DC’s super-spy mini-series begins in the aftermath of assassin queen Talia’s aborted escape from Leviathan. She’s murdered associates of the country’s leader, Mark Shaw, and Superman has come to take her to the US and prison. Afterwards, Shaw addresses his surviving partners.
A few weeks later, members of the ad hoc Checkmate group discuss new developments.
Meanwhile in Leviathan, the land formerly known as Markovia.
Before the conversation can go anywhere, Shaw is called to a meeting by his lieutenants.
When Shaw is summoned away, he unceremoniously teleports Lois Lane back to the US, and her landing site gives her a big clue as to her enemy’s endgame.
And thank goodness for that. After a couple of issues that were entertaining but perhaps a tad too relaxed, this series starts to gain real momentum. The heroes actually start to use their brains, and Shaw is seen to have a plan beyond messing with the good guys’ heads. There’s a twist which plays fair with the reader given a scene in the first issue, and it shows Shaw to be more than the Dr Evil boob he’s so often seemed in this book – gone is the folksie manner, there’s a streak of ruthlessness powering his plan.
Plus, one of my favourite Superman villains pops up like a candy-coloured Jack-in-the-box. And we get a delightful exchange between Damian Wayne and his awful mother, Talia.
Whoops, I nearly forgot, the mystery man who was spying on Lois Lane from a bell tower in the first issue, and Black Canary and Green Arrow from a rooftop in Justice League #6, is back here, spying on Talia from a tree. Or perhaps he’s scoping out future perches.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis is on great form this month, dialling back the confusing ‘then’ and ‘now’ sequences, giving me hope that from now on this book will stay in the present. I’m hoping that like a chess grandmaster he’s thinking several moves ahead and has the perfect conclusion in sight. Let’s see Mark Shaw and his pretty headpiece locked away.
Actually, lock Shaw up and give the headpiece to someone else to wear – as drawn by Alex Maleev and coloured by Dave Stewart it’s gorgeous, think Dr Doom does Swarovski. I also enjoy Maleev’s meeting of Markovia’s comic book Mittel European stylings and hi-tech towers, and the dramatic posing of our heroes. Green Arrow looks especially great on the cover… the only character who doesn’t quite work for me, visually, is Steve Trevor, who’s looking rather gaunt. I do like the extra element of stylised chess pieces placed over the art, indicating characters’ Checkmate roles, and the complementary Leviathan motif.
A tease tells us mystery man The King will soon come clean about his identity so I’d better come up with a half-decent theory before the jig is up. Well, he’s reticent about revealing himself to the other good guys, implying that maybe he’s not someone they’d immediately welcome. Perhaps he’s someone they’ve previously opposed, but wouldn’t necessarily recognise, someone who had worn a mask. Perhaps a member of a secret organisation.
Well, one of the shady DCU cabals taken down by Leviathan which isn’t obviously represented in Checkmate – it includes former DEO and Argus operatives – is the criminal cult Kobra, which was headed by a man going by ‘Kobra’. One type of cobra is the king cobra. Is the King, Kobra? Specifically, the Jason Burr version, who spent time undercover as a Checkmate agent.
To nick the estimable Dr Anj’s line, ‘This time I’m right’.
Dave Stewart’s attractive colours make this book look like no other DC offering, while Josh Reed’s understated lettering is a smart choice for an espionage tale.
I ended this issue wishing I had the continuation in my hands right now. It’s that good.