Friday, October 1, 2021

Review: Checkmate #4

Checkmate #4 came out this week pushing forward some of the main plot and adding even more mysteries. It reads like the perfect 4th issue in a 6 issue mini-series. There were baby steps on the main plot. But a lot of information was given out for the reader to mull over.

Brian Michael Bendis is a natural writer for dialogue. There might be a touch to many 'curse words' here for my taste but it seems to be the natural pattern for the DCU right now. But I like the interaction between the heroes and the villains, Superman and Lois, and even the members of Checkmate. This all read well. Of note, I love how he writes Damian as a kid who is also truly one of the smartest people in the room. It must be tough to be an accomplished adult and see a child put you in your place.

There are also some nice nuggets to mull over here, some of which hearkens back to DCU history. The blood tests on Leviathan agents. The apparent double agents on both sides. The thought process of Mr. King. Pretty cool. 

Alex Maleev is on art and continues to flourish. There are a lot of cinematic angles and panels here. I never really thought of him as a flashy, super-hero, primary color guy but he is definitely shining here.

Lastly, just thinking back to those clues, it has made me appreciate the deep dive into Mark Shaw I did prior to this series. I am thinking it is going to pay some dividends.

On to the book!

We start out on the old JLA satellite. 

Merlyn and the Metropolis Guardian, agents of Leviathan, beam up to try to steal something. Their conversation is interesting. Both talk about how meaningless and broken their lives were before Leviathan. Did he seek out the disenfranchised?

They are surprised to find Green Arrow and Manhunter waiting for them. I love the quips from our heroes, especially Manhunter's 'guess what'.

The questions are as follows:

What were the villains trying to steal from this place? What is left up there?

And more importantly, who tipped off the heroes? Who is the double agent in Leviathan? Or is it this mysterious 'Mark Shaw A.I.' program mentioned last issue which is predicting his moves?

I'll get back to this at the end of the review.

Of course a brawl ensues. In it, the Guardian is hit by an arrow and bleeds onto the floor. Before the fight reaches a conclusion, the villains are teleported away. They seem surprised that they are being pulled back.

I liked this panel, very cinematic, where Manhunter and Ollie discuss what happened but we are looking at their reflection in the blood puddle.

Suddenly they have something tangible to investigate. This is a crime scene!

Sure enough, when the blood is run through the analyzer, there is something noted. 

There is some oddity in the blood cells, some (perhaps) alien DNA or changes within the blood. 

Is this how Shaw brainwashes his agents? Or is this unique to the Guardian? 

While a technological reason for brainwashing is scary, King feels that a non-tech brainwashing is even scarier because it means people have bought into the rhetoric.

My feeling is it is probably a mix of the two.

But the origin of the tech is probably the 'Mark Shaw nanite' which was saw way back in Manhunter #15 . You might recall that the DEO had some nanotech which would overwrite a person's identity making them think they were Mark Shaw.

Maybe this is the origin of the 'Mark Shaw AI' we heard about. Or maybe is the origin of the brainwashing. I'll remind you this tech was created back here from Manhunter tech, perhaps explaining the alien origin.

But more on this later!

Off in the Fortress, Lois and Superman have a heart to heart. 

It is interesting to read this conversation as it is emphasizes that while they are happily married and a team, they can have very different opinions about things. It makes them real and human.

We start off with Lois being concerned that her time in Markovia may have infected her with Leviathan's brainwashing. 

And unlike other villains, even people like Luthor, she truly hates Shaw.

I like how Shaw has got under Lois' skin this way. She is fiery and passionate. But I think she is also objective when it comes to news and matters. Feeling this way for Shaw also humanizes her as well.

And it is clear that in this instance and this conversation she is thinking as an agent of Checkmate, not 'Superman's partner'.

She tells him that Leviathan may be after the Heroes' Network but that he can't take it offline. While it would be devastating for Leviathan to get a hold of it, it also can be used as a lure.

The body language here is telling. Superman is looking away, upset.

It gets even more murky. 

Lois knows that Checkmate might have to lower themselves to Leviathan's level. She asks Superman to look the other way. 'Sometimes ugly has to happen.'

Superman reminds her that Sam Lane used to say that. (And if someone knows where he said it to Superman, I'd love to know.)

