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Synopsis "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue"
Previously: Maxwell Lord has managed to hypnotize the world into thinking that he never existed. However, four of his former friends – Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Ice, and Fire – were immune to his power. He is now working from the shadows to discredit and humiliate them so nobody else will believe their stories.
Fire (Beatriz Da Costa) returns to her Checkmate and demands to know why she has been dismissed from their service. A stand-off between Fire and Castle security is ended when Black King (Col. Taleb Beni Khalid, Maxwell Lord’s successor) tells Fire that she was fired for failing her psychological exam, for claiming that an imagined person was working against her. He raises the issue of her mother’s mental history, the implication is that Fire has inherited her mother’s problems. Fire is silent until she spots Max’s smug face looking out from the Castle. She jumps into her flame form and barrages through the Castle’s security until she thinks she has her hands on Max. However, it’s another of his illusions and she is actually injuring an innocent Checkmate guard. The other guards think she has gone rogue and are told to shoot to kill. She flees, but Talib orders the guards not to pursue her. He has decided escalate this matter to the Justice League.
In El Paso, Texas the other ex-JLIers – Captain Atom, Ice, Booster Gold and his robot Skeets – have tracked a signal to the home of the current Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes). He and his family are under attack from OMACs, innocent people turned into faceless killing machines by a nano-machine virus. Ice suggests they withdraw with Jamie, but Atom says that would only endanger more civilians. However, they are forced to change their tactics when dozens more OMACs appear out of a teleport gateway. The heroes are surrounded until the Jamie’s Scarab suggests they use magnetism to hold the metal OMACs at bay. Thwarted, the OMACs start to teleport away and Jamie says he has to drop his magnetic field or get he will be sucked along with them. Booster yells at him to maintain it and throws his force field around Jamie and the other heroes. Ice’s objections fall on deaf ears as they are all sucked into the teleport vortex.
The vortex drops them, minus the OMACs, in a forest outside of St Petersburg, Russia. Jamie has no knowledge of Maxwell Lord, but the artificial intelligence in his Scarab does remember. The signal they had chased to El Paso had been the personal beacon of the previous Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, but it hadn’t come from Jamie. It was a signal that was trying to hack into his suit, but it bounced off and was detected by Skeets. Jamie is resigning himself to being stuck with the others when they suddenly attacked by a squad of Rocket Reds. They’re leader tells the Americans “Move and you will die!”
This issue introduces the replacement Blue Beetle, a young hero from El Paso, Texas called Jamie Reyes. He was introduced during the Infinite Crisis and is a collision of the Spider-Man and Iron Man archetypes. DC are pushing him as an important multimedia property and they’ve tried to maintain his comic book profile. However, the disappearance of his own comic was almost simultaneous with his first appearance in Batman The Brave and the Bold.
There could so easily have been a backlash against the new Blue Beetle as DC had to kill off his much-loved predecessor, that this hasn’t happened is a sign that the writers have been careful to embrace Ted Kord’s legacy. That said, not every body loves Jamie – X-Man couldn’t even finish his review because he was so angry at “Fake-Beetle”:
Sorry, that’s absolute nonsense, and I REFUSE to finish this review. This comic was okay until Super-Fake Beetle managed to squash a BATTALION of OMACs!!! What the HELL is THAT all about!? Jesus, I can remember when a single OMAC was able to take on and defeat Firestorm, Cyborg, as well as giving characters like Superman a run for his money, but Super-Fake Beetle can just wave his hands at them and beat them all?
Reyes was co-created by Keith Giffen so I don’t have any concern over how the character is handled. His inclusion with the ex-JLIers could have jarred, but it feels more organic than the addition of a character who otherwise just happens to share the same codename. IGN’s Bryan comments on how Jamie fits into this issue:
As evidenced this issue, Jaime is a fun character who fits well with this wacky band. And the way Giffen and Winick integrate him into the Generation Lost story is clever and logical. In fact, this issue has a lot in common stylistically with Jaime’s sadly cancelled solo series – it’s bouncy, entertaining superheroics that keep the stakes high and the momentum higher.
