Checkmate #1 review

Before we were so rudely interrupted, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev had been detailing a conspiracy throughout the DC Universe. Now, with the real-life threat of Covid receding, they’ve been able to get back to the story of Leviathan.

As detailed in the Event Leviathan mini-series, former adventurer Mark Shaw has put his Manhunter training to good use, taking over not just Talia al-Ghul’s Leviathan secret society but bringing down all the world’s secret organisations, from Kobra to Cadmus via Spyral and everything in between. And that includes international covert ops agency Checkmate.

Never one to let a good brand lie, former DEO Director Bones and associates from the intelligence and superhero community now adopt the Checkmate name as they bid to take down Shaw and his followers.

While most of the new Checkmate people are gathered in a secret hideaway, two members are missing, Damian Wayne and his madwoman Mom, the aforementioned Talia. Not everyone misses the League of Assassins legend.

Lois is familiar with everyone in the room except the chap with the hideous manbun (please forgive the tautology, but I can’t fathom why King bases his look on Peter Parker’s Aunt May). She starts asking questions of the surprisingly confident King.

As for where Damian and Talia are, they’re with Mark Shaw in his very own state, the coincidentally named Markovia.

And at the Daily Planet, seasoned investigative journalist Lois is searching for facts when she’s interrupted by an old colleague.

It’s Alice, Daily Planet production assistant and star of one of the greatest Superman stories of the Nineties. I can’t remember the last time I saw her in a comic, but Bendis brings her back in a significant way.

I enjoyed this first issue of six lots, my only real complaint being that it went by far too quickly – a bit of real estate could have been saved by pruning a splash spread, but what the heck, it’s nice to see the book breathe.

Alex Maleev is brilliant at small, shadowy panels, pictures of secretive squirrels doing subtle things. Happily, we get plenty of such here, with highlights including a hireling of henchmen (OK, I made that collective noun up, is there one?) chatting away in classic Bendis style, a flashback which had me wondering if Talia is as anti-Mark Shaw as she seems and the above scene with Allie, Lois and her phone recorder.

Where Maleev provided full-colour art for the Event Leviathan mini, here he’s working with master colourist David Stewart and they prove perfect partners. Stewart tunes into Maleev’s sensibilities so that Checkmate #1 sits happily with its predecessor. Maleev does provide the full-colour cover image, which is great bar Superman’s head looking a tad big.

Josh Reed is back on letters, bringing a quiet gravity to the dialogue.

And such dialogue! Bendis is on fine form, giving us cracking conversations as he moves the plot forward a little, with plenty of non-invasive recap to bring new readers up to speed/remind the rest of us where we were. This comic, with its use of Lois and Allie (insert sitcom idea here), is a reminder of just how great Bendis was at bringing the Superman titles to life; there’s a realness, a humanity, that grounds the heroics.

The only demerit is given for his teasing of King’s background – the craply-coiffed curiosity seems about to open up, then the scene shifts and questions are left hanging. Dammit! Maybe next time (which is likely what I’ll be writing next time…).

I don’t expect massive ramifications from this series – Infinite Frontier and Future State seem to be DC’s Big Plan – but I don’t doubt Checkmate will deliver sharply written spy nonsense, a bit of metahuman tomfoolery and edible artwork. I’m more than content with that.

21 thoughts on “Checkmate #1 review

  1. King has to be David Bowie — just look at him in the panels above with Lois!

    (Maybe he never died in the DCU — now that’s a Rebirth we all need.)

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    1. Ha! Ok, I’ll bite. I mean she did say he didn’t seem human because he had an accent…and only Bowie would be brave enough to try that hairstyle out, so, sure, why not have it be the Starman himself? 😉

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  2. Speaking of Infinite Frontier, the DEO is back according to its latest issue. Does anyone know their mission statement besides annoying everyone? (And it just occurred to me it’d be fun to commission a Maleev picture of Bones in that hideous McFarlane outfit he debuted in)

    Think Bendis would be allowed to kill off Talia? With Lazarus Pits he could do it a few times. I consider Talia and her dad to be among the worst creations of O’Neil and Adams.

