Checkmate: A King’s Game Review

The landscape of the DC Universe after Infinite Crisis had a lot going for it a return of the multiverse, a back to basics approach to the trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder, while also giving readers a slate of new series and ideas to try out. One of these new series was a fresh volume of Checkmate, written by Greg Rucka with art assists by Jesus Saiz.

At the time, it seemed obvious for a creative team such as Rucka & Saiz to take on a title like Checkmate. They had both worked on The O.M.A.C. Project miniseries that led into Infinite Crisis, as well were the brains behind the reimagined Jack Kirby creations of O.M.A.C. (One Man Army Corps) and Brother Eye into more modern interpretations. Rucka’s interest in geo-political writing (Queen & Country) would serve well a series that was going to look at the political and also, darker sides, of super-heroics. Checkmate’s reactivation as a team becomes a global necessity in the fall-out of Infinite Crisis as public scrutiny over superheroes hits a peak while superheroes try to find a way to police their own, before world governments do.

This is not a true extension of the previous Checkmate volume, which seemed a little more political edged than its counterpart, Suicide Squad. Instead, this almost tries to be an amalgam, but really comes across more as a Checkmate 1.5 in execution. The organizational structure based on chess pieces is maintained, but now each pairing of kings, queens and other high ranking members must have a metahuman and human each level. This freshens up the concept considerably, and creates tensions as the obvious mandates of the organization often are at odds of the personal goals of each member.

The scheme also provides a wide tapestry of characters for the creative team to draw from. Rucka chooses the Golden Age Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific, and Sasha Bordeaux, former bodyguard of Bruce Wayne and protégé of Batman, along with of course, Amanda Waller. This sweeping approach serves the series well as the each superhero perspective gives us a different insights, whether it be the elder statesman role that Alan Scott Green Lantern plays, or Sasha Bordeaux, whom as a cyborg, can play both sides, but can also be manipulated by personal gains on each side. Mr. Terrific, whom we know as the third smartest man on Earth in the DC Universe gives us a strong character of colour who is often forced to share a title with a large ensemble cast, ala Justice Society of America. While Checkmate does not completely erase this, at least his prominence as a character in this title enables him to grow a little bit more.

Unfortunately, the title gets bogged down by its own premise. For a title that Rucka claimed at the time would be the DCU’s version of a super heroic James Bond, this series has seriously too much time spent talking about what should be going on, instead of telling a tale where it actually happens. While talking heads and verbal minutiae works when you have a visual format such as television or film, it takes a very unique writer (think Aaron Sorkin) to truly pull it off and make a static or minimal movement while still successfully telling your story. Comic books are simply not quite the format for big talking heads page after page…

Collects: Checkmate (Vol. 2) 1-7

Earth-9 Podcast – Ep30 – Wait, he doesn’t talk to fish??

Its just Jim and Mike this week talking comics, the give you their thoughts on the first Aquaman book in the New 52 ‘The Trench’, then Jim shares his thoughts on the Brian Michael Bendis run on Superman and Action Comics, Mike talks about the Greg Rucka Wonder Woman run and we find out whats next on our read list!!

            

Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka: Volume One Review

The Post-Crisis Diana of Themyscira has had a number of interpretations in her thirty year existence, and for a character that has largely been seen as a second stringer at best throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, has attracted some considerable talent her way. There are the runs on her book that considered revered by comic books fans, and yet this is also the same title that during certain periods, contain storylines that are perhaps best forgotten. Creators have come and gone, left their mark, or had major chunks of their run ultimately ignored or retconned away, if things went really south.

George Perez’s run on Wonder Woman beginning right after Crisis of Infinite Earths is considered iconic. It is… an honest attempt. William Messner-Loebs did his best to reintroduce Wonder Woman back into the broader DCU, and while it is nice to see DC collecting that material recently, it’s not a necessary addition to a collection, unless you are a completist.

John Byrne did a much better job at what Messner-Loebs muddled with, but comic fans know you only get Byrne on a project for a limited time before he moves on, or storms off. Unfortunately, while Phil Jimenez’s run is a great, it experienced so much editorial interference, it probably will never receive the true appreciation or reverence it deserves, and is really not the full story Jimenez intended to tell. Which is where the Wonder Woman mythos more or less begins under new stewardship.

Greg Rucka’s run begins with a protagonist that has experienced incredible personal trauma in recent past. Her mother, and Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, valiantly laid down her life against Imperiex during the 2001 crossover, “Our World’s at War”. Most recently she had foster her best friend and “little sister” Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl. As a result, Rucka’s Diana has become both more thoughtful and decisive, not only in her beliefs but her actions as well. She mourns her looses, yet keeps her focus on the present and its potential impacts on the future. This is perhaps best highlighted in the new role that Rucka has put Diana into, that of Ambassador of Themyscira to the United States. It is a brand new dimension that presents a whole host of problems for Diana from two angles; geo-political and super-heroic.

This balance of challenges serves the narrative of the titles well, as a major thread in this collection is Diana’s moral barometer, and how far she is willing to go defend her ideologies. While some have griped about Rucka’s so-called “social justice warrior” slant in his writing, he in fact should be applauded for writing female characters who have conviction, with conviction. His Wonder Woman is no different from his other creations whether it be Bridgett Logan (Atticus Kodiak novel series) or Tara Chance (“Queen & Country”). His own experiences likely spill onto the page as many of Diana’s views seem progressive, but where she remains traditional or against the modern world, it is in very consequential ways.

Those conflicts are perhaps best illustrated in how they connect to the broader DCU in this opening set of arc. Diana’s encounter with Batman in Wonder Woman: The Hiketeai shows not how far she is willing to defend someone until proven innocent, but actually portrays a hero who is duty bound to respect ritual, something that would clash with the justice-driven Batman. This continues in similar fashion, but with a different point of contention later in the book with the Flash. It not only creates some very believable and tension filled drama, but shows that a character like Wonder Woman is often written in a particular way, without innovation.

And that is truly what this book feels like in the end; an innovation. New characters augment, not replace, existing secondary characters. Subplots have just as much opportunity to grow and shine as the main plot, and it is illustrated by J.G. Jones and Drew Johnson in ways that can only be described as that befitting a woman once a goddess, and still an Amazonian princess. This is truly some of the finest storytelling done within the Wonder Woman mythos, and there is a strong sense that Greg Rucka and company are just getting started in their run.

Collects: Wonder Woman (Volume 2) 195-205 & Wonder Woman: The Hiketeai