By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art)

The Story: Alana and Marko are defeated—by the greatest board game ever made.

The Review: Vaughan made an interesting choice at the top of this arc when he opened on Prince Robot catching up to Alana and Co. on Quietus.  He seemed to be setting things up for an imminent confrontation, but the succeeding issues don’t seem to be in any hurry to have one.  Even so, the knowledge that our favorite space family will soon encounter new troubles casts all their doings in a different light than if you just took them on their own.

Basically, we have a ticking time bomb of about a week before Robot arrives.  In this issue, Hazel tells us that we’re on day five.  Her family only has two more days before their “blissful” time with Heist is over—but they don’t know it yet.  That’s the tragic part, as it is with all situations of dramatic irony.  As sweet and fun as it is to see the gang play Nun Tuj Nun, a Wreath board game that crosses Pictionary, arm-wrestling, and psychological warfare all at once, their activities have a certain amount of poignancy, too, because you know it can’t last.

In a way, however, the characters seem to realize this, too.  Even though it’s revealed that Marko and Alana’s latest conflict is the result of Heist and Klara collaborating to win the “Psych-Out Round,” there are some valid concerns fueling the scene.  As their host gravely reminds them, he didn’t spend three years writing a novel instructing readers “to do nothing[.]”  Much as Alana rebels against the whole notion of joining the “bullshit rat race,” she can’t ignore the responsibilities attached to the family she’s risked everything to have.  It’s a sobering moment of resignation for the newlyweds, though their optimism (from Marko, of course: “We’ll find a way to balance work and family and whatever else comes our way.”) and youthful lust* prevent them from falling completely into despair.

Just as Marko and Alana begin to accept that “[l]ife is mostly just learning how to lose,” our other adoptive family in this series learns the same lesson the hard way.  It’s a testament to the Will’s character that even though he has an opportunity to “[l]ive out [his] golden years raising Sophie in utopia,” he chooses to finish what he started.  But when you throw freebies back into the face of the person (or parasite) offering them, you have to be prepared for the backlash that follows.  The most painful part is watching Will struggling to reassure his betrayer even as he passes out from blood loss (“…n…nh…nuh…yr…fahl”—translated: “Not your fault.”).

As always, Vaughan distinguishes himself with his smoothly developed character work, but he’s slowly advancing the course of the plot as well.  Our media men, Upsher and Doff, have been crucial in piecing together the historical nitty-gritty that led our main characters to where they are now.  In this issue, the duo uncover possible underpinnings to this galactic war itself  As important as it is to learn more of Alana’s disreputable military past, I find it more interesting that it was yet another member of the Robot family who pushed her to kill against her better judgment.  As this same Robot calls an orbital strike upon an entire skyscraper of civilians in retaliation for a single sniper attack (which she reports as “heavy fire”), you begin to suspect that it’s not just Wreath and Cleave keeping this war driving on.

Staples’ brilliance on this title is well-documented, but you can’t help appreciating and re-appreciating all she brings to the story.  As well-realized as Vaughan’s words make the characters, it’s Staple who brings them to life, such that we can read their expressions as we would our own friends.  Alana is a particular standout in this issue; I love the grief-stricken wistfulness in her face as she looks down on a baby dress Barr made for Hazel before he died, her crestfallen eyes as she looks at the man she most admires talking like the man she admires the least.

Conclusion: Still solid, this issue has all the dramatic and artistic strengths you’ve come to expect from your monthly dosage of Saga, even if it’s relatively uneventful.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Vaughan usually manages to anchor his lewdness into the story, but it feels kind of like discomfort for discomfort’s sake here.

“We haven’t been together in weeks.  I want to suck your cock.”

“Something tells me you’re once again using sex to avoid discussing an uncomfortable subject.”

“No, I’m using sex to make you come.  Where do you want to do it?  All over my tits?  My face?”  Oh, come on!

– It figures that it takes Alana ruthlessly defeating her “recently widowed…wounded mother-in-law” in an arm-wrestling match to gain Klara’s respect.