Or “If They’re The Suicide Squad, How Come There’s So Many Of ‘Em Left?”


There’s been a lot of talk lately about “realism” in superhero comics. Books like Ultimate Spider-Man have been able to look at characters and events in a more adult fashion, while maintaining the best of what Stan & Steve established for the character. Some books have been wildly successful with a more realistic bent (Astro City, for one), while others have actually created MORE ridiculous premises by taking “realism” to it’s extreme (Mark Millar’s brilliant “Wanted,” for example, does grim and gritty so well that it passes back around the other end of the scale to parody, though I have to believe this is intentional.) “Checkmate” mixes real-world politics and spy-game cliches with big swatches of superheroes and their various baggage. How well does it work?

Well, I have to say I’m probably the target audience (again), but so far, I’m finding the whole experiment fascinating. I’ve long since gotten over any comic book-related shame, so I don’t feel too silly admitting that I have a complete run of the original “Checkmate” as well as it’s sister title “Suicide Squad,” and (for once) find this revamp to be head and shoulders above it’s predecessor. This issue starts with an interesting take on the superhuman phenomenon. Somewhere in Myanmar (once known as Burma), two soldiers talk of the amazing feats they recently witnessed, a young boy with amazing power stopping a giant boulder with his energy powers. We are introduced to the child, whose name is “Nay,” meaning sun. The soldiers offer him a chance to show the entire world his power and the value of his Kayin people…


…but not in the way he would have probably wanted. Superhumans as a natural resource is something rarely touched on in comics, and it’s suitably disturbing here, to both the reader and Checkmate itself. So disturbing that in the last issue, Checkmate’s White Queen, Amanda Waller, sent in a covert squad to rattle their cages. Amanda, you see, used to run Task Force X, aka The Suicide Squad, and old habits die hard. The process is simple emough: collect a few superhuman black hats, tell them they’ll go free if they pull one mission for you, give them an incentive to NOT disappear (in this case, a bomb implanted in their skulls), point and shoot. Most importantly, Amanda isn’t going to cry if one of them gets hurt or killed. Nearly all of this Squad’s members have done a turn in Task Force X before. Heck, Javelin actually DIED on a previous Suicide Squad mission, and I’m not sure if this is the same man or a Superboy fist-effect. Unfortunately, since those days, the landscape of the DCU has changed, and even Waller didn’t count on the lack of honor among thieves.


Y’know, even *I* wanted to punch the Calculator in the face after that one. The first eam seems to be in way over their heads already. Unbeknownst to them, backup is on the way in the form of Rick Flag and The Bronze Tiger, both of whom know what they’re doing. This doesn’t save the already-dead Punch, and Javelin dies (again) before the team gets to cover. Once safely inside, the Mirror Master wonders about Tattooed Man and his missing bluebird tattoo.

Green Lantern fans will remember the awesome crossover with Batman a few months ago where a NEW Tattooed Man appeared, a Tattooed Man who was scary, competent, vicious and dangerous. This ain’t him. This is the old guy, the one who used to wear a Popeye suit and use giant boxing gloves. Thus, since the moment this mission began, we knew he wasn’t long for the world. If your successor is better than you, and they don’t give you a new name… Here, let me show rather than tell you.


That is seriously COLD. And no, that’s not an Icicle joke. Turns out that Tattoo sold them out in the hopes the the Secret Society would take him back and kick out his usurper. His fate proves once again why only wackjobs and idiots put on a costume and become a criminal in the DCU. It’s never worth the trouble. Just when everything hits the fan, and all seems lost, Flag and Bronze Tiger save the day with a hail of gunfire. Mirror Master manages the evac, but young Nay is left behind (intentionally?) in the world behind the mirror. When they arrive back on American soil, Flag has a few last pieces of advice for the four survivors.


I would not want to face Waller across a chessboard. She knew Flag would be needed. She knew her first team would botch it, and she counted on them causing the worldwide furor about human rights that would follow. She also made a situation where not only do her hands look clean, it looks like her political enemies orchestrated it all. Checkmate knew about the power plant, but found no way to interfere in the operations of a sovereign nation without breaking laws. The new White Queen has no such worries, and the United States gets to say “I told you so.” The Ruling council of Checkmate can’t prove anything untoward happened, and Amanda’s Bishop, King Faraday, seems to it a little TOO much. Obviously the Secret Society leaked all this intelligence, right? There certainly can’t be any other option, right? Mr. Terrific, the third smartest man in the world has his doubts.


Those panels exemplify the best part of this series so far, the plotting, the manipulating, the constant questioning of who really has the upper hand. Unfortunately, this issue just didn’t bring the usual bang for me. It had some great moments (the reveal of WHY the power plant was unusual, the death of the Tattooed Man, Calculator’s dialogue with Mirror Master), but overall it didn’t feel like a satisfying chunk of story. One of the usual strengths of the book is the number of characters we already know, but in this issue, it was almost distracting. We namecheck or cameo Punch and Jewelee’s psychotic family history, the history between Tiger and Flag, the original Suicide Squad series, the original Checkmate series, Captain Atom’s failed engagement to Plastique, Mirror Master’s history with both the Squad and the Society, recent issues of Green Lantern, and more. Even the last couple of pages, with the well-written wrap-up, had me thinking about King Faraday’s background in the old “Danger Trail” comics, Mr. Terrific’s timeline regarding his membership in the JSA, and whether Rick Flag is bug-spit crazy. That’s a lot of links, and it may be daunting for a new reader. It certainly shook my enjoyment of the issue, so much so that I still don’t understand how Nay ended up on the last couple of pages.

This issue felt a little thin for me. Not bad, exactly, more like when Arnold and Willis went to meet Mrs. Garrett at her new school, to set up the pilot for the Facts of Life. This issue felt like a setup for a new Squad title, and as a Suicide Squad story, it’s good. As an issue of Checkmate, it’s sort of a let-down. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable issue, I just have higher expectations from Rucka and from this book. As such, Checkmate #7 rates a somewhat-below-average (for this title) two stars.


Discuss this issue in the Major Spoilers Forum.


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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