The Series: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
The Heroes: Alana and Marko—once enemy combatants in an intergalactic war, now married and on the run from both of their governments—and a ragtag bunch of allies.
The Ideal Format: A live-action fantasy epic with extensive animatronics, CGI, and sweet alien makeup.
Star-crossed lovers aren't a new thing.
The trope has been a staple of fiction since long before Shakespeare penned Romeo and Juliet (to the frustration of high school students as-yet-unborn).
Star-crossed lovers in space is pretty new, though. In the case of Saga, the lovers are—at times—even literally star crossed.
When we first meet Alana—a lady with fairy wings growing out of her back—and Marko—a handsome guy with curved ram's horns—the couple are on the run with significant bounties on their heads. Seems they've broken one of the cardinal rules of their galaxy: rather than blindly hate or kill each other, they've fallen in love.
Alana is also in the process of giving birth to their daughter, Hazel.
Within minutes, the family has grown by one, they've been betrayed, there's been a terrible battle, and several bodies are strewn across the bloody floor.
It's a scene that sets the tone for the entire series: this is not going to be a story for the faint of heart. Writer Vaughan and artist Staples have started at a sprint and aren't going to slow down here on out.
As we learn, Alana was once a soldier for a planet known as Landfall. After disgracing herself in battle, she was sent to guard a POW camp—which is where she met Marko, a conscientious objector from the moon of Wreath.
Wreath and Landfall have been at war for generations, and the battle has spread across the whole galaxy. By the time our central heroes meet and fall in love, almost every planet in their solar system has taken a side. The Landfallians rely mostly on technology and fancy weaponry, while the “Moonies” are a species that fight with magic.
When Alana and Marko escape and try to make a new life for themselves as fugitives, they earn the ire of both governments, who promptly hire bounty hunters and send military agents to track them down, execute them, and bring back their forbidden child for proper evaluation and testing.
Talk about high-stakes drama!
While the core of the story revolves around the renegade couple and their unusual daughter (Hazel is born with her father's horns and her mother's wings), it's not long before Vaughan weaves in other narrative threads.
There's the Freelancer known as The Will and his sidekick, The Lying Cat—which is both the creature's name and nature, as it speaks a single word (“LYING”) when it hears someone being untruthful. He's hired to track our heroes down but quickly gets sidetracked when he meets a six-year-old sex slave and makes it his mission to rescue her from her horrific situation.
Did I mention yet that this is an incredibly adult series?
Marko's parents and ex-fiancée Gwendolyn soon show up to cause further complications for our fugitives. A teenaged ghost becomes Hazel's first babysitter. Prince Robot IV—a being with an actual television set for a head—is sent by his father, the King, to hunt down Alana but is also struggling with PTSD following a close call in battle. And, perhaps my favorite of the side-characters, a sweet little shepherd named Ghüs tags along, who just happens to look like a baby harp seal in yellow overalls.
Later issues see the motley cast deal with planet-sized creatures, political assassinations, child kidnappings, terrorist freedom fighters, drug problems, dragons, stints as soap opera stars, anger management issues, parasites that make them murderous, and a living spaceship that requires frequent repairs.
There's sex and violence galore. People we grow to love die in shocking, sudden ways. This is not always a comfortable series to read…
Over it all, Hazel provides intermittent narration that often ominously foreshadows the next heartbreak or surprise. While it's reassuring to know that the baby we first meet must live to see adulthood, that doesn't guarantee that anybody else will still be with her at the end—I wouldn't put any plot twist past Vaughan and Staples.
Perhaps best known for his similarly mature, philosophic, and award-winning series Y: The Last Man, Vaughan has crafted a universe and cast of characters that is both bizarre and familiar. This is clearly a strange new world, but it still retains a lot of earthly touchstones: soap operas, Harlequin romance novels, board games, concert t-shirts. Even in the midst of horrific warfare and personal loss, there are bright moments of silly humor and ridiculous dialogue to leaven the heartbreak.
Fiona Staples's absolutely riveting artwork is at times beautiful, at times brutal, but always compliments and furthers the story. The intention with Saga was for the art to tell as much of the story as the words, and to that end there isn't a single wasted panel. The whole narrative zooms past at a lightning-fast clip as a result.
From its debut, Saga has been an instant classic, topping several recommendation lists and gaining an instant and devoted following. The vivid style and sensibilities of the series would make it an easy project to adapt for television—it would appeal immensely to those who love meaty, layered sci-fi, fantasy, and horror on par with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Farscape.
Like Farscape, it's a gonzo space opera that features humanoid species as well as animalistic and bizarre aliens, an interplanetary conflict, unlikely lovers, and a tight-knit found family at the core of the drama. It's also a story with amazing diversity: very few of the characters are white, many are bisexual or gay, and there's a lot of commentary on how war damages people mentally and emotionally.
This is a world where there are very rarely shades of strict black and white. Characters that are introduced as baddies switch allegiances, are humanized, or do surprisingly good things, while “heroes” make mistakes that cost lives. Alana and Marko's love is strong enough for them to risk death and defy the entire universe, but that doesn't mean they're always happy or healthy together.
Talk about the sort of rich material any actor would love to sink their teeth into.
Any Saga adaptation would have to involve a sizeable budget to cover the extensive special effects (magic and laser blasts, a treehouse space ship, bloody action sequences) and animatronics/makeup/CGI to recreate some of the crazier characters (Lying Cat, Ghüs, and the tree woman Yuma would be difficult to bring to life with mere prosthetics).
Between that and its extremely mature subject matter, Saga wouldn't be the type of show you'd see on basic cable. I could see it easily finding a home on HBO, though—a well-done Saga adapt would become the sort of instant hit/must-see TV on par with Game of Thrones. Without a question.
Saga really and truly checks every box needed for compelling TV:
- A great cast of characters you can love and/or hate with equal passion.
- Complex stories, philosophic issues, political intrigue.
- Visually exciting settings.
- Action, romance, comedy, heartbreak—all the feels, in short.
- Diversity of all kinds.
- GIANT TALKING CATS AND LIVING SPACESHIPS.
This fast-moving, action-packed story already reads like a taut, well-produced television series. With its built-in rabid fanbase, a live-action adapt would fill a current gap in serious sci-fi programming—just the thing for those still lamenting the end of Firefly and Farscape.
Hell, Vaughan already has experience with writing and producing for TV (see: Lost, Under the Dome), and Saga is published through Robert Kirkman's Image imprint, so what's taking so long? With six collected volumes already available, there's enough material to last several seasons.
This is a no-brainer, people. When Saga finally hits our TVs, I'll be one of the first to crow, “I told you so!”—then promptly DVR every episode.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.