Or – “There Are Eight Million Stories In The Checkmate City…”

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I actually remember the FIRST time I read a number 12 issue of Checkmate (and I refuse to believe it’s been nearly 20 years, either), an Invasion Aftermath extra written by Paul Kupperberg, with art by Steve Erwin (not the late Crocodile Hunter, mind you) and Al Vey. I liked that series, with it’s attempt to meld the soopahero and spy genres, although I didn’t read it until years after it’s cancellation. (I was completing my run of Suicide Squad at the time, and the crossover issues were compelling.) That said, the current series is leaps and bounds beyond that admittedly good work, taking the best bits of superhuman escapism and combining them with some of the nastier elements of the clandestine cloak-and-dagger-in-your-back stories Greg Rucka writes so well. Last ish, we left Beatriz DaCosta and Thomas Jagger in the hidden jungles of Santa Prisca, and we pick up this issue as both Knights are forced to deal with the sins of the fathers…

What has gone before: the first democratic elections in the island nation of Santa Checkmate1.jpgPrisca have gone sour, and local strongman Bane (whose candidate SHOULD have won) is on the warpath. White King’s Bishop The Thinker (an extremely advanced A.I./Human hybrid creature) has uncovered evidence of ballot-stuffing, and fingered one Computron (aka Colonel Computron, nee Basil Nurblin, one of Barry Allen’s most incidental Rogues) as the man noodling the votes. Rumor has it, he’s also responsible for Sanjaya still being on ‘Idol.’ More oddly, Computron seems to be working for Amanda Waller, the White Queen as part of her supposedly-dormant Suicide Squad. DaCosta and Jagger arrived in Santa Prisca, ostensibly to extradite Compy for protection-slash-interrogation, but once there, Bea distracts Tommy with the presence of Bane (who offed Tom’s pater familias in the Battle of Metropolis, and whose presence on this mission very nearly left Jagger at home) and sets the Computron on (emerald) fire, presumably at the behest of Waller, who is blackmailing Beatriz with information about her beloved Daddy. Seems like this just isn’t Basil’s day…

This issue starts as last issue did, with a flashback of young Beatriz trying to finally nail the landing on a complex gymnastic maneuver… Unlike last time, she hits it perfectly, and we see the horrifying finish that little Bea has just perfected, landing on the shoulders of a dummy representing a target for assassination and hacking at his throat like a butcher on a hamhock. Her father is likewise mortified, but for an entirely different (and much more disturbing) reason than me.

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I am filled with an unexpected and justifiable hatred for Senor DaCosta right now. Bea looks to be somewhere between 8 and 11 here, and he’s training her to be an assassin. For all the times they have mentioned Bea’s work as a Brazilian secret agent (it’s a well-established portion of her backstory) it never occurred to me what that could mean. This man is evil, and does not deserve his daughter’s unconditional love and protection. Thankfully, he’s just lines on paper, so I don’t have to fret too much. In the present, Rip Jagger’s boy arrives a few minutes too late to keep her from using her papa-trained killin’ skills…

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If he’s a computer simulation, why does his digital head have a skull? Not that it’s not a brilliant visual, but, still, Basil Nurblin doesn’t exist as a human being anymore, so the presence of a headbone here is puzzling. Bygones… Bea’s inadvised murder has left a pretty obvious green inferno in it’s wake, one that even a musclehead like Bane can’t miss. Tommy grabs the charred and melted cabeza in the hopes that Thinker might be able to extract something of use, and they proceed towards their extraction point. This is all very fun, very tense stuff, and it only gets worse, as Bruce Wayne’s Vertebrae’s worst nightmare arrives with a thump.

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“Mai nem ees Thomas Jagger. Yu keeled my fat’er. Prepare to die!.” Oh, come on, you knew it was coming. Big, bad beetle-browed Bane faces down with a terse, tense, and terribly torn Tommy… should he finish his mission, or should he finally balance the karmic scales for his lost progenitor? Decisions, decisions… Bane tries to taunt him into a fight, but Tommy simply holds him off, keeping the mission in mind at all times. Bane takes advantage of his distraction to move in for the kill…

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BOOT TO DA HEAD! (Yaaa yaaa!) It is wrong to tip the cup of knowledge, Ed GruberBane. And in case, you missed the memo, you steroid-swollen, gimp-mask-wearing, stupid-enough-to-keep-the-tubes-of-your-drugs-IN-PLAIN-SIGHT-on-your-misshapen-hamhock-arms, drooling, slack-jawed, inbred, grit-eating basket case: when you play the dozens with Checkmate, not only is the ‘No Mothers’ rule in effect, we also invoke the three D’s (and I do not mean the Dudley Death Drop). Don’t. Diss. Dad. Tom’s anger flares, and he lays a bit of knowledge down on Bane’s sucka @$$. “My father SACRIFICED himself protecting the people of Metropolis from YOU. He PUT himself in your path. That is the ONLY reason you laid a finger on him.” Tommy shows him exactly what his father’s skills can do, crossing the t’s on the most important message Bane may ever hear:

