Parenthood is often the death of media entertainment. Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Murphy Brown — shows like these attempted to swaddle their audiences in overused parenting tropes without relinquishing their pre-pregnancy attitude. Typically, the ratings for these shows drop because writers struggle to effectively characterize the new mommy and daddy characters in their changed environment, substituting fully-fledged individuals for annoying tropes. Saga, the Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) and Fiona Staples (North 40) space opera published monthly by Image Comics, not only inverts the “jump the shark” potential of parenthood, but catches the shark, names it, and teaches it to fly a wooden spaceship.
First published in March 2012, Saga (winner of Hugo, British Fantasy, and multiple Eisner Awards) depicts a husband and wife on opposite sides of an intergalactic war scrambling to protect their new daughter, Hazel, who intermittently narrates the story. Both Alana, a winged ex-guard from the planet Landfill, and Marko, a horned soldier-turned-pacifist from the enemy moon Wreath, are on the run, as their relationship and subsequent child threaten both sides of the war.
Does this sound like a certain Shakespeare play lauded by high school drama teachers everywhere? Think again. This comic may be about star-crossed lovers, but Romeo and Juliet they are not. Unlike the Bard’s protagonists (perhaps because they were teenagers, perhaps because they only knew each other for five days), Alana and Marko are shown disagreeing on a myriad of issues, namely Marko’s pacifist outlook on the war, which he proves by trading his family sword for a magical enchantment.
“When a man carries an instrument of violence,” he attests, “he’ll always find the justification to use it.” Alana, on the other hand, is justifiably more ruthless, threatening to shoot her own daughter instead of handing her over to The Stalk, a female spider-humanoid tasked with hunting the fugitive family down.
Despite their differences, it is the companionable teamwork between Alana and Marko that keeps this graphic star-searching journey from devolving into a tired hotel room painting of parenthood. Amidst an insane wallpaper of alien beings, graphic sex and mutant humanoids with TV screens for faces, Vaughan and Staples somehow offer a comic that celebrates the real and often hilarious side effects of child-rearing. Parenthood is not a boulder upon their relationship, nor is it some great holy thing that instantly and immeasurably improves their lives. Instead, parenthood for Alana and Marko is an added component to an already chaotic lifestyle, one that instills within them a desire to protect both their daughter’s welfare as well as their own passion for danger and adventure.
“We have a family to think about now,” Marko says in an attempt to persuade Alana to lay low until the war is over.
“‘We have a family to think about now’ is the rallying cry of losers,” Alana responds fervently. “I want to show our girl the universe.”
And with the help of Vaughan’s brilliant writing and Staples’ gorgeous artistry, the parenting duo of Saga does just that.
Chloe Livaudais is a third year MFA candidate in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her work has been published in ReCap and Qu Literary Journal. She is originally from Auburn, Alabama and currently lives in Iowa City with her husband and two cats. This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 184.