace that it's the subject of weekly prime time entertainment shows, and this is from a man who was addicted to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for a time. When I see it in comics or other forms of media, my instinct is toward immediate nausea and the desire to change the channel or stop reading the book. As Gary Frank of Batman: Earth One noted in my interview with him yesterday, modern culture is such that this kind of thing is what it takes to affect us these days. I just dread what happens when saturation of this subject matter desensitizes us to even that.
That said, it's not as though our current sensitivity to such crimes has slowed their occurrence, and what gets me through my initial revulsion is in part the knowledge that literature must be allowed to discomfit us from time to time in search of greater truths or emotional resonance, and in part because there are so many victims of this sort of abuse in the world that they deserve to have characters in media they can relate to, just like any of us do. That's part of the power comics, and really any form of storytelling, can have when done well – we can connect with characters, we can identify with their struggles, and we can be inspired by their triumphs.
Of course, it's possible that Slave Girl won't become one of those characters – she might just become another hopeless victim to reinforce the negative worldview of the mercenary known as The Will trying to save her, or she could be the catalyst for him to potentially try to mend his ways down the line, or something else entirely. All we know now is that she's trapped in the lawless perversion zone hat is Sextillion, and The Will is desperate to find a way to free her. That, and Vaughan's track record is such that we can probably trust him not to be exploitative with this subject matter.
Saga is an interplanetary adventure fraught with tension and dread, with imaginative character designs and enough hooks to keep you reading even if it doesn't speak directly to your heart. It's possible I just needed to sit down in front of this computer and really analyze my reactions to Saga in order to come to terms with my reticence to embrace it.
Maybe now that I've purged my negativity, I can really start to let myself get involved with this story. I know that, now that I've written all this, I'm suddenly somewhat eager for the next issue to come out. I want to know what happens to Prince Robot IV. I want to see The Will find a way. I want to know if Stalk survives.
And that brings another 'perhaps' to mind as to why I haven't fully accepted Saga – perhaps it's just that I'm more interested in the ancillary characters than I am in the main protagonists, Marko and Alana. They're cool enough to like, but not quite enough to love. At least not yet. Vaughan has earned all the time I'm going to give him to try and change that.