Checkmate #2 review

‘Who is Daemon Rose?’ screams the cover.

‘Don’t ask me!’ replies the comic.

‘See last week’s Justice League,’ I pipe up.

That’s where Daemon Rose was stated to be Lois Lane’s secret brother. So far as this book is concerned, a guy with a gun appeared in a church tower at the end of last issue, his sights aimed on Lois. We weren’t told he was Daemon Rose, the first we heard of the name was in the last panel box, which asked: ‘Who is the Daemon Rose?’ Then the fella shows up in Justice League and claims to be Lois’s sibling.

But he’s not in this issue. Lois is but we don’t see if she and Daemon Rose met in between issues – she doesn’t get so much as a line. We wouldn’t even know gun guy was Daemon Rose without having read Justice League.

I’m a fan, but I have to ask, what the heck is Brian Michael Bendis, who writes both series, up to? Justice League #63, a couple of months ago, did something similar, promising ‘Black Adam and Naomi ACCUSED’. They weren’t.

I know covers are often created months before the rest of the comic, but is it so hard to make sure the story at least acknowledges the cover? Checkmate and Justice League have different editors, presumably no longer in the same office, but could they not at least meet in a chat box?

Each instalment of serialised fiction should be satisfying in itself, while carrying the story forward. Checkmate #2 fails in this regard. Here’s what we get…

‘Weeks ago’ Leviathan mastermind Mark Shaw was challenged by an agent about his priorities.

‘Now’ Lois Lane, watched over by fellow Checkmate members Green Arrow and the Question, visits her late father’s houseboat in search of something she knows only as ‘the Snowman’s ticket’. The houseboat is teleported away by agents of Leviathan.

Green Arrow gets a shot off that thoroughly upsets the apple art once it returns to Shaw in the former Markovia.

‘Two weeks ago’ Talia al-Ghul escapes imprisonment at Leviathan HQ, murdering a bunch of agents along the way, before fighting Shaw.

In the dark.

OK, the entire scene isn’t black, but talk about wasting space.

Shaw beats Talia with his anti-gravity tech, and Superman shows up.

‘Now’, Shaw confronts the newly arrived Lois, whom he desperately wants on his side, in Markovia, newly rechristened Leviathan. End of comic.

So, a few fun moments, a bit of brutality for those who like that kind of thing, but it all feels like vamping. At the end of the Leviathan mini-series Shaw had brought down the world’s security agencies and covert spy groups. In the ‘now’ of this comic it’s weeks later, but we have no idea how the world has changed, despite claims that it has.

I just don’t know what the stakes are here. Shaw is metaphorically moustache twirling like a pantomime Demon King, keeping his endgame to himself. The good guys – incredibly experienced heroes, half of whom are neither in this issue nor mentioned – are constantly on the back foot.

There’s a useful reminder that Talia is a truly terrible person, a woman who takes pleasure in painfully murdering anyone who slights her – why is she on the prestigious Justice League Totality away team in Infinite Frontier? (See also Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor…)

The art by illustrator Alex Maleev and colourist David Stewart is excellent, the balance between ‘comics’ and ‘real’ very impressive. When the naturalism is punctured by a splash of madness – Superman, say – things get even better. Individual panels are striking. Panel-to-panel fight scenes aren’t Maleev’s forte, though, which may explain all that darkness – I showed only about half the Talia vs Shaw spread. Mind, it does end in a tremendous shot of Shaw levitating Talia into uselessness. And that teleport effect is wonderful.

As for the irrelevant cover, it’s a real headscratcher, with the placement of the display lettering all but obliterating Daemon Rose, and the colouring making the blurb less a question, and more ‘HO DAEMON’!

I enjoyed the first issue of Checkmate, but this one has me nervous for the series… its predecessor, Leviathan, didn’t stick the landing, but I assumed that was the point of this series, deepen the story and provide a killer ending. That looks less likely now.

13 thoughts on “Checkmate #2 review

  1. I totally agree about your frustration. Even worse is that the opening scene, which happens “Weeks Ago,” has Allie referencing the final scene of last issue, which happened “Now.” It’s possible there’s some temporal shenanigans going on, but more likely it’s an editorial screwup.

