Taking 21st Century, Western ideals and cultural mores and simply slapping them on a speculative fiction setting is frequently decried as bad writing, but it has its place. One of the great virtues of speculative fiction, after all, is that it allows creators to use a created setting to comment on contemporary issues (this has always been central to the X-Men, for example). One of the most vaunted works of speculative fiction, or any fiction, is a straightforward allegory of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union using a farm. So I won’t criticize Vaughan per se for creating a world where horned mean and winged women sound an awful lot like 20-somethings in Brooklyn. Truly original and inventive speculative fiction is awesome but Vaughan is trying to do something else. So I will criticize him for not doing that terribly well.
Saga takes place against the backdrop of an eternal, galaxy-wide war between the winged humanoids of Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy, and the horned humanoids of Wreath, Landfall’s only moon (otherwise known as moonies). But with each side realizing that destroying the other was mutually assured destruction, the two sides began outsourcing the conflict to other planets (not exactly subtle, but to be fair the story only explicitly uses the second term). The story kicks off with Alana, a former soldier for the flock, and Marko, a former moony soldier and prisoner-of-war, in an empty garage where Alana is giving birth to their interracial-interspecies child. From the beginning, as the child narrates from the future, they are on the run from both sides.
It’s a classic story, and it’s fairly well told. My real criticism, as alluded to above, is that the modern day analog characters don’t have anything interesting to say, either explicitly or implicitly. They tend to come off as the sort of fresh-out-of-college fool that thinks they know everything but in reality just repeat trite banalities and centuries-dead pabulum. Which could work if you didn’t get the sense the author agreed. As a general matter Saga seems to have mainly the very lowest hanging of fruit in aim (War is bad! Child sex slavery is bad! People who think miscegenation is bad are bad! Um, well, yes. And?). I will grant an exception for the treatment of bringing a child into the world, which if not treading new ground, is at least deeply resonant.
What Saga DOES do well is create a beautiful, absurd, bizarre fantasy-sci fi world. The moonies are humans with horns of various sorts—ram, deer, rhino. And apparently magical swords. The members of the flock are humans with wings of various sorts—insect, bird, bat. And apparently ray guns. There are robot humanoids with TVs for heads. And a spider topped by the topless, armless torso of a woman with fingers on the ends of its eight spider legs. A bottomless ghost, floating complete with hanging entrails. A rocket ship tree. A mercenary-assassin, in a world where all freelancers apparently by regulation are required to have a name that starts with The, with a Lying Cat that resembles a great cat-sized Siamese cat that says “Lying!” every time someone nearby lies (which sounds both awesome and terribly inconvenient). Saga is gorgeous and creepy, usually at the same time.