Monday, November 1, 2021

Review: Checkmate #5

Checkmate #5 came out last week, the penultimate issue in this mini-series. Now I am invested in this story and I very much liked this issue. But I have to be honest, this felt like #5 in an 8 issue mini-series, not a 6 issue. There are a lot of remaining plot points - who is Mr. King, how is Shaw controlling people, who/how is Leo Lane to name a few - as well as the end (I assume defeat of Shaw). This issue doesn't end in a place where I feel we are near the end. 

But I can't  worry about Checkmate #6 when I am reviewing Checkmate #5

This issue had the usual flair for dialogue that writer Brian Michael Bendis is noted for. A side discussion on baseball stadium hot dogs is amusing in the context of a possible battle. I chuckled. But that nagging voice that said 'is this wasted space that could have been used on actual plot' kicked into my mind. It also nudged plot points forward. A possible clue about Mr. King's identity is dropped. The final answer about the Snowman's Ticket is given. And there are a couple of great cliffhangers.

Alex Maleev remains on art and continues to give us great work in both pencils with Dave Stewart on colors. This issue has some very solid street level fights. It also has some dialogue heavy 'standing around' scenes. But it all pops.

I know the back history of this book. The book was delayed. The ending it was heading for was scrapped and so Bendis needed to rewrite things. It seems a little off, not as tight as Event Leviathan. How much of that is due to the editorial issues is hard to measure.

But remember, I liked this issue. I just hope the book sticks the landing. On to the book.

Last issue ended with the Leviathan invading the Checkmate 'secret headquarters'. If Mr. King is as good as he says he is, this should have been undetectable. It means there is a mole.

A battle ensues. 

Nice opening action pages with a role call. I do like the 'ranks' of the Checkmate members and trying to deconstruct them. I think a rook is more valuable and more powerful than a knight. To see Robin considered greater than Talia is fascinating. To see Steve Trevor considered greater than Talia seems off. Unless you need to think more about the piece themselves. Talia can change direction like a knight and isn't a straight forward, in the lines thinker like Trevor.

It turns out that Leviathan teleports the entire Checkmate headquarters and dumps it into a baseball field in Thailand. (This is where the hot dog discussion comes up.) Removed from it's foundation, the building crumbles with the team just escaping.

But the implication is clear. Shaw knew where the HQ was. He removed Checkmate from the board. That must mean Shaw is gearing up to make his move to snag the Heroes Network. 

Okay, that is a lot of information to intuit. But it also makes me question Shaw's strategy. You might recall the MASSIVE ARMADA he showed Superman at the end of Event Leviathan, a veritable fleet of huge airships and an army of infantry. Why not just nuke the building from the sky? Why not send an assault team to just riddle the field with bullets. I mean, the whole Checkmate team is standing around on an infield with no discernible cover.

I also have to concur with Robin asking Mr. King for some bona fides. It seems like Checkmate isn't really doing much. But his admission that he doesn't have super-powers is a solid clue, eliminating dark horses like Martian Manhunter and Captain Atom from the list. 

Meanwhile, Lois is being rescued by Daemon Rose, her brother Leo Lane. This reads like it is the first time these two have met in person. And Leo shows his stuff in this sequence.

He first mind-tricks the Leviathan assault team who arrives to kill Lois by saying he is part of Leviathan. Then he lays into this group and takes them out singlehandedly. 

Suddenly Leo is a force to be reckoned with in the DCU, at least on the street level. These are great pages by Maleev showing the action.

I hope at some point we hear more about his early life. Is he Lois' full brother? Half-brother? Where has he been?

Back in Markovia/Leviathan Land, Shaw reveals his ultimate plan. A young agent named Whitney (not sure if she is new to the DCU or not) is going to go undercover in the Hall of Justice Intern program. She'll be the insider to locally take over the Heroes Network.

As he preps her, Shaw sees that Daemon Rose is on the move.

Shaw calls Rose 'the Snowman's Ticket'. I don't know if this makes sense. Why that name? What does it mean? And is this a satisfactory answer to that mystery?

Mr. King does prove his worth.

He knows special portal doors within the Hall of Justice. Using this information, he is able to bring the Checkmate team back from Thailand and into the action. The team is suddenly in the Justice League Dark basement.

Now they are on site to fight the incursion against the Heroes Network. 

Some subtle clues are here. One, no one knew about the JLA portal doors. Not even Green Arrow. So how did King know about it? Is he that good at info mining? Or is that a clue. Who would know about those doors?

And King sends Damian out onto the floor without his costume to mingle and try to root out the Leviathan spy. It is pretty cool that Damian is probably the most effective agent on the team.

I did like a minor subplot which appears here. While King recommends they stay put and hidden given Leviathan doesn't know they are there, Manhunter laments how they are losing.

Kate sees Shaw winning at every turn. And this time is no different. She thinks the Checkmate team should be out on the floor finding this Leviathan spy. The rest of the team knows that would warn Shaw. But Kate can't shake this feeling.

And then she ups the ante.

Why don't they use these portal doors and send her into the lion's den to kill Shaw.

This isn't unusual for this Manhunter. She has killed in the past. Shaw did target her specifically in the Event Leviathan book. And she is frustrated by the 'hurry up and wait' tactics of Checkmate.

I like how the 'heroes' aren't about to condone murder. Great reaction shot by Maleev there.

But before they can answer this question, the power goes out in the Hall of Justice. I suppose Shaw must have armed Agent Whitney with an EMP device?

And then this great cliffhanger. 

While Checkmate tries to mobilize, Talia seems to be communicating with someone. She pulls out a working gun and fires.

I still can't believe that Talia is working for or even with Shaw. But we have seen earlier him try to woo her. Is she a double agent? A triple agent? Or only working for herself?

Seriously, this is a solid cliffhanger. I wonder if King has been onto Talia this whole time.

But wait! There is a second cliffhanger!

Leo tells Lois he thinks there is a Leviathan spy within Checkmate. And he name drops Talia and Steve Trevor as the likely double agents.

Before they can separate, Leviathan himself shows up. Shaw has pinpointed Lois as the biggest threat to him (although he tried to woo her to his side just a few issues ago). He also seems truly wary of Leo. Time for the big guy to get his own hands dirty. 

So ...

Overall I liked the issue because there are nuances here which I find intriguing. But the whole series has felt a bit like treading water. I hope it all comes together in the last issue. 

As for the Mr. King mystery I think super-heroes undercover can be removed from the list. King knowing about the portal doors makes me wonder if he has some inside information about the Hall and the League. Hmmm ...

Looking forward to the conclusion.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Great review, with a satisfactory ending… which this series almost certainly won’t have. I hate to be negative, but look at the way this book has gone so far. It’s all over the place, with page after page of these supposed superb spymasters standing around exchanging banter when they should be making plans to take down Shaw. Shaw, meanwhile, seems to veer towards the goofy far too often for a meant-to-be mastermind. Leo Lane has obviously been thrown in a ‘shock character’ with no fixed backstory. The big threat of Lois just isn’t there to see.

The pages are entertaining, but the story just isn’t there.

A million points to you for trying to work out how the chess bit works… I think it’s just Brian grabbing a cool-sounding DC trademark.

I really want to be wrong, Anj!

Steve said...

It's Snapper in disguise. Teleportation was Snapper's power for a while after all...