Monday, August 30, 2021

Review: Checkmate #3

Checkmate #3 came out this week; we are officially halfway through the series. After a couple of issues resetting the chess board and playing with time leaps, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev give us a solid espionage issue. This is for the most part linear storytelling, or at least less confusing storytelling, with plot advancement and solid characterization.

For one, we at least now know, through the deductive reasoning of Lois, what Leviathan is after. I mean, Mark Shaw has demolished all other spy agencies and has his own country now. But he isn't resting on his laurels. He still wants to change the entire world.

While he has this plan in mind, including a few intriguing twists and embedded agents, the Checkmate crew are still getting their feet underneath them as a team. They don't necessarily have a strategy. We hear them debating what steps to take next. And their leader, Mr. King, is basically absent. It all leads to an engaging read where I continue to try a figure out what will happen next.

Which of course brings me to my  #KingTheory. As recently posted, I think Mr. King is going to end up being the Paul Kirk Manhunter in some form. But I have a few back up theories. Expect an odds board soon. 

Maleev is solid on art as always. He seems to do better in the more shadowy scenes than the major super-power blow ups. But the stuff shines. His Superman is beefy and is a presence. His Lois is cool as a cucumber. 

On to the book and some clues.

Last issue ended with a scene from 'weeks ago' when Talia Al Ghul escaped her Leviathan prison cell and slaughtered a bunch of Shaw's men. Then Superman arrived.

Now Shaw rightfully points out that Markovia is now Leviathan, a sovereign nation with laws, airspace rules, and their own criminal justice system. Superman coming in like this could be considered an incident. But remember Shaw wants to convince Superman to join the cause. He reminds the Man of Steel how he helped defeat Apex Lex. And he invites Superman to look around at a better world.

But Superman isn't having any of it. He grabs Talia and leaves.

I do like this brief moment where he runs into two Leviathan agents he wasn't expecting - The Metropolis Guardian and Supergirl's foster mother and former DEO agent Eliza Danvers. But their speech pattern is downright Stepford Wives creepy. 'We all feel it.' There has to be some mind control here.

Initially Agent Nakamura thinks this is an opportunity for Leviathan to press. Superman invaded. That's war.

But Shaw is as cool as the other side of the pillow. Superman indeed came. But he saw what Leviathan is doing. He came alone. And he left. No battle. That is victory.

I love the slow game here. Shaw is always one step ahead, always thinking.

Back in the present, Green Arrow and Question tell the rest of Checkmate how Lois has been kidnapped. 

There are some funny moments here with the Question complaining about the Merlyn arrow stuck in him and how Ollie is worthless in helping remove it.

But this scene is interesting to see just how directionless Checkmate is right now. Steve Trevor and Mr. Bones are just sitting at a table trying to think about what Shaw is going to do next to figure out what they will do next. But they can't figure it out. They are being reactive, not pro-active. But then again, they are really being non-reactive.

Manhunter wonders if Superman will just deal with it. 

And Robin (Damian) has hijacked Kate's private number saying he needs a team to deal with all this.

Meanwhile, King is no where to be seen.

Back in the present, Leviathan tries to recruit Lois Lane to his side of the argument.

Now I have to say this is an odd tactic. Just as he accused Superman of violating law, he is basically kidnapping Lois, breaking laws himself and opening himself up to retaliation. He must really think that Lois is key.

I suppose he also needs to know about Sam Lane's 'snowman's ticket' which might have made this more crucial.

But before he can get far with his sales pitch, a 'code silver' happens and he has to send Lois Lane back.

Now Code Silver has to be something major for Shaw to send Lois away right after he went through the hassle of kidnapping her. 

Made me think. Why Silver?

Perhaps this was an attack by Captain Atom? Could Mr. King, of the silver hair and 'guess how old I am' be Captain Atom?

Shaw's preset teleportation in his armor sends Lois to the Hall of Justice.

Why she connects that to the Snowman's Ticket I don't have a clue. But it does get Lois thinking about what Shaw is up to. 

Once again though, I need to try and corroborate the 'when' of this mini-series that was shelved for a bit. Damian is no longer wearing a Robin costume in the main DCU. The Hall of Justice was just demolished in JL. 

I'll just roll with it.

But whatever Code Silver was, it has Leviathan worried for the first time I can recall. He is usually one step ahead of the game.

The theories his agents come up with are interesting. Perhaps the place is bugged ... although that is unlikely given their souped up tech.

