Checkmate #15

by

Or – “Who’d Have Imagined EGG FU Would EVER Be Intimidating?”

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The 21st century truly is a place of wonders. The man from Oolong Island, most remembered pre-Crisis for an incredibly offensive accent and lines like “Stupid Amelicans! They might as werr pless a tligger to their own blains!” is not only intimidating, but this issue shows him to be a truly frightening creature, his curiosity unhindered by minor concerns such as compassion or fear of punishment. Chang Tzu proves that no idea is too ridiculous to fix, something we should probably all keep in mind when we (myself included) mock the monthly solicitations wondering why anyone would ever bring back, say, MODOK. In the hands of a talented writer or writers, even Mind-Grabber Kid might have some life left in him…

CM1.jpgBefore we get started on the previouslys, I wanted to give fair warning… This issue, like Egg Fu (Young) is a nasty piece of work. Be prepared for unpleasantness. Previously on Check/Out: Checkmate managed, through guile, deceit, brute force and sex appeal, to capture the rogue metahumans called the Outsiders. Team leader Nightwing was able to infiltrate Checkmate HQ, only to find that Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux wanted to offer them a job. A combined force of Checkmate’s finest and the Outsiders snuck onto Oolong Island, formerly the super-villain mad scientist enclave from 52, downloading their computer core. They were able to escape with the information, but not before Captain Boomerang, Nightwing, and The Black Queen were captured, and handed over to the gentle ministrations of… EGG FU! Onboard the Pequod, (the Outsiders floating base ship) White Queen’s knight Beatriz DaCosta (aka Fire, formerly of the JLI) cannot believe that her counterpart (Mademoiselle Marie) let the Black Queen get captured…

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The Pequod is currently being escorted by a squadron of Chinese fighters, accompanied by Great Ten member Immortal-Man-In-Darkness. Metamorpho manages to calm Fire down, and the two old friends commiserate for a moment. “Things didn’t used to be like this back in the JLI, Rex,” says Fire. “Things didn’t used to be this… HARD. Loyalty used to count for something.” Interesting take from a woman whose loyalty nearly cost her life, and put her father in prison… Metamorpho assures her that it still does, “you just sometimes have to look harder to find it.” It’s interesting to see these two, the most prototypically “old-school” heroes having trouble with the cloak and dagger covert schtick. Mlle. When the others start to echo Fire’s sentiments, Mlle. Marie takes command, telling them all that their duty is to complete this mission.

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“We wait…” As terrible as it must be to have to imagine what’s happening to their teammates in Egg Fu (Young)’s clutches, the reality is actually worse. With Nightwing lacking any metahuman abilities to dissect, Chang Tzu has locked him up, and taken Boomerang and The Black Queen to his operating theatre, while Great Ten member August-General-In-Iron looks on distastefully. (As an aside, I’m a little distressed to see the Chinese heroes acting as the villains of the piece because of political ideology… If the rumors of a Great Ten series are true, then we might want to limit the amount of time they spend with psychotic ovoids, unless all that talk was just smoke to hide the secret of Oolong Island during 52.)

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Chang gleefully taunts August General with Sasha’s seeming similarities to his own form (Are they hinting that he, too, is an OMAC?) and the General snorts that the two of them are nothing alike. Bringing Sasha and Owen back to consciousness, Egg Fu makes a point of trying to frighten them with what it about to happen. He brandishes a huge bone saw at Boomerang, who responds with the appropriate pants-wetting fear, but The Black Queen doesn’t play his reindeer games…

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There it is again… It seems like Chang Tzu is a bit too knowledgeable about OMAC technology to just be bluffing. The big egg turns his attention to Boomerang, intent on exploring his access to the legendary “speed force.” Owen insists that his powers are gone, babbling that he no longer has ANY speed, but Egg Fu (Young) isn’t listening. Sascha calls out to the August General to help them, trying to appeal to his heroic nature, but he has no stomach for torture and leaves. In his nearby cell, Nightwing sits alone in the dark, forces to listen to horrendous screams of his teammate… Back in the Alps castle that serves as center of Checkmate operations, the remaining Queen and Kings meet with the Chinese ambassador to discuss the situation at Oolong. Surprisingly, he states that scrambling their jets was a “miscalculation,” and explaining that they wanted to make sure that what was ON the island didn’t get OFF it.

