Thursday, July 1, 2021

Review: Checkmate #1

I had a Leviathan Theory and I was sticking to it. In Event Leviathan, I thought for sure that the villain behind the mask was going to be Ted Kord. 

Turned out I was wrong. Leviathan was Mark Shaw. And that led me down the rabbit hole. Who was Shaw exactly? And how and more importantly why did he become Leviathan? I scoured his comic history.

And so we are here, with Checkmate #1, the sequel to Event Leviathan. I have been waiting for this. For one, I find Leviathan an interesting sort of villain. In some ways, he's like Robin Hood, hoping to help out the little guy by opening up the world to honesty. Plus, I have to say that after reading all the history of Shaw, I can see why he has become Leviathan. He was used, abused, brainwashed, and manipulated by espionage agencies in the DCU. Why wouldn't he want revenge?

So maybe I am going to be somewhat of an biased reviewer. 

But I thought this first issue was fantastic. 

Writer Brian Michael Bendis sets the table nicely in this opening chapter. First off, we get some far flashbacks showing how Shaw got into the original Leviathan organization. I need to see some of this backstory. I need to see how Shaw took over that place from the inside out.

Then we see a more recent flashbacks of Talia Al Ghul trying to wrest things back.

Of course, we then get to the present day when the new Checkmate is just starting to get organized in hopes of stopping Leviathan from whatever he has planned next. It was good to see this team together again. Plus, the Checkmate leader Mr. King is somewhat of a mystery himself. Who is this guy?

We even get a reminder that we don't know what Sam Lane meant when he told Lois to find the Snowman Ticket at the end of Event Leviathan.

But best of all is a deep cut DC character who shows us just how Leviathan might convince people to join him. 

I would, of course, be remiss if I didn't mention Alex Maleev's moody art. From the opening flashback to the ending cliffhanger, everything is laid out wonderfully and gripping. 

On to the book!

We start out two years ago. Mark Shaw, still Manhunter at this point, stands in the headquarters of Leviathan before Talia. He is surrounded by dead members of the League of Assassins. He says he was summoned. 

I love that. Because we are reminded the physical skills that Shaw has. Not everyone can take out a number of these assassins.

Talia invited him because she was looking to bolster her place on the world stage. She must have thought Shaw had something to offer.

But I love how Shaw is already processing Leviathan. It is the beginning of something which could be historic. Was he already contemplating a move here, taking over? 

Maleev here crackles. Despite the carnage, Talia sits sexily on her throne with her champagne. While it shows she is an incredibly cool customer it also shows that perhaps she isn't all business. Perhaps there is some emotion, some showmanship, some pomp to her approach.

We move to just weeks ago.

Both Talia and Damian happen to both be investigating one of the few Leviathan ships which the authorities have grabbed. I love how Damian seems upset or maybe disappointed that Talia allowed Mark Shaw to take over. He also doesn't understand why she would join Checkmate. She is Talia! She doesn't join. 

Imagine Damian upset at his mother!

Before the conversation can go too long, a bunch of Leviathan flunkies teleport in. Their dialogue is telling. They sound like tech nerds, shocked that the good guys aren't guarding this better and that the tech is beyond the heroes. They sound like sycophants thrilled in Mark Shaw. But they also make dumb jokes and comments. 

Remember, Leviathan agents come from Kobra, the DEO, Spyral, etc. There are bound to be some dummies in the crew. I like that this army has some personality and aren't drones.

The teleport the ship away with Talia and Damian unknowingly on board.

Cut to the splash page, all chessboard and Steranko! I love it.

Plus giving Lois the codename The Truth and making her the Queen? Perfect.

We then get a reminder of who this new Checkmate is. 

I am with Green Arrow and Mr. Bones. Who wants to be on a team with someone self-serving and frankly evil like Talia Al Ghul. Her presence already strained the new team.

But there is also the usual snappy patter. This reminded me of the mound visit scene in Bull Durham. Ollie worried about an anniversary gift? Steve wanting coffee?

The only line which sort of fell flat was the Question's. It just didn't sound like him.

But Lois is ever the investigator. 

When King guarantees that Shaw doesn't know what he is capable of and that this Checkmate cabal is safe and 'invisible', she challenges him. She wonders who he is. 

He senses a hint of an accent on him. She asks who he is and where he came from. 

And then she asks a question that floors him. She asks him how old he is? It catches him off guard.

She even wonders if he is human!

My mate Mart Gray thinks King is going to be the Immortal Man, a damn good guess. He is a Forgotten Hero and because of that is a great foil to Shaw. I think he might be Resurrection Man. 

Ahhh ... a mystery!

We flashback again to weeks ago.