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    1. Oh, I hate Talia and Ra’s too, they’re so boring. James Bond villains who should never have left the Seventies. And you’re so right about Mr Bones’ original look, oh, those boots! Was he maybe based on a Golden Age character, the Destroyer or someone?

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    2. You’re definitely in a RARE few that feel that way about Talia and Ra’s, but hey, everyone’s allowed their own opinion 😉

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  3. For me, Checkmate demonstrates how Bendis appreciates that Lois Lane must be respected in the DCU as a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter. Lois does not need to be propped-up like Ben Urich was by Daredevil: she is an apex intelligence. After the excellent Lois maxi-series by Greg Rucka & Mike Perkins, she remains the most articulate sleuth in the DCU (Vic Sage and Green Arrow use their fists more than their brains, Kate and Steve Trevor and Damian have yet to distinguish themselves). Once again, editor Jessica Chen delivers a project using characters from every corner of the DCU with aplomb 😀

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    1. Depends on who’s writing him, but I definitely don’t agree with that assessment seeing as how he’s both an actual reporter himself & a superhero sleuth. Even Batman respects him for his detective skills.

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    2. Some great points but we’re poles apart on that Lois series by Rucka… it had some good moments but overall was an unsatisfying mess, with Lois often way back in the book as Rucka concentrated on Renee. Anyway, if you’re interested, I reviewed most, if not all, issues here.

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      1. Hi Martin! As regards Lois’ maxiseries, what I felt pulled it together was Sam Lane’s funeral. Rucka resolved how Lois had withheld information from Sam (whose distrust of Superman was equal to Luthor’s) in an emotional way, because I never understood why Sam hated Superman in the first place. DC devoted a lot of stories (dating back to the Jeph Loeb era) having Lois prevent Sam from incarcerating Superman. I could; for example; accept that J Jonah Jameson hated Spider-Man since he had newspapers to sell, but if Batman has Jim Gordon looking the other way, then Superman having Sam looking at him sideways just made Sam look like a low-information nut job to me. While Rucka spent plenty of time with Renee, I felt pairing Lois with Renee as her bodyguard and her agent allowed the series to cover more ground. Sure, Renee running into Vic was self-indulgent on Rucka’s part, but DC has done a poor job explaining how Vic is still alive and Rucka at least provided a scene of these two Questions sharing the mantle. Rucka tying this series to his Five Books of Blood miniseries (one of his least successful efforts in terms of world building) as well as his Revelations miniseries (which circles back to his Batwoman mythology — yawn) was clunky, however, how Lois’ maid got caught up in the crossfire was intriguing. The entire “Lois sequestering herself to finish her manuscript” was an unpersuasive storyline running through several Superman books, but Rucka used it as an opportunity to show the working relationship between her and Perry White, which was valuable. The whole “DC multiverse causing emotional trauma” portion ground the story to a halt and had nothing to do with Lois, but, Rucka did co-author 52 and contributed to Final Crisis, so I chalked it up to Rucka resolving tangential storylines. Mike Perkins did an amazing job of depicting this world of shadows and lies with a touch of superheroics, reminding me of Brubaker’s Winter Soldier run. For me, Rucka assembled a squad of strong female characters for his Lois book, something DC should do more often than it does. I’ll be interested in reading how you feel about Far Sector 😀

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  4. Great review.
    I love your idea of King being the Immortal Man.
    BUt it was the Alice scene that got me. Of course she is someone who did her best and was left homeless by the world. Of course she would be recruited and join Leviathan who is looking to take over. My question is how long has she worked for Shaw. How long has she been spying on Lois. And doesn’t that just make who to trust that much more difficult.

    I also love that we first see Shaw surrounded by dead assassins, League members he killed. It is a nice reminder of his physical skills.

    Top review.

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      1. Or Alice can be like those people who still believe Trump won the last election. Alice being one of those formerly nice people who’s now permanently deluded feels right for her character to me.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Could it be the King from Young all Stars pre-New 52? Yes, it’s very unlikely but Bendis loves featuring characters he thought were cool but overlooked by the masses…

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  5. Steve, I’m worried about that fate for Alice. I like her a lot, and wouldn’t want to see that for her. But man, it makes sense.

    And Mart, I love the guess of the Immortal Man!

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