I thought I’d take a break from the norm here and spend some time talking about another passion of mine: comics. If you like comics (or even if you don’t, if you’re into great story telling), there are a few runs going on right now that are some of the best I’ve ever encountered.
Brian K. Vaughan authored another great comic, “Y: The Last Man” a while back. I’d recommend going back and reading that one, too. Or, you could wait for the movie. Right now, Vaughan is in the middle of another great run with “Saga.” Even Patton Oswalt recommends it.
As the title suggests, Saga is a sweeping tale that bounces from planet to planet with timeless themes of love, war, sex, and taboo. The main protagonists of the story are a pair of star-crossed (literally and figuratively) lovers, Alana and Marko, each from a opposite sides of an ancient war between alien races. Alana is from Landfall, the most prominent planet in the galaxy, which is very technologically advanced and she has wings. Marko is from Wreath, the only moon of Landfall. Wreath’s residents have horns and practice magic. They have a baby, Hazel, together who has both wings and horns and who embodies an accord between the races that nobody wants to acknowledge as a possibility. The war is just too good for too many.
It is a story of magic vs. science, love vs. war, and the best in all of us vs. the worst in all of us. There is a whole constellation of characters orbiting Alana, Marko, and Hazel – all motivated to find them for different reasons: to kill them, protect them, or expose them to the world. And, at it’s heart, it’s a story about the power of stories. The whole story is set in motion by Alana’s obsessive reading of books by D. Oswald Heist that are generally dismissed as trash, but in reality are full of seditious messages that cause her to reevaluate her preconceived notions.
I’ve always been a fan of yesterday’s tomorrow. “Starlight” is Mark Millar‘s first foray into “Millarworld,” and plunges headlong into the future of the past with reckless abandon. 40 years ago, Duke McQueen accidentally flew his plane into a wormhole and inadvertently crashed into a lifetime’s worth of adventures. After ridding a galaxy of a tyrannical despot, the wormhole reopens and he is faced with the choice of remaining to govern a people as a conquering hero or to return to Earth and a more ordinary life. When the Queen tempts him with the offer of ruling over Paradise, Duke responds that “it wouldn’t be Paradise without my Joanne.” So back to Earth he goes to raise a family. Ultimately, nobody believes him about his adventures, he buries his wife, and his sons have moved on to their own lives with little room for Duke.
Enter Spaceboy, who has come to Earth in search of Duke. Apparently, Tantalus has taken a turn for the worse since Duke left and they erected a giant statue of him. Spaceboy has come back because Tantalus needs a hero and, after some convincing, he gets Duke to return to Tantalus to help the people a second time.
What Duke finds is that defeating the first tyrant created a vacuum that was filled by a decidedly more modern, darker warlord. In fact, the crux of the Starlight story is a battle between youthful ambition of days gone by, and the darker reality of a more modern brand of evil. So far in the series, youthful optimism takes it on the firmly squared jaw, but keeps coming back.
I saved my favorite for last. Matt Fraction‘s run at “Hawkeye” is the coolest thing I’ve seen in graphic novel format in a long time. Focused on what the least Avenger-y Avenger does when he’s not Avengering… This comic plays like the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” of graphic novels. By focusing on the Avenger who’s the most “regular guy” of the bunch, Fraction gets the opportunity to explore the seedier aspects of the character and, ironically, it makes the character all the more Avenger-y.
The use of storytelling device in this run is epic. The plot jumps backward and forward between pieces of the story like “Pulp Fiction” on crack. Visually, this run creates a whole new vocabulary for story telling including sign language diagrams, an entire story told through the eyes of a dog, and a parallel story expressed as a Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque Christmas special dreamed by Clint Barton.
An integral piece of this story is an exploration the other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, also making all the wrong decisions for the right reasons, just like her mentor. As I write this, we are at the precipice of the denouement of the whole run.
Bonus Recommendation: Unwritten
There is a run of Unwritten going on now that I haven’t had time to check out, but the original run was endorsed by Brian K. Vaughan (Saga). It is a story fully about the power of stories. A boy whose father has written a Harry-Potter-like story has been capitalizing on the popularity of the series. Over time, he learns that his father was part of a war over who gets to tell the story of the World. It’s awesome and you should check it out.
That’s it for now, and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.