Review: Checkmate: Pawn Breaks trade paperback (DC Comics)


Well, I like Checkmate a lot. If you enjoyed the first trade (see our review), you'll like the second; Greg Rucka continues to write a multi-layered series full of intrigue and political machinations. I didn't think Checkmate: Pawn Breaks was quite as effective as the first volume, but Checkmate still stands head-and-shoulders over any number of other comics series out there.

The first of two stories collected in Pawn Breaks, "Pawn 502," is good, though much of it centers around a new Checkmate "pawn" that the reader hasn't met before, so the emotional attachment is somewhat less; there's also some identity-switching that could probably have stood another page of explanation. What "Pawn 502" does do well is show the scope of how Checkmate connects with the DC Universe as a whole--the Shadowpact appears here, but even better is Sasha Bordeaux's face-off with Sarge Steel of the Department of Metahuman Affairs (and currently Diana Prince's employer). "Pawn Breaks" ends, however, without much conclusion, and I found myself wanting more resolution then, instead of having to wait for a later trade.

The second story however, "Corvalho," is classic Checkmate. It is, as with the end of Checkmate: A King's Game, a Suicide Squad story, but this one told from Checkmate's perspective. What I like about "Corvalho" (and other West Wing-type political thrillers) is that we've grown to know these characters so well that we begin to intuit the implications of the characters' political machinations--when Mr. Terrific realizes he's forced to send Tommy Jagger up against Bane, even as Bane killed Jagger's father, I felt the "oh no" moment just as Terrific did; similarly, we get a sense of dread when the Black King sends Fire on a mission believing she's loyal, even though we know she works for Amanda Waller. The double- and even triple-crossed that Rucka builds into Checkmate continue to amaze.

My favorite part of Pawn Breaks was Mr. Terrific, the new White King, choosing a new Knight. I literally had chills when Terrific announced he was looking for someone, as Rucka has shown that he has the entire DCU to work with, and isn't afraid to use it. Batman was of course a both obvious and unlikely possibilty, but Terrific's new choice was just as good: the electronic Flash villain, Thinker. No doubt having Thinker around is going to go wrong at some point, but in the meantime the spectral green computer's appearances are deliciously fun amidst the straight-laced Checkmate spies.

Coming up next for Checkmate is the Outsiders crossover "CheckOut," and as two of my favorite series right now are Checkmate and Outsiders, I can't wait. Though I had some difficulty with the art in this volume--it's good, don't get me wrong, but sometimes the men start to look alike and it's hard to tell who's who--Checkmate remains a well thought-out, dialogue-heavy, richly characterized comic book series set smack-dab in the middle of the DC Universe. If you're not reading it already, please do yourself a favor and start!

[Contains full covers, "What Came Before" pages.]

Who's your favorite Checkmate character?

Comments ( 5 )

  1. I've only read the first TPB so far, but I'm a Mr. Terrific fan from way back. I like over-achievers, boy scouts, & passive powers, all of which he is/has. His romance w/ Sasha B. (as of issue #7) has been richer than most comic book affairs: angsty, sure, but realistic & complex. And his father-son relaish w/ Alan Scott was smartly done too, esp. the way he took over the reins as White King. I'm curious to see how that turns out in PAWN BREAKS & its follow-ups.

  2. Just want to say that I think your blog is great!!! I really find your reviews a great help for deciding what DC trades I should be buying. Haven't started on "Checkmate" yet but I'll definitely be starting on those soon. Thanks!!

  3. Aaron -- I like Mr. Terrific, too, and I think Geoff Johns has done a great job with him. Hopefully in the JLA/JSA crossover, The Lightning Saga, there's some recognition of Batman and Mr. Terrific's shared history with Sasha; the three characters have so many similarities, it's an interesting dynamic.

    I hadn't thought of Michael and Alan having a father/son dynamic; that's very intriguing.

    Thanks to you and Brad for stopping by!

  4. Rucka deserves full regalia for finally utilizing the International stage for something other than a secondary JLA (not that it isn't still very friendly to Justice League audiences).

    I think the biggest thrill to come from this section, for me, was the use of Bane as a South American politlcal rebel, rather than a lowly jibbering muscleman. Magnifico!

  5. Yes -- one thing I've enjoyed about Checkmate are the true-life politics, like the United States' complicated relationship with China. And ditto on Bane, but if anyone could make that back-breaker scary again, it's Greg Rucka.

    I was sorry to hear Rucka was leaving Checkmate, but I'm glad at least that he's going out on his own terms and will be able to wrap up his run on the series. Not sure about Bruce Jones taking over after his Nightwing fiasco, but ...


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