Danvers thinks Checkmate has a Mark Shaw AI, an algorithm which is predicting what he will do. This makes a bit more sense since we know that a Mark Shaw nanite formula was used in the past to create Mark Shaw drones for the government. Someone could be using that to "become" Mark Shaw. (We know that Checkmate doesn't seem to have that.) In fact, maybe King is in fact a Mark Shaw nanite agent, another #KingTheory! Because the only person who could stay ahead of Shaw ... is Shaw himself!

But what Shaw doesn't mention is that maybe there is a traitor in the midst feeding information. His hubris, that everyone is a firm believer, is going to be his downfall.

I love the derision in that last comment. "I can't be outsmarted ... not by Checkmate."

Back at Checkmate, Lois reveals her thoughts.

Shaw wants access to the last remaining tech and data he hasn't absorbed, the data at the Batcave, Hall of Justice, and the Fortress of Solitude. That's why the Hall was preprogrammed into Shaw's armor. This 'Heroes' System' is a juicy target and would basically make Shaw unstoppable.

Once more, Checkmate shows how scattered they are. Some want to call Superman or Wonder Woman or the League.

But it is Damian who has the most interesting proposal. If they know what Shaw wants, why not use it to trap him.

The fact that Damian is suddenly deciding the major direction of this team should tell you how disorganized it is. And still no Mr. King. He's an absentee landlord.

But if this is going to work, he needs Talia. 

Damian and Trevor go to her prison cell (where Superman brought her) to cut her loose. They need her 'grace, style, and finesse'. Hmmm ... 

I do like the dialogue here about the odd dynamic between Damian and his mother. 

As they leave, we see Daemon Rose again in a tree, this time Talia in his scope.

I better get a lot of Daemon Rose exposition and soon. Is he just a lurker?

Ahhh ... but a twist. And a good one.

We flashback to weeks ago, when Talia was first put in prison.

Talia killing all those Leviathan agents and luring Superman to the country was all a set up by Shaw. Now Checkmate will believe everything she says and she will work for Shaw.

There is a lot to unpack here. You might remember in my review of last issue I wondered how Talia got free to kill those agents. Now we know, Shaw let her out. Okay, one mystery solved.

But has this been a slow play by Shaw? Has Talia been with him since he took over Leviathan? Or is he trying now to woo her back?

Because he should be smart enough to know she is too unstable to rely on. She will backstab him just as quickly as she seems to be backstabbing Checkmate. Bendis himself labels her 'the wild card'. Perhaps it has been her all along feeding Mr. King the information he has on Leviathan's plans.

I hope ... like really really hope ... that Shaw is actually planning on Talia double-crossing him and is using that to his advantage. Because I won't be able to look at him as the all-knowing, ultra-scheming, bad guy he is if he wasn't prepared for that.

But it also gave me a weird idea. If Talia is giving King info, why does she trust him? Maybe King is Ra's Al Ghul, made young in some Lazarus Pit nonsense. The manbun would actually makes sense there!

Sigh. I am sticking to my first #KingTheory.

As for King, he is visiting Toyman. You might remember that King recruited Toyman a while ago.

Schott is working on something King told him to, taking 'some liberties'. So what is he working on?

Well, maybe it is time for King to reveal who he is. He doesn't seem like he wants to which makes me think he is someone the heroes won't trust. Perhaps the 'another person filled with nanites who thinks he's Shaw' and the Ra's guesses are better than I thought.

This was the best issue so far of this mini-series. Odd for a middle chapter to be the one that hits the gas pedal. But now I feel like the ball is rolling downhill. Can't wait for more!

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Great review, as ever. Good recall on the Toyman being recruited awhile back. I have no memory of Superman Villains at all! I wonder if I even reviewed it… I definitely have it.

I still have trouble accepting Mark Shaw as Leviathan, it seems so at odds with who he was. It makes about as much sense as Captain Atom being Monarch. Mind, did you see that tweet to me pointing out that Monarch is a synonym for… King.

Anonymous said...

Apropos of nothing but Aquaman is getting a lavish "80th Anniversary" Giant this week, he's been around a long time and deserves the recognition and improbably has been one of DC's more successful film characters. Worth recalling though, that DC ignored Supergirl's 60th Anniversary and probably be trafficking a completely different Supergirl come her 65th Anniversary...
Just my happy hopeful thought for the day...



Steve said...

Martin, after what Andreyko did to him in Kate Spencer's series, I can accept Mark as Leviathan. I find it also fits with him being the former star Tsar.