Talia and Damian must have been discovered pretty early. They are held suspended, upside down, in force fields, before Shaw. There is something deliciously belittling about Shaw dangling this vicious woman and the son of the Bat before him. Even his language is insulting. I love it.

But it is the response that got me.

Talia says she will burn him alive.
Damian says Shaw is under arrest.

I guess Batman has rubbed off on his son.

But Shaw is suddenly distracted thinking about the Batcave ... him. 

And then my favorite scene and moment in the book. 

Bendis looks way back and brings back Alice, a character from the late 80s Superman books. Alice became homeless when her family was stuck with insurmountable medical bills (in the memorable Adventures Of Superman #462 ) . She began living in the Daily Planet.

Here she approaches Lois and gives her a package.

She then reveals she is a member of Leviathan. She was there to give Lois a message, one Leviathan is good a giving. Shaw hopes Lois will join him; he hopes she will realize Leviathan and her want the same thing.

That was one of Leviathan's early messages to Superman. Leviathan thinks himself the hero.

And for someone like Alice who did everything she was supposed to do in life - care for her family, work hard, and live clean - only to be wiped out by the existing corporations of the world, Leviathan is a chance to have some power, some agency, and frankly some revenge.

Brilliant call back and turn.

Alice isn't The Snowman's Ticket.

She gives Lois this message and this device from Leviathan and teleports out.

How long has Alice worked for Shaw? Was she spying on Lois and Clark this whole time? Or did she just get recruited?

You can see just how stuff like this would be maddening to the heroes. Who can they trust? Anyone could be Leviathan? Even a simple co-worker.

But while Lois ponders this device, she doesn't realize she is in the crosshairs of a sniper across the city.

There is no doubt that I find the Mark Shaw Leviathan character fascinating. I like how he deals with his enemies, how he pulls people in, and how he still knows how to deal death with swords.

It seems to me like this motley crew of Checkmate seems woefully small, unsure of themselves, and uninformed. I am going to need some serious work from them next issue for me to consider them a threat to Shaw. And who is King? Hmmm ...

While I hope we live in the present, I also hope Bendis continues to give us glimpses into the past as Shaw edges Talia out of her throne. 

I wanted the next issue in my hand as soon as I put this one down. 

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Glad this is back finally. Besides the name change (they dropped "Event Leviathan" from the title), I wonder what else had to be changed that justified the long delay.

I think Dave Stewart did a good job coloring this the way you'd expect Maleev to color it himself.

It is curious to get rid of the intelligence agencies, but then immediately reuse the name Checkmate. Meanwhile Bones is also busy recruiting for a revived DEO (in Infinite Frontier).

Bendisworld has often been somewhat DC-adjacent, just like his stuff with the Legion of Doom in Metropolis didn't line up with what was happening in Justice League and other books. Doesn't bother me though.

It does add complications for sites that try to write bios of these things.

Often, the question is "which Earth-2 do you mean?" Or now, which Checkmate and which DEO? Pre-Flashpoint, Post-Flashpoint, and now we have the Post-Leviathan Checkmate and the Post-Leviathan DEO.

Which aren't universe reboots - it's more like reading about modern corporate mergers and acquisitions. For instance, AT&T today is actually Southwestern Bell, one of the regional "Baby Bells" that were spun out of the original AT&T when it was broken up in the 1980s. It grew, absorbed several of the other regional Bell systems, changed its name to the more generic-sounding SBC, then bought the original AT&T and adopted its name. So what does someone mean when they say AT&T?


Martin Gray said...

Excellent review, as usual.

Is that the Vic Question, it’s been so long that I’s forgotten. I assumed it was Renee as she was all over the Lois mini series.

Boy, the Alice thing was a shock, a nod to the Manhunter agents back in Millennium, maybe? Whatever the case, I have to say, Alice hasn’t aged well.

Wonder Woman Movie by Brad said...

Clearly this is the Vic Sage The Question, but Vic was never an actual Detective like Renee was, Vic was an investigative reporter, but Vic was more of a muckraker than a bona fide Pulitzer Prize winner like Lois is. Vic is a bruiser not a thinker, just like Ollie. Kate is a lawyer and uses rogue Manhunter equipment, but she's also more an agitator than an investigator. Talia losing control of Leviathan is intriguing, while Damian rebelling against Talia is interesting, but neither of them are smart enough or tough enough to confront Shaw by themselves. During Event Leviathan, Bendis showed that by Shaw creating his island that could defend his sovereignty against the Justice League, so, yes, having adventurers to counter his ambitions made plenty of sense. But Sam Lane; before Shaw killed him; was DCs Spymaster and Lois is his daughter: Lois is the smartest person in the room. Bendis has done a fine job setting up his chess pieces: the question remains does Bendis have a strategy to streamline all of the DCUs spy agencies into a single organization which makes sense? The jury is still out :D