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Ladies and gentlemen, I have been waiting for this moment since January of 1993, and oh, does it taste GOOOOD. For all his usefulness as a terrible foe of Batman, Bane is one of those characters I hate on sight. In wrestling, they call it “X-Pac Heat,” where no matter how hard you try to get the audience behind a certain character, it fails and they boo. Bane exemplifies most of what I hated about comics in the early nineties: the swollen ‘bigger must be better’ attitude, the overblown bravado and unsupported swagger. I cheer audibly as Bane goes down, with Tommy grasping his neck, moments from a killing blow… but stops. He steps back, telling Bane, “Checkmate is not your enemy” and exits. Sadly, his work is for naught, as when he arrives at the escape vehicle, Fire somehow “lost” the Computron head, and the mission is a wash. Once back at HQ, Mr Terrific compliments Tommy on his professionalism and personal restraint…

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Oh, Bea. Don’t become another casualty of the JLI. It’d break my heart. Amanda Waller, sensing that someone may have the goods on her participation, barks that Jagger better be able to cash the check his mouth just wrote, but she’s poleaxed when Beatriz admits to the truth. “I did it. I killed Computron, then ditched the evidence.” It’s a truly beautiful moment, watching Fire reclaim her soul from the morass of international espionage. She’s jailed pending further investigation, and Waller visits her in the clink, with a deal. Don’t mention Amanda’s Suicide Squad efforts in Santa Prisca, and she’ll keep quiet about the secret of Bea’s daddy. Whatever this is, it’s got to be huge for her to consider it, even for a second. Colonel Khalid, Bea’s Black King and boss, visits her now-invalid daddy to try and suss out what’s doing, even tossing out the name “Corvalho.” The old man stonewalls, going so far as to tell Khalid that “no one who could ever identify this… Corvalho… would ever do so.” Still using his daughter as a weapon (or in this case, a shield), the old bastard. The Black King proves himself the equal of his royal counterparts, by cutting straight through the prevarication to the truth…

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This is Khalid’s first real moment in the sun, and he totally nails it. With Daddy a dead end, he returns to Checkmate’s castle headquarters, to confer with his associates, who tell him what he already knows: Proving that DaCosta committed any crimes will require Bea to turn on her Daddy, and that simply ain’t gonna happen. The Black King visits Bea in her cell, telling her flat out that she can either tell the truth, or face charges for murder. She won’t do it, but Khalid tells her that Checkmate already knows: Her father IS Corvalho, mastermind of “Operation: Condor,” responsible for 37 public assasinations that they KNOW of, and possibly hundreds more deaths throughout Central and South America. Bea tells him that she SHOULD go to jail, she’s just as guilty as her father ever was. She killed Basil’s head, in cold blood (well, really hot green blood, actually), but Khalid will not relent. He saw no remorse in her father’s eyes, and something entirely different in hers…

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Some time later, in Brazil, Ramon Da Costa is shocked to see his daughter arriving for a ‘visit.’ He seems to assume she’s been extradited (she is a Brazilian citizen, after all, and would need to be tried in a world court), but then notices her entourage: Shen Li Po, Black King’s Bishop, and agents of the U.N. “They’re here to talk to you about your participation in Operation: Condor. The things you did under your real name of Ramon Corvalho.” Daddy entreats her not to believe the Black King, that together they can fight Checkmate, that blood is thicker than water blah blah blah fishcakes… but his daughter’s mind is made up, and she’s absolutely firm.

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“Sins of the father,” indeed. Back at Checkmate, Khalid confronts the White Queen about her participation in these events, over a game of chess. In a moment that he obviously orchestrated, he moves the black king’s knight to check the white queen, with mate in three moves. “Whatever hold you had over my knight is now gone,” Khalid informs Waller, and letting her know that he may not be able to prove the truth, but he damn well KNOWS it. Amanda, being Amanda, plays dumb until Khalid tells her he knows she wanted Colonel Computron dead, and he can guess why. At this, ‘Manda turns to Waller Track #2, with a veiled threat for Khalid, “The last royal who made an enemy out of me had the power of the Star Heart… and you remember what happened to HIM, don’t you?” Khalid is threatened by this not even one little bit. “Let the games begin, then.”

This is an excellent issue, balancing action with intrigue, and giving us some excellent dialogue as well. The art is very well done, especially the Jagger/Bane fight, but doesn’t skimp on the facial expressions. You can see every ounce of heartbreak on her face when Beatriz betrays her papa. The political maneuvering is also well-done, with Black Knight finally showing that he is absolutely on the level of the other three Royals, a difficult proposition in itself. This issue spotlighted characters who have been mostly sidelined in recent months, as well as keeping Waller’s Suicide Squad subplot boiling, and Rucka does a wonderful job with all of it. Checkmate #12 is better than the last couple of issues, and they were pretty awesome to begin with. We’re looking at one of the very rare 5 stars out of 5 books right here, folks, and you can’t go wrong with that.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

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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