Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s much-anticipated Checkmate launches today, bringing our focus to a secret organization that hopes to stop Leviathan. This six-part story will be a slow-boil spy drama with personalities turned up to eleven. It’s a series about the power of a few lower-level characters doing what the godlike superheroes within the DC universe can’t by working secretly and together. This first issue is compelling and a must-read for Lois Lane readers.
You may want to check out Event Leviathan to catch yourself up if you’re unfamiliar, but this issue does recap enough to get you going. Ultimately this book is more about Checkmate, the secret organization made up of Lois Lane, Green Arrow, Talia Al Ghul, Bones, Steve Trevor, The Question, The Hunter, and newbie The King. It opens two years prior to current events where we find the soon-to-be leader of Leviathan Manhunter conversing with Talia Al Ghul. Cut to more recent times where Damian Wayne is sneaking about and confronting his mother. As one can surmise, Talia is very much ingrained into the deeper story here, which is intriguing.
From there, the story checks in on Checkmate, sets up a dangerous pickle for some familiar heroes, and then cuts over to Lois Lane hammering away on her keys at the Daily Planet. The book is only five scenes long, but customary of Bendis the dialogue gets deep in the weeds and helps characterize the various personalities. It does feel a bit short, but it makes up for that with heavier use of dialogue. That shortness harms the overall importance of this book, since it doesn’t quite explain out why this crew needs to exist.
Fear not if you’re looking for that casual dialogue style as Bendis uses it in spades, but he also does the work to flesh out characters, too. In a double-page layout of the Checkmate characters standing about, you grasp who each person is and how they fit into the team.
Lois Lane is clearly the front runner for the strongest character, though it’s easy to say that given she gets the focus in one of the five scenes. Bendis is very good at elevating this character beyond just a reporter and you can understand her inquisitive nature isn’t the only superpower she harnesses.
Maleev draws the pants off this book, from a gorgeous cityscape to close the book to an epic double page of the entire team mentioned above. Technology and gizmos always seem to have a heightened sense of reality as if he’s worked out how it actually functions. Shadows help set the mood in scenes, too. The opening full-page splash of the League of Assassins headquarters is gorgeous. He’s the right guy for this book since it is steeped in atmospheric and realistic settings with very average-looking characters. Well, except for Bones — that dude is a skeleton, after all.
Dave Stewart joins Maleev on art duties with some fantastic colors. Backgrounds that could be a solid color always seem to have a smudge to them or an added element. The metal on a vehicle Talia Al Ghul hides in with Damian, for instance, has multiple shades of blue that add volume to the rounded ship. Props to any colorist who must color every single window of a skyscraper.
Josh Reed on letters keeps the heavy dialogue moving with thoughtful word balloon placement. There’s a cool chess piece lower thirds style used on Checkmate member name cards, and the setting captions stand out in a cool printed sort of way.
Checkmate is a unique comic, especially at DC Comics. You can’t get this type of moody espionage storytelling anywhere else, and knowing it’s just six issues keeps things interesting as this motley crew attempts to thwart a godlike villain. The book is certainly on the slower side, but it’s worth a look for fans of this legendary creative team.
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