Constant Collected Editions readers know that two of my favorite series of recent years have been Checkmate and Outsiders. So, does the Checkmate/Outsiders: Checkout crossover trade paperback offer double the moral grayness and spy vs. spy action? Why yes, yes it does.
Writers Greg Rucka and Judd Winick clearly understand that a good crossover involves raising the story above just having the two teams beat the snot out of one another, to using the crossover to examine the two teams in opposition of one another. There's a fantasic scene early on where the gaudily-costumed Outsiders sit across the board room table from the dark uniformed Checkmate, as the Black Queen and White King rattle off their plans for invasion; Nightwing grows increasingly more agitated, until he shouts at the White King, "You're chairman of the JSA. You're Mr. Terrific."
Despite that the Outsiders are the uncontrolled vigilantes and Checkmate is the government-operated system, the writers make clear that Checkmate's codenames and doublespeak are just ruses to keep them emotionally detached from the situation, whereas the Outsiders suddenly become the saner alternative.
The writers also include plenty of great character bits in pairing the members of the two teams. Nightwing recognizes Bruce Wayne's former bodyguard and lover Sasha Bordeaux early on, and it's interesting how, instead of being jealous or wary, he slips easily into being able to talk to Sasha about Batman. Former Justice Leaguer Fire has always been a round peg fitting into Checkmate's lethal, sometimes bloodthirty square hole, and there's a great moment here where she confronts fellow past Leaguer Metamorpho about how much simpler the old days were; I appreciate the writers remembering these characters' shared history. And there's a wonderfully unexpected moment where Captain Boomerang innocently mentions having worked for Amanda Waller on the Suicide Squad during 52, not realizing the can of worms he's opening on Checkmate.
Indeed, another impressive thing about this crossover is that it foreshadows changes ahead for both teams, a relevance that was missing from Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer's Justice League/Justice Society crossover The Lightning Saga, which mostly featured characterization over plot. Checkout potends a giant confrontation between the other Checkmate royalty and Amanda Waller, complicated by Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux's severe injuries during the story.
And the Outsiders, of course, are about to disband, though I was glad to see that Nightwing relinquished the team to Batman, for the team's greater good, rather than that Batman took the team away from Nightwing as some kind of punishment. Many people have strong opinions on Judd Winick's writing, but I think he's presented a fantastic Nightwing in Outsiders--showing Nightwing it's OK to care about your teammates--and I'm glad Winick's sticking with Nightwing into Titans.
There's plenty of good art in this story, but I want to single out specifically Matthew Clark. I wasn't sold on Clark's art when he drew Superman alongside Greg Rucka, but for me Clark draws the definitive post-Infinite Crisis Outsiders, and I look forward to his next project.
[Contains full covers, "Previously" page.]
We're going to finish out Outsiders now with Five of a Kind. Join us!