Or – “The Chimp’s Got It Figured Out…”

cm10.jpgreviewbubble.jpgIt’s actually quite heartening to see Checkmate hitting double-digits. It’s not precisely the kind of book you normally get from DC, an attempt at a hard-hitting spy-style drama, with the added difficulty of being set within the confines of a world where every thirteenth person gets phenomenal cosmic power with the purchase of a Big Gulp at 7-11. This issue actually takes that proverbial bull by the horns, trying to streamline the Shadowpact (a team consisting of a talking chimpanzee, a interdimensional teleporter, a cloth Golem, an azure demon, a sorceress of great power, and Jim Morrison with a vorpal blade) with the more down-to-earth spycraft and internecine power struggle of government spook agencies… Add a dash of pepper, bake at 450 degrees for six hours, and whaddaya got?

cm1.jpgAn interesting (if somewhat offbeat) look at the problem of the double-agent, sorta like Donnie Brasco with magic… and cobras. If you’ll recall, previous issues have set up the premise: Sasha Bordeaux, the new Black Queen of Checkmate, has been setting up the ultimate sting operation, trying to get an agent within the cult of Kobra. Kobra has overtones of Marvel’s Hydra, while giving us a scarier look into the mind of humanity, and the kinds of things damaged personalities will do to find a place to feel like they fit. To do so, she enlisted local mystical super-team, The Shadowpact, to fake a shootout at the airport, getting her pawn’s foot in the door. Now, it’s time for the endgame, to do what the CSI, FBI, NSA, and DEO couldn’t, to infiltrate Kobra and shut them down once and for all…

After the shootout, Lucas (aka Pawn 502) and his Kobra “sponsor” managed a getaway, and have made their way to Ontario to meet their contact. As Sasha planned, the apparent murder of federal agents in the name of Kali Yuga has made Lucas’ coverstory that much more believable, and it’s finally time for the final entrance exam.


Gyah! That, dear friends, is an example of the true definition of “coyote ugly,” and don’t tell me you wouldn’t gnaw your own arm off to get away from a woman with fangs and serpent eyes at 3 a.m. Lucas (and the readers) are a little unnerved by the “seeing what’s in your heart” bit, cause a woman like that, you figure that vivisection might be involved. Back at Checkmate’s temporaray HQ (which marks Sasha’s office with a very amusing sign that advises that “grabbing your ankles is advised”), The Black Queen is trying to calm a very angry ambassador. Herr Trautman is up in arms about both the escape of a dangerous enemy agent, and about Queen Sasha’s undermining of Sarge Steel. She smoothes things over with elan, but slams the phone down with force, betraying her inner frustrations, waking her napping Knight…


Heh. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to ask MY boss for permission to resume sleeping… In any case, as Jessica indicates, the natives are restless, but Sasha finally has the okay to tell the Shadowpact why they’ve been detained… Back in Canada, in a sleazy motel room, Pawn 502 starts to wonder if he’s going to wake up in a bathtub full of ice, minus his kidneys, but it turns out this is a much simpler procedure (if just as creepy). To prove their worth to Kobra, the acolytes just have to clasp their hands and squeeze.


Of course, there IS the matter of the razor-sharp kriss knife, but, every group has it’s downside. Just ask a Shriner sometime about mini-car leg cramps. The snake-woman reveals the secret of why nobody has ever infiltrated Kobra: the blood samples will be used in a ritual, a blood-magic scrying spell, to see what’s REALLY in their hearts, including, presumably, any allegiances to Checkmate. As Lucas ponders his forthcoming murder, we see a handprints on the window, but no hands to make them… Anybody remember the invisible man from last issue? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? We switch again back to checkmate, where an increasingly angry sorceress, demon, and monkey (well, ape) have had about enough of Miz Bordeaux’s silence. She’s kept them hanging around for hours, without any explanation…


Thank you, Bobo! That’s exactly what *I* said! It actually seemed like hunting rabbits with an air-to-ground missile at the time. No, no, my pretties, cackles the Black Queen… No, wait, that was the Wicked Witch. My bad. It seems that Sasha managed to track down some information that no one else had ever found, indicating the existence of a sect within Kobra called “The Bestowed,” which handles the aforementioned blood ritual, and she needs The Enchantress to put in the fix. Just when it looks like Lucas may get his fat pulled out of the fire, Invisible Dip$#!+ manages to flag down Tye, the other initiate…


Uh oh… Tye tells his idiot friend (who, by the way, got his powers from Lex Luthor’s Everyman process, a 52 shoutout) to stand by, and they’ll expose Lucas at the ceremony, and then get even more glory! The Bestowed arrive, and back at Checkmate, The Enchantress prepares to muck up their results. “How many civil liberties do you think we’re violating?” asks Sarge Steel of The Black Queen. “Oh, a half dozen, at least,” she replies with no trace of emotion. “You’re upset about that. I can tell.” “Yeah, I’m all choked up.” Heh. The leader of The Bestowed has enough juju to see Emmet, even with his invisibility powers on, and they nearly ALL get killed, as Emmet calls Lucas a spy, and Lucas says Emmet is. Thankfully, (sort of) the snake with the eyes has a simple answer for the question of “Who’s the spy?”


The ritual. Timing is critical, as Enchantress needs to pull off her bit to coincide with the moment where Snake-Eyes looks into Pawn 502’s blood. Did you know the Enchantress’ real name is “June Moone?” Do you think she hated high school, or what? Man, I’d hate to… What? Oh, the ritual? You ever heard that joke, “how do you keep an idiot in suspense?”

I’ll tell ya later…


I’d say Junie’s timing was dead on. Now, Lucas is told he has to murder the other two to finally make himself a full-fledged Kobra Kultist. He throws a bowl of Kobra venom in Tye’s face (that seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it) and is preparing to kill them when Checkmate arrives via a Nightshade tele-portal. Shots are fired, and the Kobra faithful make their escape… And like a good episode, of 24, there’s a twist at the end: Tye isn’t Tye at all, but Tom Jagger, White King’s Knight. Where’s the REAL Tye? Where’d you suppose Enchantress got the blood of a true believer, anyway? Sasha asks how long the spell will, last, and Enchantress looks surprised. “It’s permanent…” Pawn 502 is now one of the faithful, one of the initiated…


Oh, dear… There’s about 150,000 ways that this is bad. But big props to Sasha for doing what no other intelligence agency ever could. This issue was really well done, and successfully managed to meld the difficult spy thriller genre with the DC Universe. A real purist of either genre could certainly find issue, but the plot was suitably tense, the suspense well-handled, and the twists were really twists. In many cases, I see the swerve coming, but Rucka actually faked me out, with the obvious question (“Why are Shadowpact REALLY here?”) overshadowing the less obvious (“Where’s Jagger? How can they fake a blood ritual? Where’s my pants?”)…

This issue really managed to recapture the shine that I missed with last issue. The art was awesome (witness the horrible skull-like shadows and expression of pure, excuse the expression, venom in that last shot), and questions I didn’t even know where out there were answered. I highly recommend this title to fans of Rucka, of the cloak-and-dagger genre, heck, to anybody who enjoys a good read. Checkmate #10 is worthy of the above average 3.5 stars…



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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