Thrillingly Putting the Pieces in Place in Saga 52

by Drew Baumgartner

Saga 52

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

In this game, Fischer (playing Black) demonstrates noteworthy innovation and improvisation. Byrne (playing White), after a standard opening, makes a seemingly minor mistake on move 11, losing tempo by moving the same piece twice. Fischer pounces, with brilliant sacrificial play, culminating in an incredible queen sacrifice on move 17. Byrne captures the queen, but Fischer gets far too much material for it – a rook, two bishops, and a pawn. At the end, Fischer’s pieces coordinate to force checkmate, while Byrne’s queen sits, helpless, at the other end of the board.

Bobby Fischer’s Breakthrough: The Game of the Century

When someone says a chapter of a story is “putting the pieces in place,” it’s usually meant to point out some emotional shortcoming. Putting the pieces in place is seen as perfunctory, a perhaps necessary prelude to the actual drama to come, lacking in any real emotional investment (and maybe even drawing our attention to the invisible hand guiding circumstances into position). But I think that attitude is entirely shortsighted, privileging the fallout of events more than the setup, and ignoring that the “pieces” and “places” are the raw materials for drama, so how and why they’re there are essential story elements. It’s the kind of attitude that would make Bobby Fischer’s famous “Game of the Century” is only thrilling in its final moments, as he finally forced Byrne’s king into checkmate, but any chess fan can tell you that the ending was set up 21 moves earlier, which in turn may have been set up six moves earlier still, reminding us that the simple act of moving pieces on the board is what drives the drama in a game of chess. Obviously, Saga isn’t a game, and the characters aren’t chess pieces (royalty notwithstanding), but it’s just a thrilling to watch them scoot into attack position — even when we can’t see the attack coming.

Or maybe I just like watching Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples work as much as I might watching Bobby Fischer play. These are masters of their craft, and their absolutely is pleasure in simply watching them go. In this case, we’re drafting off of some of the drama of the previous issue, where Ianthe and The Will caught up with the rest of the cast on Jetsam, and Squire Princeling ran away. While folks are reacting to the news of the latter, the full implications of the former haven’t quite made themselves known. Which may be why this issue doesn’t feel so much like putting the pieces in place as it is revealing the positions of pieces to each other.

For me, though, the excitement lies in reminding us just how multifaceted these characters can be. First up is Ianthe — who we may have been thinking of as little more than a revenge monster at this point — who rescues Princeling from a pastoral Sarlacc.

Ianthe and Princeling

That ambiguous “So fucking lucky” at the end of their scene makes it possible she’s still more interested in leverage than actually helping this kid, but her concern for his wellbeing scans to me as at least somewhat genuine. She may be blinded by vengeance (and greed), but she’s not  going to let a kid come to harm (I think).

The other surprise character moments come in fast succession, as The Will confronts Prince Robot IV. The Will’s own neutering at the hands of Ianthe may have made us forget his own revenge- and greed-fueled missions, but he gets right back to them as soon as he’s escaped. It’s a level of assertiveness we haven’t seen in this character for quite a while, though it’s also hard to imagine him allowing a child to come to harm.

Prince Robot, on the other hand…I’m not so sure. Recent issues could make me believe he had given up his immoral worldview, and that he actually valued Marko, Alana, and Hazel as friends, but his offering up Hazel as collateral calls all of that into question. That’s certainly something the old Prince Robot would do, so the question is whether he’s back to his old ways, or if he’s just bluffing. It really could go either way. We’ve seen this character do this kind of thing before, but it’s also possible that behavior is in his past. It’s a hell of a cliffhanger, couching our uncertainty in the very soul of one of its most reformed characters. Is Prince Robot a good guy now, or just a guy desperate to survive who has been permitted to be good for the past few issues? I have no idea.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

5 comments on “Thrillingly Putting the Pieces in Place in Saga 52

  1. I couldn’t find a way to include it in the piece, but I LOVED the image of Ghüs riding on “Pedragor”s shoulders during that chicken fight. Dude’s so short, he’s standing on Petrichor’s shoulders and still only barely clearing her head. Adorable.

    • Maybe its the obvious choice, but Ghus outfitted in pretty much the ship’s entire armory pretty much slayed me

        • I’ve currently got Ghus as my wallpaper and avatar on my computer, as part of a monthly Saga theme. Because there is no way I could do a Saga month without Ghus

          Uprising may be too light of a word

  2. On the idea on whether putting the pieces into play is a good thing or a bad thing, I would say that I only use the phrase to say that there is no story. Set ups with no punchlines. To me, it is the idea that a story should go somewhere, even if it isn’t the climax with the king in checkmate. Not merely promise it.

    To use your chess metaphor, an elaborate sequence where Fischer sacrifices his queen in a clever series of moves that lets him cheaply collect four other pieces is not ‘putting the pieces in play’, it is its own sequence that works on its own.
    Nor is an innovative start that places enough pressure on Byrne that he makes a mistake on move 11. The checkmate is still many turns away but this particular sequence works on its own. But those starting turns before turn 11 only work dramatically with the context of turn 10. Otherwise, I would criticise it as just putting the pieces into play and undramatic.

    To use the another metaphor, of Chekov’s Gun, the gun going off is dramatic. But an issue of a comic that places a gun on the mantle is boring because that is undramatic without payoff. That is, unless there is a story that makes placing the gun on the mantlepiece a consequence of interesting events.

    If meaningful things are happening, like the wrong chess move or an incredibly well played sacrifice of A queen, no one will complain that it is just putting the pieces into play. But I use ‘putting the pieces into play’ as a criticism of showing us the part of the game without those interesting moments, on the promise that happens later

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