Checkmate #11

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Or – “I Thought They Only Had Fiery Latinas On Wacky Sitcoms…”

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I don’t usually mentally stunt-cast actors in the roles of comic book characters, (and I whine when Mike Deodato does it for Norman Osborn) but whenever I see Fire (aka Green Fury, Green Flame, and Beatriz Da Costa), my mind puts actress Judy Reyes from Scrubs in the scene. This has absolutely nothing to do with this issue, mind you, I just wanted to share. In any case, since Checkmate, Volume II began, White Queen Amanda Waller has seemed to have some sort of hold (blackmail? loyalty?) over Fire, who acts as Black King’s knight. This issue seems to be the beginning of explaining that hold, and gives us a rare look at Fire’s life before super-powers. Que nós estamos esperando?

cm1.jpgCheckmate in a nutshell: Back in the day, the powers-that-used-to-be created Checkmate as a rough equivalent of Marvel’s SHIELD, but with better costumes. That version went under, but it was later revived by Maxwell Lord. Lord was a manipulating bastard, and used the resources of Checkmate to do whatever he felt was necessary, going so far as to hijack Batman’s Brother I satellites, telepathically control Superman’s mind, and murder Blue Beetle in cold blood before Wonder Woman exercised her Amazon negotiating techniques. Now rebuilt, Checkmate has a huge cast and canvas, including cyborg Sasha Bordeaux as Black Queen, DC’s spy-genre mainstay Amanda Waller as White Queen, Mr. Terrific of the Justice Society as White King, and a number of recognizable characters in supporting roles (one of whom is about to become a spotlighted character, and it’s not the flaming emerald one on the cover.)

Our story starts several years ago in Brazil, home of the young girl who would grow up to be Fire. As a completely meaningless aside, I find it funny that there are two Brazilian superheroes of note, Checkmate’s Fire and Sunspot of the New Mutants/X-Factor et al, and both of them have the last name Da Costa. I wonder if that’s Portuguese for Jones? Bygones. We see, in this flashback, young Beatriz practicing on the balance beam, working on a very complicated flipping technique.. But she doesn’t earn a 10 from the Portuguese judge…

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Awww. That’s sweet. We see Fire and Daddy in the present day, and he confirms that he is proud of her, telling her that she should be proud of what she IS, not the upstanding superhero she used to pretend to be. I suspect, however, that making her country proud may be part of why she seems to have something to hide now. On the other side of the globe, since it’s their job to ride herd on various political threats in the world, Checkmate gathers their ruling heirarchy to assess a situation that is rapidly spiralling out of control: The first free elections in the previously dictator-controlled island-hellhole of Santa Prisca. If you know Batman history, that may ring a bell, as Santa Prisca is the home of none other than spine-cracker supremo, Bane. Ironically, Bane isn’t the one behind the shenanigans, as his candidate for prime minister (or something) has lost an election he should have won. Bane responded as Bane does, by declaring martial law, and sending troops to occupy the capital city. Amanda Waller suggests that it seems more likely that BANE rigged up the election, but White King’s knight (and former JSA villain) The Thinker has some intel that puts the lie to that assumption.

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Hee. I remember Colonel Computron, and when you’re soo goofy that even *I* don’t have a place in my heart for you, you’re… Well, you’re Colonel Computron. In any case, The Thinker can verify the truth of the election returns, and prove that Bane’s candidate should have won. But you notice that Amanda Waller is trying hard to move suspicion back to the supervillains? It’s almost as though something else is happening here, that Amanda has something to hide. But that can’t be it, can it? Mandy Lou is a sterling example of humanity at it’s finest, and she’d never do anything… ILLEGAL. In any case, both Kings and Queens agree that this is Checkmate territory, and The White King begins to assemble a strike force. His Knight, one Thomas Jagger (and I’ve wondered why that name sounded so familiar) steps forth with a request…

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And then it clicks. Jagger, as in Rip Jagger, as in Judomaster, as in “broken in two by Bane.” And avenging son Thomas isn’t going on any mission involving his father’s murderer, which is an excellent call by Mr. T. As the royalty return to their individual roles, Amanda sneaks off to her office, to bring up a coded, scrambled communicator line to her Bishop, King Faraday. You can take the woman out of the Suicide Squad, but you apparently can’t take the Suicide Squad away from this particular woman.

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Oh, my. This whole situation is Waller’s doing. What… a… shock… Rick Flag wants to go back in and clean up the situation (which I think is a euphemism for “kill Computron”), but Amanda thinks he’s done enough damage. She’s going to take care of this herself. As for the other royals, they’re not dummies, even if Black Queen and White King are a little bit uncomfortable since they’re presumably no longer a couple. Sasha doesn’t think that minor supervillains getting involved in the world situation doesn’t make a lick of sense, and Terrific agrees.

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Mirror Master was ALSO part of one of Amanda’s operations (and isn’t it nice to see the return of the caption box, telling you WHERE things happened? I’ve missed that), and neither of them is dumb enough to ignore the possible connection. Sasha insists that this positively reeks of Amanda’s M.O., and when Black and White Kings question whether she’s willing to accuse her fellow queen, Sasha gets very intense. “You two weren’t here the last time someone subverted Checkmate for their own aims,” she snarls, and she’ll be damned if it happens again. Since that nearly killed her, and moste of the metahumans on Earth, left the old Black King dead, and turned her into the cyborg she is now, I can imagine it’s a bit of a sore point. And Sasha’s got another piece of bad news…

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Looks like young master Jagger will be part of the operation after all. Mr. Terrific brings him the news, along with a stern warning: any attempt to engage Bane will lead to his dismissal. Jagger icily accepts this, probably because he has no intention of honoring such a promise. One quick Blackhawk Express dropoff later, (And I think it was Hendrickson behind the wheel. He looked good for a 150-year-old fat man.) Fire and Jagger are on the sunny isle of Santa Prisca, skulking through the jungle. Fire uses the flippy technique we saw her learning earlier to negotiate a long drop off a tree limb, then takes out a guard with one shot. “Didn’t know they taught moves like that in Checkmate training,” says Jagger. “They don’t. Got that from my father,” Fire tersely replies. Lots of Daddy issues in the jungle today, aren’t there? Back at Checkmate, the Black King, is trying to track down the possible meaning of the word “Corvalho,” following up on a hunch. Sasha comes in, wondering why he doesn’t just use his computer, but then one of the files stops them both cold.

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Uh oh… We don’t know what “Operation: Condor” is, but I have to assume that it wasn’t a surgical strike to get mint sundaes from the Toronto Basking Robbins. The two agents make their way to an abandoned pumping station, and Fire moves inside to meet up with Colonel Computron. He is very unnerved to have to thank a former superhero for a save, but he’s a terrible judge of body language, as Beatriz has something else up her inflammable sleeve.

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It’s kind of funny to see a burning green girl immolating a floating head, actually. But in any case, I think that a strong case can be made that this mission has gone legs up, with half the incursion team killing the person they’re there to extract, and the other half missing, presumably about to go fight the man who runs the island in a duel of honor for his dead father. But, if nothing went wrong, how much fun would that be?

Checkmate is always a dense read, full of subtleties and references, and this issue is no exception. The art is nice as well, able to draw identifiable faces for each character, and even make a 12 year old girl look like a 12 year old girl, something even the best comic artists have trouble with (even John Byrne has issues with drawing kids). Greg Rucks does awesome spycraft, and Checkmate is no exception, blending that genre with the superhero game, and making it all work. This issue sets up a mystery, reveals just enough to get you hooked, then throws a wrench in it at the end that makes you wonder who’s actually lying to whom, and it earns 3 stars in so doing.

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