    I tend to really enjoy Bendis’s DC work, but something’s slipping through the cracks here.

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    1. I suppose if weeks have passed between issues, the NOW of last month could now be WEEKS AGO… it’s so ruddy confusing! Bendis did this in Action Comics, too, non-linear storytelling for now good reason, with the timeline not working. The editors should catch this.

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  2. Yes, I think at least two weeks (stated to be “weeks ago”) have passed since Lois’s encounter with Allie, which Allie reported about to Shaw. Then, exactly two weeks ago, which may be slightly after those events, Damian was released; Talia disabled or killed her guards and then got violently bashed around by Shaw; and Superman showed up. In the now, Lois in her houseboat gets teleported to a lake in some mountain valley, and is about to have a chat with Shaw, who is going to tell her what he told Superman two weeks ago.

    I suppose next time we will see scenes from “3 weeks ago” which follow what happens to Damian, Talia and Superman next, from the perspective of a “now” which is 1 week after the chat Shaw is about to have with Lois, and flashbacks to the chat will be labelled “1 week ago.” Did I even get that right?

    It isn’t the easiest to follow. In this case, maybe it’s to disguise how thin the story has been.

    Two of the 22 pages were taken up by the stylish credits and recap page, but we saw the same spread last issue, so it isn’t novel anymore, and the recap doesn’t actually say anything. So we get a 20-page story. Bendis has typically given more, not fewer, pages – so that’s also suggestive of how thin the story is.

    I like Maleev, and I like Stewart’s moody colors which complement Maleev’s work very well. In fact, the art is probably the aspect most compelling for me here. As for the 2-page fight in the dark between Talia and Shaw – it’s kind of like a series of disconnected photos. Fights in comics obviously are always snapshots, but you can usually extrapolate at least some of the action – not so here. But I love how Talia remains in shadows throughout. And I like that it’s not cluttered with any dialog or narration. Or even sound effects. In fact, the only 2 panels with sound effects anywhere in the book are the 2 gruesome panels at the end of the fight where Talia gets smashed to the ground with a “ffuummp” and a “whaamm.” That’s nicely lean. There are no teleportation sound effects or arrows whizzing, and even the explosion of the ship is silent.

    It’s weird that even 1 year after this book was supposed to come out, the solicitations (and cover!) are still wrong. Now, I think the book was retooled – I don’t have much of the information on hand, but did dig up some, and can see that the solicit for next month’s #3 was totally changed vs. the original one of a year back. I wonder how much of the series was rewritten and redrawn? How would the original have not worked? Leviathan has barely connected to DC continuity in the first place.

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    1. I do appreciate how hard you work to try to keep these timelines straight. I’m trying to work up the courage to tweet Brian B and ask him to quit it with the non-linear stuff. It’s soooooo annoying.

      Excellent points about the art/sound effects!

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  3. TN, I don’t think your timeline works. In issue 1, the meeting of Checkmate at the church was “now,” and Talia was there. Which means that she escaped from her capture “two weeks ago” sometime before then… but Lois and Allie talk after that meeting, and then Allie reports back to Shaw (suddenly 2 weeks ago instead of now), and then we’re shown Talia escaping, and then being defeated by Shaw, and then Superman showing up. I just don’t see how that adds up… unless the Talia at the meeting is an impostor.

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    1. You’re probably right that it doesn’t add up.

      I took a quick look at the meeting in the church – you mean the scene that follows the scene where Talia and Robin are accidentally teleported away? Talia isn’t at that meeting, as far as I can tell. Am I looking at the right meeting?

      The time labels in each installment aren’t intended to coordinate with each other. The story has shifted ahead a couple of weeks in #2.

      In #1, “Now” is when Lois talks with Allie.

      In #2, the perspective of the story is two, or a few, weeks later.

      It says “Now” Lois when Lois is at her houseboat, about to be teleported away.
      And “Today,” Shaw pays Lois a visit in her teleported houseboat.

