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.