Checkmate #13

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Or – “Two Excellent Books Are Crossing Over… And You’re Reading SPAWN, Aren’t You?”

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I know, I know, I shouldn’t be mean about Spawn… Every single title out there is somebody’s fave-rave, and just ’cause I don’t get it (and maybe resent Todd McFarlane’s general public persona and history of questionable litigatory decisions) doesn’t mean that it isn’t awesome in… some… way. Maybe… Anyway, back in the realm of statements that keep my foot out of mouth, we’re about to embark on an interesting case study in the DCU. Outsiders, a relatively underrated book with a ton of neat characters and action is crossing over with Checkmate, about which Sam Wheat would just say “Ditto.” How exactly does an underground superteam of highly questionable legality interact with the government’s official CIA-type group designed to reign in the antics of metahumans?

Well, let’s just put it this way: the attractive redhead up there probably isn’t interested in Cap’n Boomerang just because of his self-appointed military rank or his mastery of CM1.jpgaboriginal weapons. Ladies love the rebel… Previously, on Checkmate: The United Nations has created the Checkmate organization as their metahuman enforcement department, and created their agency heirarchy based on chess pieces. Each ‘side’ must maintain a balance between super-powered and non-super powered operatives. Mister Terrific of the Justice Society is the current White King, while Amanda Waller, (former leader of the Suicide Squad) is the White Queen. Sasha Bordeaux, OMAC survivor and former Bruce Wayne bodyguard is the Black Queen, and her counterpart Taled Beni Khalid showed himself last issue to be every bit a match for the other royals. In previous issues Checkmate was able to do the impossible: infiltrate the terrorist organization called Kobra, as well as discover what hold Amanda held over Black King’s Knight Beatriz Da Costa, also known as Fire of the Justice League, while engaging Bane in an attempt to control the election process in Santa Prisca. Meanwhile, The Outsiders accidentally got involved in a prison riot, were presumed dead, called criminals and began operating underground. Their activites attracted the attention of Checkmate, and now the other shoe (or perhaps the other little green pixie bootie) is about to drop.

The action starts in swinging London, with the aforementioned Cappy Boomerang chatting up a girl in a club. It’s a funny moment, as neither can hear anything over the loud music, and Owen isn’t really paying attention to anything but her ridiculously tiny lingerie-inspired top. Her French accent trips an alarm in my head, but Owen is overwhelmed by sheer volume of exposed skin, and they return to Boomer’s hotel. She entreats him to take her to bed, and he’s distracted enough to turn his back on her, asking her name. “Jo,” she says, and I suddenly remember who she is. “Is that short for Joanna?” asks Boomerang, and she replies, “No. Josephine…” while preparing a needle and shooting him in the neck. “Thaasss… aa preetty naaame,” says the captain, as he remembers a sudden important date with the carpet. Heh. Turns out that ‘Jo’ is Josephine Tautin, a.k.a Mademoiselle Marie, and also, coincidentally, the Black Queen’s Knight…

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GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING! That’s a… um… nice… belt? Or something? You can see why Boomerang couldn’t concentrate, but what’s with ‘Collie,’ and how, exactly, do you think the other Outsiders will respond to this effrontery? I vote for not well, and as for ‘Collie,’ it’s just that Checkmate didn’t want to tip their hand too soon, in case someone was listening in. Collie equals Captain Boomerang, Katana equals Komondor, Nightwing equals Newfoundland, Grace equals Great Dane (she should be offended), Thunder equals Tibetan, and Metamorpho equals Maltese. (I want a codename! Maybe I could be “Laserheart,” or “Slackass.” Oooh… Slackass!) “Collie is in the bag,” reports Sasha Bordeaux. “One down…”

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It’s like Mission Control at Checkmate and the Outsiders are about to get caught completely off-guard. Sasha requests that Mr. Terrific authorize his knight to act against ‘Komondor’ (Katana) and Terrific makes the argument, and obviously not for the first time, that he’s not supportive of these tactics. “There were other ways to do this… We shouldn’t be treated them like criminals.” Sasha reminds him that they overthrew a sovereign nation, and put an even worse idiot (in her eyes) in power, and how the assignment in Telistocc took TWO Green Lanterns and Superman to contain. “It was a damn NUKE, Michael. Are you telling me the JSA would have let that SLIDE?” Terrific responds, in Terrific fashion, “The JSA would never have allowed that to HAPPEN.” Sasha argues loudly that Mike just made HER point, when the White King’s Bishop (former JSA villain The Thinker) hilariously interrupts them with his characteristic sarcasm.

