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. Continue reading

Saga 29

Alternating Currents: Saga 29, Drew and Spencer

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Saga 29, originally released June 10th, 2015.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Drew: Written in the wake of the first World War, “The Second Coming” features some of the most vivid images in modernist poetry. The second stanza takes on a more biblical tone, name-dropping the titular second coming, but the first stanza, quoted above, features no hint of the divine — this is pure horror of war stuff. Of all the concepts Yeats evokes, the notion that “the best lack all conviction” might actually be the scariest to me. If war can change our values and convictions, what are we actually fighting for? Curiously, we talk about becoming a parent in similar ways: our values and priorities shift around when we have a child to care for. Saga has always existed at the weird intersection between war and parenthood, but issue 29 makes its exploration of the values we sacrifice in the name of either a bit more explicit. Continue reading

Saga 28

Alternating Currents: Saga 28, Drew and Patrick

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Saga 28, originally released May 13th, 2015.

Drew: There are few things more depressing than studying altruism at a biological level. In a world driven by survival, what could possibly compel an individual to risk life and limb (or, more modestly, share food and shelter) with another? For sexually mature individuals, the most obvious answer is reproduction — helping your mate or your offspring survive increases the chance of your genes, and thus, the behavior of protecting your mate and offspring, will be carried on to future generations. But what about other relationships? Well, in 1964, W.D. Hamilton proposed that we help others for basically the same reason we protect our offspring: because we share genes with them. Importantly, we only share genes with those that are actually related to us, and a key part of Hamilton’s formula was the “relatedness coefficient” — essentially, you’re more likely to help your sibling than your cousin because you’re more related to them, or, more precisely, because you’re more likely to share genes with them. Which is to say, we don’t help people at all, we help their genes, and only because their genes are our genes. From that perspective, “altruism” doesn’t exist at all — we’re all just working in service of totally self-interested genes.

Of course, we’re not entirely driven by our genes. If genes give us our hardware, culture gives us our software, allowing us to do all kinds of things our genes wouldn’t dream of, from taking vows of celibacy to covering a live grenade to protect our platoon. Those are some extreme examples, but I think they become more relatable when we think of those acts as protecting family. Sure, a religious congregation or military unit aren’t technically families, but they can act as families for those who need it. It’s exactly these types of makeshift families — and the sacrifices they elicit — that Saga 28 is all about. Continue reading

Saga 27

saga 27

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Saga 27, originally released April 8th, 2015.

Grace comes home drunk some times / and beats on the doorway to my guts. / I fumble with the locks / ’til the wound opens up. / She falls in, laughing: “Honey, I’m home.”

I wince as she stumbles up my spine / leaves a trail of bruises on my ribs. / I choke on her dancing on my tongue / she kicks out a tooth. / “Honey, I’m home.”

She lights a cigarette inside my head / blows all the smoke into my eyes / until she sees a tear. / Then she sighs: “just what I thought — another fragile Buddha”

Stuart Davis, “Grace”

Patrick: The language of love and the language of violence are uncomfortably similar. I’d also argue that they are two cultural constants we never really understand. The impulses to nurture and destroy are down deep in the human subconsciousness, ungoverned by rationality. Bryan K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples explore this through Marko’s bad fadeaway trip in Saga 27, suggesting that pacifism may mute more than Marko’s passion for violence, but all of his passions. He wakes up with a clarity, but is that a clarity to be celebrated or to be reviled? Continue reading

Saga 25

saga 25

Today, Ryan and Patrick are discussing Saga 25, originally released February 4th, 2015.

Ryan: Pop culture loves rebels. We hang posters of them in our dorm rooms, whether they have a cause or not. We wear red graphic t-shirts emblazoned with their likeness, not very concerned about some of the more morally ambiguous acts this person committed. Luke Skywalker played figurehead for the Rebel Alliance and may be the most popular and beloved rebel of all time, despite the fact that the blood of 322,951 Death Star personnel (not to mention the oil of 400 thousand plus droids) stains his non-synthetic hand. Saga 25 adds another variable into the mix with the introduction of a third side to the outstanding war between Landfall and Wreath, while also providing another complication to the Dengo child-heist. Continue reading

Saga 24

saga 24Today, Ryan and Spencer are discussing Saga 24, originally released October 29th, 2014.

Ryan: You may be inclined to a small moment of panic when you begin reading Saga 24. I, personally, thought that I had skipped an issue somewhere. Last issue focused on the teased but unrealized extramarital affair between Marko and that hussy, Ginny, the fallouts of Alana’s fight with Marko, and Dengo using Yuma to abduct most of our protagonists in one fell swoop. This issue’s beautiful cover and opening scene reintroduce The Will’s sister, The Brand, toting a crash helm and her sidekick Sweet Boy on her search for her brother.

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Saga 23

Alternating Currents: Saga 23, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Saga 23, originally released September 24th, 2014.

Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.

-Alan Moore

Drew: In looking for an epigram for this piece, I sifted through about a dozen quotes that boil down to the same point: fiction is a lie that tells the truth. Ultimately, I chose Moore’s quote because it goes into a bit more detail (and because Alan Moore has a bit more cachet on a comics site than, say, Albert Camus), but I think its the pervasiveness of this notion that is truly remarkable. I understand the sentiment — fiction is by definition not true, but must be emotional honest in order to succeed — but I’m not sure I agree that fiction and lies exist on the same continuum. Lies exist to obscure the truth, either for the benefit of the liar or the person being lied to, while fiction simply seeks a novel way to approach the truth. There’s a difference between fiction and lies, a notion that Saga waded into in its fourth arc, and one that absolutely permeates issue 23. Continue reading

Saga 22

saga 22

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Saga 22, originally released August 27th, 2014.

Drew: The interpersonal relationships within families are insanely complex. They’re necessarily the longest relationships anyone has, meaning each one has years of subtle dynamics informing our behavior. Moreover, the stakes of any conflict within family are significantly higher — it’s one thing to be alienated by a friend, but quite another to be alienated by a parent. With all of these subtle dynamics and amplified emotions, it’s easy to understand why families are so often at the center of great dramas, from King Lear to Breaking Bad. As Saga’s fourth volume passes the halfway mark, it’s decidedly become a family drama (as opposed to the parenting focus of the first volumes), yet writer Brian K Vaughan finds tragedy not in the inflated stakes of family relationships, but in the all-too relatable act of taking family for granted. Continue reading

Saga 21

saga 21

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Saga 21, originally released July 23rd, 2014.

Shelby: it’s hard to watch something you love fall apart. Even if that something is a work of fiction, it can still break your heart just as fast (if not faster) than real life. I get very invested in the media I consume; anyone who’s watched a movie with me can attest to the fact I am frequently, literally on the edge of my seat at the climax of the movie. That’s how I find myself as we build toward the end of each arc in Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga: on the edge of my seat.

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