Saga, the acclaimed comic from Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, has finally returned from a three-and-a-half year hiatus with issue #55, the story leaping forward about as much time.
It remains as it was at the start: a story about Hazel, the child of parents from two warring worlds. Her mother, the winged humanoid Alana, is from Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy, a world that built an empire on technological supremacy. Her father, Marko, is a horned man from Wreath, Landfall’s moon, and a world of magic. Each world views Marko and Alana’s union as sacrilege, and Hazel — who has wings and horns — as an abomination. Saga is the story of how Hazel grows up in a family that the entire galaxy wants to tear apart.
At the start of Saga #55, Hazel is now ten years old, having aged the exact number of real-world years that have elapsed since Saga began in 2012. We’re re-introduced to her in media res, as she’s being pursued by someone accusing her of theft. Hazel was a newborn when we met her, and now she’s an alleged thief. Again: The years, they fly by.
Whether you’ve been following Saga for the last decade or only recently caught up, readers know that Hazel has been forced to grow up faster than most. War and tragedy have followed her from day one, and Saga’s long hiatus began with her most severe loss yet: her father Marko, finally killed by the bounty hunter the Will after 54 issues worth of pursuit. Thanks to the time jump, Saga #55 isn’t really about grieving that loss, but showing what Hazel and her family has become since.
A lot of the fun of the issue is in returning to all of these characters and seeing what they’re like now — new readers ought not to start here — with only the slightest teases of what’s to come. Fiona Staples’ art remains one of the most singular styles in comics, with endlessly imaginative character designs (this issue features flaming skeletal cops and a Koala-man) rendered with painterly expressiveness and inky precision. Saga always felt a bit like wandering around Staples’ dream-world, one whose aesthetics could depict tenderness and violence and explicit sexuality with equal humanity. From tragic love to unabashed smut, Saga makes room for all kinds of human experiences, as any family should.
The drawbacks then, come from the fact that, at 43 pages in length, Saga #55 doesn’t do much beyond catch-up work. To recount the new status quo here would be to spoil the entire comic. This isn’t necessarily a problem — as its title suggests, Saga is one long story, and while it will occasionally settle down for a bit to tell a semi-contained narrative about one of its many characters, it is ultimately all in the service of forward momentum. It’s a story about a kid, remember? And kids have so much they need to see. They’re seeing it for the first time, after all — just like us.
That said, Saga #55 doesn’t quite catch us up on everything — questions naturally remain after a three year gap, and getting the answers will likely be a focus of the next few issues. Reading it, the most overwhelming response is in just how easy it is to sink back into this world. Everything’s different, and everything’s the same. No matter what a family looks like, it’s on its members to keep it together. All that lies outside it is entropy.
For countless people, Saga was an introduction to comics beyond the dense walled gardens of big-name superheroes. The kind of success most monthly Western comics could only dream of, Saga showed there was a hunger for something more, something audiences were not getting, and its popularity redefined the output of publisher Image Comics. In 2022, the world, and comics, has changed significantly, and outside of an offhand joke about “woke moms” Saga #55 offers little indication on any real-world impact on its return. It is, at least for now, the same comic it was when it left.
That’s a good thing. Saga, like Hazel, is ten, and reading it still makes you feel the wonder that comes with witnessing any act of creation, be it a child or, as Vaughan puts it frequently in Hazel’s narration, an idea: Like it’s growing up too fast, and yet still becoming the thing it’s meant to be.