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To put all the circumlocutive spy talk in layman’s terms: they want Checkmate’s help. But they can’t guarantee that the North Koreans won’t flip out. Mr. Terrific isn’t accepting that nothing can be done, and insists that something else is going on here, giving the Pequod the okay to rescue the three prisoners. Amanda Waller isn’t happy with this decision, insisting that they’re just as likely to set off a match in the international powderkeg with this as with anything else. Being Amanda, she takes a moment for the personal shot, as well…

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That is the look of a woman completely poleaxed and knowing she’s hosed folks. Waller has far too many skeletons in her closet to be a long-term part of Checkmate, and with a new Suicide Squad book on the horizon, I suspect she’ll be out soon enough. Over Chinese airspace, the Outsiders and company are impressed and concerned by the abilities of the Immortal-Man-In-Darkness and his alien fighter jet, trying to think of ways to give him the slip and save their friends. Suddenly, the question becomes moot, as Immortal Man contacts them…

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I am really intrigued by the Chinese heroes, especially Immortal here. Back in Egg Fu’s butcher shop of horrors (that Egg Fu Young gig got old quick, didn’t it?) Captain Boomerang’s torment has ended, but only briefly. With no sign of his speed force conduit, Chang decides to investigate the bioelectrical field he seems to be generating. Owen once again begs for mercy, but there is none to be found.

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I sincerely hope that his powers come back, perhaps even more powerful than before, and that he gets to show Eggy up close and personal the ins-and-outs of superhuman speed, don’t you? Even Sasha can’t watch, turning away as Boomerang’s screams get even louder and more awful. The rest of the team makes landfall on the island again, and the Thinker, his programming restored, leads them toward Nightwing’s tracker unit. Back in the cell, Nightwing’s torture continues, as a barely alive Boomerang is throw into the cell with him, passing out. Back in the Alps, the support team has gathered to backstop the rescue team, but Mr. Terrific is missing. He contacts Jessica Midnight (Black Queen’s Bishop) on a secure frequency, asking her to patch him into Tom Jagger’s comlink. She complies, and asks why he doesn’t just do it himself, and by the way, where IS he? “At the moment,” he replies from the cockpit of his plane, “crossing Baffin Island at Mach two-point-seven. White King out.” Mr. T apparently thinks that additional hands are needed, and I can’t blame him. Egg Fu, still enjoying himself a bit too much, has now turned his attention to Sasha Bordeaux, marveling at the intricacy of her OMAC implants…

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I told you it was going to get ugly… Chang Tzu is, to quote Freddie Jones, one sick son of a $!+@#. “Never in my wildest dreams, ” he smiles through his maw of misshapen razor-sharp teeth, “did I imagine I would meet a creature I pitied more than myself.” She indicates that she wants to speak, and he removes her surgical mask. She whispers something that looks suspiciously like “You’re gonna have to do better” and he leans in to hear her. Tied down to a surgical table, dismembered and tortured, The Black Queen SPITS IN HIS FACE. That, my friends, is hardcore. As Chang Tzu angrily puts her mask back on and resumes his experiments, the Check/Out squad runs through the sewers towards the tracker signal. “You do realize,” asks the Thinker, “that you are knee-deep in raw sewage?” Grace snorts, “So, THAT’S the smell. Perfect access, glow-worm. Nobody guards CRAP.” Heh. In her usual less-than-subtle way, Grace smashes through to the cell where they find… nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, there are two life forms present, mutated creatures of some sort, seemingly with the mindset of dogs. They report their findings, and Mr. Terrific and his mysterious advisor realize there’s only two places their friends could be…

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It’s the $#&@$# Batman! With his “son” in jeopardy, I do believe that Egg Fu is in for a surprise in the near future. The solicitations say there’s a whole new status quo in the works for the Outsiders, and we’ve just seen the first part of it, with Bruce getting involved, and somebody gon’ get beat like a government mule.

This was a very strong outing for Checkmate, though the crossover is nearly it’s end, and I’m kind of chomping at the bit to get back to individual stories. As good as this has been, there’s a lot of things I still want to know about the Checkmate regulars. Of course, the torture scene was designed to help us with some of that, explaining for the first time what changes the OMAC virus has made to Sasha (and, presumably, giving the Outsiders a more powerful Captain Boomerang) in a more visceral way than her just listing them. As angry and horrified as I was at the torture scenes, I have to say that I liked part of the effect of them, showing the high stakes of international espionage, and also making Egg Fu even nastier than before. This is one of my favorite books every month, and it’s earned a very impressive 4 stars out of 5 for this issue.

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