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Heh. Thinker’s remark refers to the suspended affair between Sasha, The Black Queen, and Terrific, when he was just White King’s Knight. Now that he’s on the other side of the ‘board,’ they’ve had to give up their relationship (we’ll see how long that lasts), but with the authorization of all four royals, the operation is in full swing. Katana has left her home in San Francisco to go for a run, not expecting any sort of trouble in the morning. A handsome stranger gives her the eye, then trips and falls on his face. The man panics, bleeding from his nose and mouth, and Katana, being a decent person, stops to help him. As soon as he’s within striking range, his panic is revealed to be a facade…

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Gassed and knocked OVER the bridge railing, Katana falls right into a waiting barge (with a stuntman’s airbag that I’m wondering why no one noticed) and Checkmate is one third of the way to target. I’m not entirely sure that Tommy Jagger (the man in “distress,” and the son of the original Judomaster) acted honorably here, but when you work for the gub’mint taking down people involved in seemingly criminal activities, that may not matter. Case in point: Metamorpho, currently hiding out in a hotel in Michigan as ‘Mr. Chaney,’ also currently receiving room service. The valet insists on setting up the table for him, but Metamorpho just takes the tray (morphing into a human form looking remarkably like Leo McKern) and slams the door in the man’s face. Metamorpho apparently only ordered food to maintain his cover, and immediately flushes it down the commode…

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That’s pretty obviously NOT normal water, as his body immediately starts to disintegrate. Metamorpho starts to call for help, but is suddenly caught by a wave of Vertigo, and collapses to the floor, smashing to pieces. The waiter is revealed as Count Vertigo (Black Queen’s knight) and when he calls for help, Waller reminds him hilariously to “make sure they get ALL Metamorpho’s parts. It’s led to trouble in the past.” Heh. That is, I believe, a reference to the whole Shift/Metamorpho issues, I believe (Shift was a renegade splinter of Metamorpho who joined the Outsiders while the original Metamorpho was appearing in John Byrne’s bizarre Doom Patrol). Amanda Waller then reports the success, and asks about the status of Nightwing– pardon, Newfoundland’s capture. Sasha (familiar with the capabilities of the Bat-family) quietly replies “He’s going to find ME.” Her point is proven as Nightwing gets Metamorpho’s desperate radio plea, and immediately tries to contact his team…

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“Bootheel” and “Leadfoot” are Grace and Thunder, respectively, but we have yet to see them get captured. Nightwing is less than happy, and quite obviously realizes just what’s going on. We leave Nightwing, and see why Bootheel and Leadfoot are not responding: they’re currently under attack by a wing of black helicopters. Conspiracy theorists everywhere freak out, as Grace is entangled in some sort of super-tough cables, and Thunder is distracted by Fire. Checkmate’s agents (led by Jessica Midnight, Black Queen’s Bishop) are freaked out to see that their weaponry ISN’T as perfect for Grace retrieval as they thought, and are really horrified to have their chopper holed as Grace literally throws her girlfriend THROUGH the ship. The ladies are mightily pissed, folks, and you do NOT want to irritate the heavy hitters of The Outsiders unless you’re nigh-bulletproof your own damn self. Jessica is forced to take extreme measures…

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The toxin turns out to be a nerve gas, and I’m really mad at Checkmate right now. Grace and Thunder collapse, and just as they’re about to be overwhelmed, Nightwing’s signal breaks through the static. “Are you okay? What’s your–” “Screwed,” coughs Grace, as even her superhuman metabolism goes down under the use of probably illegal chemical weapons. My liberal sensibilities are really irked as Grace and Thunder have their costumes cut away and are hosed down like Rambo in Hope, Washington. The royals of Checkmate call it a day, as the most dangerous Outsiders are in custody, and Mr. Terrific and Sasha have an awkward goodnight, before she returns to her quarters, and her prophecy is fullfilled. “I don’t much like chess,” says a voice from the darkness…

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Now, I’m unclear on my Bat-mythos as regards Sasha. She knows that Bruce is Batman, but does she know that Nightwing is her ex-crush’s adoptive son? Obviously she’s aware of SOME tie between them, but is it commonly known that Nightwing used to be Robin? In either case, I’m not entirely sure that Dick has the upper hand here. In the midst of Checkmate’s headquarters, with his teammates unconscious, poisoned, or in pieces, and Mr. Terrific on the premises puts Nightwing at a serious disadvantage, but give him props for breaking through Checkmate’s security net in the first place.

This will continue in Outsiders #47 in a week or two, but right now, I’m very impressed. All the characters maintain their unique voices (although both books’ writers are listed, so perhaps they did their own dialogue) and the art by Joe Bennett is mighty pretty (and Mam’zelle Marie’s first real outing was an eye-opener, in many senses of the word. Hubba hubba zoot zoot!), making for a pleasing package. This issue raises some interesting questions, and we’re finally seeing the fallout from the Outsiders bad decisions over the last year (the last couple of years, honestly.) I have to say this felt like a 3.5 out of 5 star book, missing 4 stars by only the thinnest of margins. (AMENDED: Having checked my rating explanation, Mr. Grice has a point, and thus, I am changing this to 4 stars out of 5.) Checkmate is a consistently well-done title, and this issue is no exception. Now, who’s waiting for Metamorpho to reform and start kicking @$$ and taking initials? (He doesn’t have time for the whole name.)

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