Checkmate: A King’s Game Review

The landscape of the DC Universe after Infinite Crisis had a lot going for it a return of the multiverse, a back to basics approach to the trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder, while also giving readers a slate of new series and ideas to try out. One of these new series was a fresh volume of Checkmate, written by Greg Rucka with art assists by Jesus Saiz.

At the time, it seemed obvious for a creative team such as Rucka & Saiz to take on a title like Checkmate. They had both worked on The O.M.A.C. Project miniseries that led into Infinite Crisis, as well were the brains behind the reimagined Jack Kirby creations of O.M.A.C. (One Man Army Corps) and Brother Eye into more modern interpretations. Rucka’s interest in geo-political writing (Queen & Country) would serve well a series that was going to look at the political and also, darker sides, of super-heroics. Checkmate’s reactivation as a team becomes a global necessity in the fall-out of Infinite Crisis as public scrutiny over superheroes hits a peak while superheroes try to find a way to police their own, before world governments do.

This is not a true extension of the previous Checkmate volume, which seemed a little more political edged than its counterpart, Suicide Squad. Instead, this almost tries to be an amalgam, but really comes across more as a Checkmate 1.5 in execution. The organizational structure based on chess pieces is maintained, but now each pairing of kings, queens and other high ranking members must have a metahuman and human each level. This freshens up the concept considerably, and creates tensions as the obvious mandates of the organization often are at odds of the personal goals of each member.

The scheme also provides a wide tapestry of characters for the creative team to draw from. Rucka chooses the Golden Age Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific, and Sasha Bordeaux, former bodyguard of Bruce Wayne and protégé of Batman, along with of course, Amanda Waller. This sweeping approach serves the series well as the each superhero perspective gives us a different insights, whether it be the elder statesman role that Alan Scott Green Lantern plays, or Sasha Bordeaux, whom as a cyborg, can play both sides, but can also be manipulated by personal gains on each side. Mr. Terrific, whom we know as the third smartest man on Earth in the DC Universe gives us a strong character of colour who is often forced to share a title with a large ensemble cast, ala Justice Society of America. While Checkmate does not completely erase this, at least his prominence as a character in this title enables him to grow a little bit more.

Unfortunately, the title gets bogged down by its own premise. For a title that Rucka claimed at the time would be the DCU’s version of a super heroic James Bond, this series has seriously too much time spent talking about what should be going on, instead of telling a tale where it actually happens. While talking heads and verbal minutiae works when you have a visual format such as television or film, it takes a very unique writer (think Aaron Sorkin) to truly pull it off and make a static or minimal movement while still successfully telling your story. Comic books are simply not quite the format for big talking heads page after page…

Collects: Checkmate (Vol. 2) 1-7