Superman and Sam rarely agreed on things. Heck, Lois and Sam rarely agreed on things. You can see the irritation on Superman's face. He doesn't want Lois to become Sam. He shouldn't have to look the other way.

This was my favorite exchange in the book. And the art in this section is extremely effective.

And then the reveal (perhaps) of The Snowman's Ticket.

Inside the little snowman statue Lois took from the Lane boathouse is Leonardo Lane's birth certificate. I am surprised they left the birth date in there. 1981 is now chiseled in stone.

And why would Lane have a redacted certificate to begin with. Who is the mother? Where was he born?

This is all sort of interesting. I assume if it was Lois' mother it would be there. So perhaps Leo has been being raised by others all this time. I prefer that to his being a brother we should have heard about.

At Checkmate's secret headquarters, the team gathers to discuss the next steps.

Talia thinks they should simply assassinate Shaw. But Manhunter knows how the media coverage can be spun. They can't just kill him. They have to catch him. 

Damian meanwhile has made a model of Leviathan's headquarters from memory, from the time he was there. He has a plan.

Imagine Damian, in this room, with Steve Trevor, Mr. Bones, and the rest of the team present, telling them what to do.

In fact, King reminds people that Damian is one of the best detectives in the world. It is why he is on the team.

I love that he is a little irritating ant too, calling people out. Hey Bones, maybe you're ticked because you let Shaw sneak up on you. 


Just brilliant.

Before any conclusion can happen, a Leviathan ship teleports above the 'secret hideout' and Merlyn, Guardian, and troops spill out.

Another brawl ensues.

First off, that means someone on Checkmate is feeding Leviathan intel.

But I show this panel to point out the blood spilled by Mr. King. There is no reason for that blood to be so predominantly shown in the panel unless it is going to matter later. Call it 'Chekov's splatter'.

My thoughts? King's blood is going to be tested. It is going to have the same alien tech in it. And that means he is either a Manhunter from the past or a previous DEO officer who overcame the Shaw nanite programming but can still think like Shaw.

This time I'm right.

No surprise, it turns out that it is Talia who gave away the location.

Leviathan isn't there to kill Damian and her.

Great cliffhanger.

As for Talia, she is listed as the 'wild card'. I doubt she is working for either side, instead working for herself. I suppose she could have tipped off Checkmate to the Merlyn/Guardian theft from the beginning. But I can't imagine her working for Shaw.

So some nice clues here and a nudge forward. I really like this series.


Martin Gray said...

Great review! I liked this issue, with the odd qualm.

That’s an awful lot of blood from one man.

I dislike when they call the old JLA satellite the Watchtower, that was the moon base, not the one in synchronous orbit, 22,300 miles etc. Tut.

So Leo is 40, and he’s Lois’s little brother, wonder how old she is this week.

What is Mr King actually contributing? And the Question? We’re told these are brilliant detectives and spymasters but they’re constantly caught on the hop. And we still haven’t seen what effect all this has had on the wider world. What happened to ‘no more secrets’?

My big question, what happened when Ollie started to say ‘Flashback’, we got a white panel, and…?

The Justice League book was confusing, I didn’t realise until now that that takes place after this series and the takedown of Leviathan.

Anj said...

I think Ollie was going to say 'Flashbang', a sort of flash grenade, hence the white panel.

Agree about the Watchtower moniker. Wrong.

And yes, we have yet to see the Checkmate team do little more than squabble.

Still ... I do love good mysteries.

Martin Gray said...

Flash bang wallop what a picture? So he made things white to cover their escape?

Anj said...

I think it is a Merlyn arrow to blind the heroes. And Ollie is warning them.

But now I am questioning myself!

Anonymous said...

I thought it was flashback at first, but then decided it had to have been "flashbang." But beyond seeing the white panel, I never saw any consequence of the explosion. King is cursing and disappearing through a door, but he's already on his way out before the flashbang goes off.

Nor do I know what happens in the final panel. The airship is dripping jelly onto whatever is on the bottom? (Unlikely.) Or, is it melting the building and sucking it up into itself? It doesn't look like the teleportation effect. And, I don't really recognize what's on the bottom. Looks like an unfinished sketch to me. The hideaway?