      If we want to be precise, I’d say those labels are backwards – but close. Both happened the same day, but first Lois got teleported/kidnapped; then, briefly at least, Shaw had to deal with the teleportation ship blowing up in front of him when it docked back at HQ after depositing Lois’s house in the valley; and then, after dealing with that, Shaw pays Lois a visit. So the teleportation happened “Today” and then the visit happens “Now,” later the same day. Could be within a few minutes, though. We don’t know how long Shaw spent dealing with the explosion of the ship.

      Two weeks prior to that, Damian had been released, Talia beat up, and Superman arrived.
      Several weeks ago, Allie informed Shaw of her encounter with Lois. “Several” is a vague term and unclear it’s more or less than 2 weeks prior. Maybe these happened around the same time.

      We don’t know what happened to Talia after Superman arrived. Maybe she went back to her day job with the Justice League Totality.

      By the time we figure this out, it will be time for #3 and we’ll have to start over.

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  4. The whole Event: Leviathan was a lot of fun – a great mash up of Superman’s world with the DC noir/street heroes. But beyond Bendis’ corner of the DCU, did it ever really catch-on? I’m not reading any other DC books besides the Justice League so I don’t know… Bendis is obviously a talented guy and seems like a really nice person, but I can’t help but feel this and even his Justice League are turning into vanity projects as new homes for his Superman/Action Comics concepts. And that would be fine if he is planning on ENDING those stories. If by issue 6 Leviathan/Mark Shaw is defeated/jailed/dead/in the Phantom Zone with a bow, that’s great. If Bendis is just gonna keep draaaaaggggggggging this out with seemingly no hope that other DC writers are interested in playing with his toys, then this is gonna be a waste of time/money. You may recall that in his recently concluded Legion of Superheroes he brought back Rogal Zaar and my hope was we’d get more clarity on what was really confusing character with unclear/conflicting motivations. But no, Rogal showed up, fought the Legion, then the series ended. Is this what’s gonna happen here?

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    1. Hi Anon, thanks so much for the comments. And no, Event Leviathan (still hate that’s awkward title!) wasn’t reflected elsewhere at DC so far as I recall. And yes, actual endings to stories would be great, it’s not Bendis’s strong point. Ditto new villains. I just love his character drama, give him a Daily Planet book!

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      1. There have been a few panels here and there in other books where Leviathan is shown as one of the many threats facing the DCU. Maybe a panel in a Death Metal book or some other special. I can’t remember if there were any words of narration involved. My feeling about it was always that they were just throwing it in there to make some minor effort to integrate Leviathan into the wider goings-on.

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  5. Also the way Bendis has Green Arrow and The Question taking on Leviathan is a bit uncomfortable. He really needs to get better at explaining their motivations. On the face of it it makes perfect sense that neither they – nor Superman, Lois, the rest of the heroes involved – would want this “my way or the highway” Mark Shaw building a power base and forcing his will on the world. At the same time, though, it does put characters like Green Arrow and The Question who have a history of bucking the system/”the man” (at least Denny O’Neil’s Question did, maybe not Ditko’s) in the weird position of lamenting the loss of “the man.” “Oh whoa is us, all of these espionage agencies were dismantled…” That just doesn’t seem like something Ollie Queen would worry about. It seems like a case of “Oh, I really want to use Green Arrow and The Question in an espionage-style story” without putting a lot of thought into whether those characters, in spirit, belong in the story or without at least giving a good explanation of WHY they belong.

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    1. Spot on, on all points, your so right about Ollie and ‘the man’. Why arc Ollie and Vic following Lois without her (supposedly) knowing? Surely she wouldn’t be all ‘I don’t want babysitting’ when she’s a big part of this new Checkmate (and why Checkmate, what’s the organisation?).

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      1. I thought Question and the jerk were her back up and she knew. It’s an assumption on my part but it seemed right.

        And yes, the lying covers were annoying but we grew up in an era where Marvel would have the cover for what they had intended and a reprint inside. DC I think only had one or two great cover artists at all. (I choose to name Cardy and Kubert as those two) I also know I’m a minority but I don’t fret the covers mostly because I would buy a book no matter what even if the cover was by Collen Doran or Rob Liefeld..

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