Review: Checkmate: A King's Game trade paperback (DC Comics)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Checkmate feels like the series, more than Detective Comics, Wonder Woman, or even Gotham Central, that Greg Rucka came to DC Comics to write. Letting alone that the series contains a number of characters that Rucka created elsewhere, including Sasha Bordeaux, Jessica Midnight, and Jonah McCarthy, the tone of politics and espionage in Checkmate: A King's Game more closely matched Rucka's Queen and Country than anything before. Additionally, in DC Comic's somewhat kinder, gentler "New Earth," Checkmate offers a fascinating dose of moral ambiguity.

The Checkmate charter is vetoed by the Chinese UN representative, giving the organization only days to operate. A Checkmate team infiltrates a metahuman-creation plant in China, hoping to blackmail the country; they find instead that the plant has been overtaken by Kobra. White King Alan Scott makes a deal for Checkmate's charted to be ratified, but loses his own position. In other stories, a new recruit vies to be the Black Queen's Knight, and Amanda Waller secretly backs a Suicide Squad operation.

At seven issues already, Checkmate is an especially thick read, perhaps the most dialogue-heavy comic I've read in a while. While there's action here, certainly, there's perhaps even more politicing. Unlike the White House action of Ex Machina, Checkmate takes place in the UN, and there's an almost alarming amount of discussion here of resolutions, vetos, and national policies.

DC Comics, to be sure, takes a risk in that Checkmate's intellectualism will turn off the casual reader, but presented here in trade form, I was pleased to find a comic that expects as much as Checkmate does from its reader. In addition, Checkmate's plodding deliberation helps to balance some of the death and destruction caused by the team elsewhere in A King's Game's pages.

From the first pages of A King's Game, we see the team--including former Justice Leaguer Fire--kill their enemies. To be sure, no one who dies is ever completely innocent, but the amount of killing is shocking all the same. Rucka offers Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott as the voice of moderation, working within Checkmate to minimize casulaties. Scott references Wonder Woman's murder of Maxwell Lord as an example of how people lose faith with murdering heroes; former Suicide Squad leader Amanda Waller, as his opposite, suggests that the more dangerous world that we live in requires more dangerous solutions.

The audience, of course, is more likely to side with Scott, though we get the sense that by associating with Checkmate at all, Scott is himself already sullied; that Scott is then voted out of Checkmate leaves the moral future of the team that much more ambiguous. Like the Outsiders, Checkmate is a glimpse of the darker side of the DC Universe; while nothing to aspire to, the questions raised by Checkmate are fun and interesting nonetheless.

I lost a little interest in Checkmate in the last two chapters, which was more a Suicide Squad tale than Checkmate. Though Suicide Squad certainly enjoys a wide following, the story builds upon quite a lot of Suicide Squad lore that I just wasn't that familiar with, and it made it hard to be all that engaged. The first five chapters certainly are good enough to balance out the last two, but hopefully the next trade remains more on course throughout.

[Contains full covers.]

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