There are some writers in comics that it feels like I've heard endless things about, and Brian K Vaughan is undoubtedly one of them. Back in the summer of 2021 I finally bought the first Saga compendium and caught up on that series, so it was a delight to dive into this comic the following year, in the summer of 2022. Almost exactly a month before the release of the unfortunately ill-fated TV show, though I'm sure I'm not the only one that is glad the show gave me the push I needed to finally read the comic it was based on.
I've said this a few times before, but my favourite stories are the ones which have the most fantastical plot elements, where take the wildest swings, and you're incredibly emotionally attached to the characters, and invested in the stakes of the story. Sometimes I want action blockbuster fun that's high on entertainment without necessarily being high on emotion, and other times I crave for quieter, smaller scale character focused dramas. Of course like all binaries that's an oversimplification of categories, but my point being generally speaking I love both of those sorts of books, depending on what I'm in the mood for. But it's when both those ideas come together, counterbalancing each other, that a book becomes truly special to me.
From the first issue of this series there are mysteries and questions already thrown at you, and it's a fascinating balance to me throughout this series between unravelling those, presenting more mysteries, and building up the characters and their dynamics and relationships. The characters all have strong and distinct identities, much like the aesthetic of the comic itself, most prominently showcased on the covers by series artist Cliff Chiang with colors by Matt Wilson, such a great pairing on this series. For the first arc the covers follow gorgeous monochromatic themes, with only splashes of another color or two (for the limited trade dress or to accentuate something else) and it's so effective at catching your eye, and nicely spotlights the individual characters. Something similar but different is done on the covers for the final arc, and overall the minimalistic but distinct covers across this series in general is so cool to see.
There's way too much here to talk about in regards to my personal feelings on the series and what it evokes for me, especially going into spoilers which I won't do here, so it's definitely something I'm looking forward to covering in a future Joe Talks Comics podcast episode. For now though there's a few points I want to touch on here. There were some interesting articles written around the time of San Diego Comic Con 2022 when Vaughan, Chiang, the cast of the show etc were promoting it, talking about the "anti-nostalgia" ideas of the series. The classic saying of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, and additionally having unrealistic expectations for the future sometimes you can't even begin to imagine yet.
This feels especially prevalent in a post Stranger Things world (it's not quite over yet but you hopefully understand what I mean if you know the series) which is very heavy on the nostalgia, for better or worse. Without spoiling anything I enjoyed seeing how this series uses the time travel element to contrast the protagonists' original home of 1988 with other time periods, seeing how that reflects back on them as characters, and how it adds to their emotional arcs in the story. I mentioned earlier how the characters all feel distinct, and so that itself makes for a notable point of comparison between right from the start, making their eventual individual arcs that bit more interesting and impactful to me by the end.
In the solicit for this "Complete Story" trade paperback, it's described in the second sentence that "suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this critically acclaimed series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood." First of all, I love that summary, it just sounds so cool and evocative to me. Second of all, my focus is on the phrase "the last days of childhood", because as someone who recently turned 20, and was 19 when I read this, that theme resonates a lot with me. The four protagonists in this story are all 12 years old, so it was incredibly compelling to see who they come across and what they uncover as the story unfolds. As I said earlier, this book is wild. If like me you love time travel and how it can be used, I would recommend this. I thought it used it effectively to create an entertaining plot, gradually revealing the lore behind the time travel itself, while again not losing sight of the characters and their journeys.
Maybe this is just me, and where I'm at in my life, but sometimes looking an indeterminate amount of time into the future it can be hard to visualise what it's going to be like. There's the recent revelation I've had that, turns out, you don't become a completely different person once you get to "the future", you're just an older version of yourself. Of course you might be a completely different person, but having aged into it you might not notice. This series just makes me feel very self-reflective, more than usual, and I adore that about it. It's a thrilling story featuring great characters, gorgeous artwork, and great lettering and design work by Jared K. Fletcher. It's hard to talk about the ending in a non-spoiler review, but I have to try and mention it. Some may think it's anti-climatic, and I get that, but I thought it was perfect. There was such a bittersweet whimsy about it, as well as a pay-off from the first issue that I thought was equally humorous and heartfelt.
I'll leave it there for now, but look out for an eventual podcast episode on the series. Highly recommend trying this if you haven't already.
You can also find his podcast on Twitter @JoeTalksComics, which you can listen to through Anchor, where you can find links to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify, or you can click those hyperlinks directly.