You got your superheroes in my international espionage/No, you got your international espionage in my superheroes

Like my mum always told me, if you can’t say something nice, then say something extremely mean-spirited instead.

Checkmate: A King’s Game. Greg Rucka, Nunzio Defilippis, Christina Weir, Jesus Saiz, and a cast of thousands. DC, 2006. $14.99, 168 pages.

Grown adults enjoy this comic book?


I can understand people reading juvenile, poorly crafted nonsense about Batman or Superman or whatever just because they really dig the characters.

Well, “understand” may not be the right word.

But I’m aware that such people exist, just as people exist who will pay money for a sequel to Pride and Prejudice or Hamlet because they want to know what happens to Prince Fortinbras and Horatio after everyone else dies. And I’m aware that such people will shell out their hard-earned, regardless of whether the product embodies even the most basic level of craft, talent or intrinsic interest. Personally, I can’t see myself doing it, but whatever floats your boat. Different strokes for different folks. It’s all good.

And obviously I can understand people buying the occasional good superhero book produced when someone with some actual talent dips their toes in the shallow end of the genre pool. Stuff with genuine moral and thematic complexity, and intellectual depth, like that Moore and Gibbons adaptation of Citizen Kane that everyone’s always talking about.

And let’s not forget that someone might buy a superhero book for the art. Let’s face it, the only reason to buy, say, Showcase Presents Hawkman* is for the one-two punch of Kubert and Anderson. If you’re buying it for the stories, you need professional help.

But Checkmate? What the hell? It’s nowhere near goofy enough to work purely as genre nonsense; it’s resolutely determined to highlight D-grade characters whose last appearance was in some guy’s online continuity-porn slashfic; and, worse of all, the “adult” stuff that author Greg Rucka is clearly most interested in serves, at best, as a baffling distraction from folks in tight spandex fucking shit up.

For the unenlightened, Checkmate follows the adventures of an international superhuman task force, led by such heavyweights as Amanda Waller, some old guy who used to be Green Lantern eighty five years ago and looks like an Aryan Nick Fury, and the updated Mr Terrific. Who is now totally cool because his motto “Fair Play” is written on a leather jacket, rather than a badge on the front of his costume.

Plus, he’s, like, totally black.**

In their first mission, their black ops team infiltrates nefarious terrorist/evil-genius cult Kobra while the diplomats debate UN resolutions about zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Remember those issues of The Avengers or Justice League International that centred around whether the team would get their security clearance revoked? Now imagine how awesome they would have been if they’d spent issue after issue following the drafting of various resolutions by each member of the security council. Now imagine no more, because you can just read Checkmate instead.

Greg Rucka is not a completely retarded comic book writer. He did some nice work on the police procedural Gotham Central (co-writing with everyone’s current favourite superhero-writer-whose-surname-doesn’t-start-with”m”, Ed Brubaker), even if that book was hampered by the need to pay obeisance every now and then to the “shared universe”.

Even better was Rucka’s work on the downbeat espionage sort-of thriller Queen and Country, now apparently on indefinite hiatus while he writes scripts about Chester from Swamp Thing and Max Mercury teaming up to lobby the UN to censure Quraq for blowing up Rocket Red (the one that was in JLE). Queen and Country was a well crafted, refreshingly low-key genre piece that constantly defied genre expectations–the spies were low budget, their interventions ended in failure as often as not, and they spent more time fighting hostile bureaucrats and red tape than they did blowing up shit and having crazy Jason Bourne-style car chases.

This is material that Rucka writes exceedingly well: bureaucratic, political and diplomatic tensions that constrain and shape the lives and careers of his tough-but-flawed protagonists. It also appears to be what he’s most interested in, which should be rewarding for the reader.

Unfortunately, Rucka’s strengths just don’t work in the demands of the superunderwear genre. The end result in Checkmate, as it was in Gotham Central, is middling at best, dull and jarring at worst. Maybe there is a great comic to be written from mashing up, I don’t know, Greatest American Hero with The Wire.

But Checkmate ain’t it.

Recommended: Buy Queen and Country instead. It was a good series, plus the art was better.

* For mine, the best of the Showcase volumes in terms of art, although the Infantino/Anderson pairing in the Flash volume is pretty sweet, too, as is Jonah Hex.

** Not that Rucka was responsible for the new “Mr Terrific”.


2 Responses to “You got your superheroes in my international espionage/No, you got your international espionage in my superheroes”

  1. Johnny Bacardi Says:

    Totally agree on this one. I bailed on Checkmate after six or so issues- it was like reading stereo instructions with superheroes.

  2. MarkAndrew Says:

    Yeah. Weirded me out how much this sucked, compared to how much it logically could have rocked. I’m not sure about Rucka vs. underwear, though – Honestly, if he’s just stuck a Tara Chance style first person POV character in there the story woulda worked out fine.

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