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Comic Books: Thoughts On Greg Rucka’s Checkmate

I’m not a big DC person, so I didn’t pick up the Checkmate series when it first came out. However, after reading the first trade (via the library), I knew I’d have to pick up the rest of the comics at some point because it was so good. Therefore, I was very happy and lucky to pick up the four Checkmate trades for half price from Gosh!, which got me nearly all of the Rucka-written issues (issues #23–25 haven’t been collected, and the series continued with Bruce Jones writing it before it was cancelled).

Checkmate: Pawn Breaks contains issues 8–12, written by Greg Rucka (with Nunzio Defilipis and Christina Weir on issues 11 and 12) and art by Jesus Saiz and Steve Scott/Cliff Richards. The first story concerns Checkmate’s attempt to get an undercover agent, Pawn 502, into the Kobra organisation, something never achieved due to the magical nature of the induction ceremony. This means that Checkmate has to deputise Shadowpact to help them achieve their goal. There is also the appointment of the new Black Bisop and the suspicion that Amanda Waller is using Checkmate for her own agenda, something that comes into the second story collected, as Beatriz Da Costa (previously known as the superhero Fire of the Justice League) destroys evidence of election tampering in a South American country (where Bane is the good guy) due to the secret history of her father. It is an emotional tale, involving two different members of Checkmate trying to console issues involving their fathers, which is impressive for a comic book set in the world of peacekeeping a world involving supervillains.

Outsiders/Checkmate: Checkout covers the crossover with the Outsiders (issues 47–49) and issues 13–16 of Checkmate; it’s such a coordinated crossover that Rucka and Judd Winick are listed as writers for all issues. The story involves Checkmate capturing the members of the Outsiders due to what had been happening in their recent stories, but it’s just a ruse to get them to atone for their recent history by doing a job on Oolong Island, which is home to supervillains, with the aid of some of Checkmate, including Sasha Bordeaux (current Black Queen, but also former bodyguard and friend to Bruce Wayne/Batman). However, things don’t run completely to plan, with Nightwing and Sasha getting captured, and Sasha being tortured by Chang Tzu (the giant egg), which leads to Batman getting involved. There is still time for political intrigue and internal politics of Checkmate, as Waller is running another game behind the scenes, and Mister Terrific (Checkmate’s White King) knows something. It’s more superhero-based than the rest of the Checkmate series – art is handled by Joe Bennett and Matthew Clark, providing a more traditional DC spandex approach – but there’s still time for good characterisation, such as the discussions between Sasha and Nightwing.

Checkmate covers part 2The final trade, Checkmate: Fall of the Wall, collects Checkmate #16–22, which is mostly written by Rucka (and some issues with Eric S. Trautmann), with art by Joe Bennett, Joe Prado and Chris Samnee. The story continues, and there are some nice story bits (Sasha sees Mr Terrific as beautiful because the OMAC nanobots can’t see him – part of Terrific’s powers – so she doesn’t have visual analysis of him as with everyone else; Bea [former JL member Fire] is reunited with Tora [former JL member Ice, who I thought was dead]) in the first chapter about Sasha and Mr Terrific. The second issue is about Carl Draper, former supervillain (sometimes known as Master Jailer or Deathtrap), who is now Pawn 111 in Checkmate but is in the process of becoming Castellan, the call-sign for the castle’s head of physical security. His security methods are tested by a variety of different hostiles, including Mawzir (who I haven’t seen since Hitman), and is a nice behind-the-scenes story about Checkmate.

The next issues are Fall of the Wall, which is a great tale of intrigue, double-dealing and politics, and incorporates Deadshot, the Martian Manhunter, the August General In Iron (of the Great Ten, the Chinese superheroes created by Grant Morrison in 52) becoming Black Knight’s Bishop, a reveal about Jessica Midnight (the Black Queen’s Bishop), and Amanda ‘The Wall’ Waller trying to blackmail Sasha, Mr Terrific and Khalid (the Black King). The title of the story gives away the ending – Waller was played by our heroes, uncovering the presence of nanites in her blood, forcing her to resign. It is a taut little thriller, with a satisfying conclusion.

The collection is filled out with two issues called La Vie En Sang, about the history of Mademoiselle Marie – the codename awarded to agents of the French Intelligence Agency – the latest of whom (Josephine Tautin) is now Black Queen’s Knight. A quick look at Wikipedia informs me that Mademoiselle Marie was originally introduced in an old DC war comic in 1959, and the name has been retconned to have existed before the second World War. This is a nice touch and the story tells the history in an engaging fashion before showing Tautin’s first mission.

I’m glad I picked these up because they are really enjoyable books integrating espionage and politics successfully into the DC universe of superheroes. Rucka (and his co-writers) do a great job of telling stories that inherently deal with subterfuge and not revealing all of the details but keeping it clear so that the reader can still understand the story. The mix of conversation scenes and action is balanced well, and even though there are lots of characters, they are clearly delineated and interesting in their own right. These books make a great addition to my collection.

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