Review: Checkmate: Chimera trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Admittedly, I was predisposed to judge harshly Bruce Jones's Checkmate: Chimera, given the difficulties with his brief-but-disastrous stint on Nightwing. Indeed, in the end I think Checkmate fans might be better off thinking Checkmate ended with the previous volume, Fall of the Wall; there's nothing here quite so outlandish as Jones's tentacled mutant Jason Todd in Nightwing, but neither does the story rise to the bar set by writers Greg Rucka and Eric Trautman before.

Whereas much of Rucka and Trautman's Checkmate run focused on the Sasha Bordeaux, Mr. Terrific, and Amanda Waller (the Black Queen and the White King and Queen of Checkmate respectively), Jones centers his story on the Black King, and more specifically the Checkmate Pawns that function in the field. An explosive nearly kills military soldier Adam Sharp, and Checkmate recruits his body for their ultimate weapon program. Sharp, now called Chimera, is predictably unreliable and violent, and he fights armageddon brought inexplicably by the devil himself while Sharp's finance works to free him.

Given the previous focus on Checkmate royalty, I don't at all mind Jones turning instead to the Checkmate ground forces; my chief complaint is that there's little specificity here. The devil possesses one of the few named Pawns in the story early on, and the rest function like unnamed "red shirts" on Star Trek, there for collateral damage. This is a story told from the perspective of the Pawns, but it doesn't do much do show what the Pawns' lives are like.

Second, Chimera simply lacks the detailed politics of Rucka and Trautman's run. Jones introduces armageddon legends from a number of different cultures, but these seem incidental to the story; which monster attacks when doesn't turn the story as much as dealings between China and North Korea turned other Checkmate tales. Jones attempts some backroom dealings in the interaction between the Black King Taleb Beni Khalid and his Bishop the August General in Iron; while I enjoyed the spotlight on the August General, this basic interaction (they disagree; the General disobeys) missed the subtleties of what we saw before.

One bright spot in this story, I'd note, was the inclusion of the new Global Guardians. I've enjoyed how characters like the Guardians and the Great Ten have travelled from <52> to Green Lantern to Checkmate, and I'm glad Jones included them here. Of course, I could quibble that the Guardians are hardly fleshed out and sometimes their individual powers are confusing; also, while one strong part of Chimera are the devil's monsters as rendered by Manuel Garcia, often it was tough to tell one Global Guardian from another.

Checkmate had been one of my favorite new titles coming out of Infinite Crisis, and I'm sad that I can't recommend this last volume. It seems to be the case with Checkmate, Shadowpact, All-New Atom, Blue Beetle and more that a book will start strong, then DC Comics will replace the original creative team, then the book will shortly be cancelled. Don't get me wrong, sometimes the replacement teams do a good job, but I wish sometimes DC would pull the plug when the original team leaves (as with Gotham Central and Starman, for instance), rather than draw things out with mixed results.

[Contains full covers]

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