Saga: Unlearning Hate

Picture of By Aidan O’Reilly

By Aidan O’Reilly

What makes a man a monster? If you are inclined to agree with Brian K. Vaughan, author of Y: The Last Man, Paper Girls (and of course Saga), that answer is violence. More specifically, the perpetual cycle of violence that is brought into being by contempt and loathing for those we classify as other to us. Although taking place in an otherworldly setting, Saga addresses some very real issues and themes and raises some very important questions. Such as what is the opposite of war? Or, what is the right way to raise your child? Vaughan, through proxy via the series, also attempts to address some of these problems and helps guide us through the process of unlearning hate.

An Idea Is Born

Saga can be best described as fantasy dressed up as science fiction. You have this large intergalactic setting and planet-hopping story, but you also have your more traditional fantasy elements such as magic. What this does is lend a unique feel to this series as it takes concepts we are all familiar with by this point and presents them in a truly inventive and unorthodox manner. A concept that is elevated by the surreal illustrations and colouring by Fiona Staples, which adds so much character and personality to this crazy universe we find ourselves in.

Speaking of characters, the main characters in the first 54 issues are Alana, Marko, and their daughter Hazel. I’m sure you have heard this story already, but Alana and Marko come from two different worlds at war with one another, the planet Landfall and its moon Wreath. Despite being taught to hate the other simply for being different from one another, they still fell in love and had a child together. By fostering that love and raising their child, they rejected the concept that their respective societies tried to teach them. Hate for the other.

Through their daughter Hazel an idea is born. An idea that this cycle of violence and trauma that has spread from their homes to the galaxy at large does not need to end with one side killing the other or worse. That things can change and we can build a better future for those that come after us, even if marginally so. And it is through this lens that Marko and Alana are able to change the lives and perspectives of those around them. Sure, they might not change the galaxy, but they can still change people and make them more tolerant and accepting of others.

This is where we see a distinction between the other characters in the story. Those that choose to end the cycle of violence and those that seek to continue it. As what could be worse for the war efforts of Landfall and Wreath if their allies ever found out that the two could have children together? And that this war that has resulted in the deaths of billions, if not trillions, has been pointless? That is the dilemma that many of the characters of Saga must face. Will they choose to let violence and hate rule them? Or will they make the harder choice and be kind to the people they meet?

The Hardest Part of Being Alive

Besides Alana, Marko, and Hazel is a menagerie of other characters that appear throughout the story, but the two most important are perhaps Prince Robot IV and The Will. The storyline of both begin at a similar point, being tasked by either Landfall or Wreath to hunt down and kill Marko and Alana before people learn what they did. Both begin as agents working to continue the cycle of hate and kill the idea of peace in its cradle. However, as their stories progress they will eventually diverge and travel along two separate, but conflicting, paths.

This branch occurs where Prince Robot acts in violence and kills The Will’s love. This act of violence does not go unresolved and ends up costing Prince Robot dearly. Yet, he changes. Beyond this act and across the events of the story he begins to stray from the cycle of violence, although initially unwilling, and with the influence of Marko and Alana, he is able to break away from the cycle himself, though at no small price.

The Will on the other hand remains on this path of his own volition, despite the personal costs that violence have brought onto him. Continual violence only takes and never gives. He is given an opportunity to make the harder choice and leave this cycle at a point late in the story. But unlike Prince Robot, The Will is unable to unlearn hate and makes the active choice to do harm unto others and commit evil in the process. The final consequences of his choices are unknown, but conflict always has consequences.

And why is choosing to be kind is one of the hardest parts of being alive? Because violence and hate is always easy, but choosing to be kind, to end violence, is always so difficult.

Violence will only beget more of the same, which makes the choice to forgo it, all the more difficult. And why is choosing to be kind is one of the hardest parts of being alive? Because violence and hate is always easy, but choosing to be kind, to end violence, is always so difficult.

Not Everybody Does 

Saga at its core is a story about the choices we make surrounding conflict. Saga is a medium to convey Vaughan’s own perspective and is very clear in expressing concepts such as violence and hate as immoral and, in many senses, just simply evil. With those that perpetuate the cycle being worse than monsters. One does not need to look far to see certain parallels between the storytelling and events framed in Saga in our real world. Our own monsters that seek to continue conflict to the benefit of no one. The choice to end violence is something that not everybody does and calls into question the goals of these people that are willing to unlearn hate.

Even a decade after its initial release, the message at the heart of Saga is still relevant to our modern world and will likely remain so in the decade to come as the story continues. There is so much more I feel can be said about Saga, but nothing I have to say about it will be as good as reading it for yourself. So, if anything from what I have said has piqued your interest, I cannot ask you enough to go on this experience. As you only ever get to read it with fresh eyes once.

All nine volumes can be purchased at Comixology . But, if you don’t want to purchase from Amazon or wish to support a local comic store there is also Henk’s Comics and Manga Store right here in Amsterdam. I hope you are able to fall in love with this series the same way I did and can  join me as the next stage in the life of Saga begins.


Cover: NEOSiAM/Pexels

Edited by: Pritha Ray

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