Greg Rucka’s run on Checkmate has been pretty legendary. Not in a ‘this will be remembered forever’ kind of way. Not even in a ‘this is super-popular right now’ way. But, Greg Rucka has done an excellent job of taking a 25 issue run and turning every single issue into a piece of a larger puzzle, illustrating many of the greatest strengths of comics’ serialized format. All the way back in Checkmate #1, they were taking on the hordes of Kobra, a little-used, relatively silly organization dedicated to snake-worship and famed for poison. Rucka’s run, while accomplishing many other things, has made them an organization to be feared, as this issue features the culmination of Kobra’s planning.
It’s done more than that, though. It has turned Checkmate, a sometimes-dull, often-corrupt group into what SHIELD wants desperately to be: a UN-run task force dedicated to international metahuman problems. He’s taken four characters who are almost complete unknowns, D-listers, and made me terrified of them in the Rooks, who are finally revealed in this issue. He’s taken many under-used characters from all over DC Comics history and revitalized them as part of the organization.
This issue has a lot of action, beginning, middle, and end, and while they do an excellent job in the beginning – offering a great example of when and why they kill if needed, as well as some of the best Superman characterization I’ve ever seen – and in the wrap-ups as they invade Kobra’s main facility with a group of Pawns, the action in the middle lags. It feels compressed, like all the fighting is told through a couple admittedly impressive splash pages and a few lines of worried dialogue. This is Rucka’s second to last issue, and I suspect that the arc would have been helped if it had one more issue to go on. Checkmate isn’t about the action, but the full-scope of Kobra’s plan is hard to entirely accept, since we only see a few images of the fighting.
Rucka does, however, do an excellent job of making sure the images and words he uses counts. Checkmate is authorized to deputize people into temporary service, and Rucka uses that to demonstrate the severity of the situation: Checkmate deputizes just about everyone. There are splash fights with the JLA, JSA, Outsiders…hell, even the Global Guardians are tapped to fight the threat. Still, it’s the difference between being told something really cool is happening and actually seeing it.
This issue is the best portrayal of superheroes uniting to face a threat too large for any one hero. It’s no World War Hulk or World War III, either, where it’s just one person who’s magically made unbeatable until they suddenly aren’t – it’s the sudden emergence of over 7,000,000 hostile metahumans all around the world. The atmosphere is epic, and Checkmate has atmosphere in bulk…but the action just doesn’t quite follow. Nonetheless: this is what should happen in a Crisis. This is the bar. It’s set high.