I get the feeling that there a greater mystery around Jamie’s inclusion – where did that signal come from and how much does the Scarab actually know. If it was Max’s signal then why has he “arranged” for Jamie to join the group.
Separating Fire out to handle the Checkmate storyline is logical. Greg Rucka’s run on Checkmate was brilliant and the writers get a good handle on Talib from the start (Winick has written him before during a Checkmate/Outsider’s crossover). It’s also nice to see that Winick and/or Giffen has a real knowledge of the old JLI comics – there is a small scene where the Checkmate guards refer to their weapons not working against fire. It was established in an old issue that she’s a human shaped flame and not a person covered in flame. It’s the type of detail that’s easy to ignore, but I’m rather glade they included it. It’s that type of detail – culled not only from the old JLI issues, but also from these characters appearances in Checkmate, 52, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and elsewhere – that will make or break a series like this. Of course they still haven’t got Captain Atom’s boots right yet (blue, his boots are blue) and they got Khalid’s name wrong, but we can’t have everything.
One concern I have with these weekly series is that they can too easily degenerate into the 24 format – constant action, with little real forward motion. It’s what put me off of Trinity – the feeling that the plot wasn’t really moving anywhere very fast. This issue raises the same fear. It doesn’t really advance the story beyond what we knew at the end of last issue and it even has the same cliff-hanger (the hoard of faceless assailants). This could be an editing issue – in TV a show runner or story editor would have dropped the Fire sequence because it duplicates the beat with Captain Atom and the Air Force from issue two.
I think this may be the best looking issue so far. I particularly like the big cliff-hanger panel showing the Rocket Red’s looming over our heroes. Doug at CBR mentions that the penciller Fernando Dagnino does “provide a nice array of expressions for these characters as the attack and react to the problems around them”. It was always the realistic and expressive faces were the strong point of the Kevin Maguire (the original JLI artist), so the look suits these characters.
|Reviews Portal||Comic Book Resources||Doug Zawisza||3/5|
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1.1 Checkmate Castle, Switzerland. Checkmate was an intelligence agency of the United States government before it came under the control of Maxwell Lord (some time prior to the events of the OMAC Project). I’m not sure if it’s been established why they were based in an overseas castle, but you just have to consider the activities around Guantanamo Bay to understand the advantages to them of not being on US soil. Following the Infinite Crisis, J’onn J’onzz worked behind-the-scenes to have Checkmate dismantled. He had almost succeeded when a hoard of rogue meta-humans in Metropolis caused the authorities to reconsider their actions and cede control of Checkmate to the United Nations Security Council. Under the UN Checkmate became a watchdog and arbiter for international meta-human affairs – in some ways it was the successor to original Justice League International mandate.
Fire was shown to be a Checkmate agent in Checkmate (vol 2.) #1. Her origin back in Secret Origins #33 (Dec 88) stated that she had been a Brazilian secret agent before she gained superpowers, so her involvement wasn’t that unusual. That origin was written by Tom and Mary Bierbaum, a pair of Legion of Superheroes fans who got to know Legion writer Keith Giffen and wrote 50+ issues of LSH including a run with Giffen as their artist. The Fire story was their first DC Universe work.
2.1 Checkmate, as the name suggests, is based on the game of chess. It operates the rule of two. There are two sides White (political) and Black (operations) with the leadership patterned after the chess pieces with the director and deputy-director codenamed the King and Queen. Each of those has a Bishop (advisor) and a Knight (special agent). Fire was the special agent for the operations director, the Black King’s Knight. Additionally, any meta-human in the “royal family” must be balanced by a non-powered counterpart in the opposite position, i.e. if the White King is a meta-human the Black King must be a normal human.
Maxwell Lord was the Black King when he was with Checkmate, shown here is his successor Taleb Beni Khalid. An oddity here is his name. The last part is given in this issue as “Khalid-Isr” which makes me think that they’ve used a scene in Checkmate (vol 2.) #1 where his name is listed as “Col. Taleb Beni Khalid – Isr – Black King”. However, “-Isr” isn’t part of his name, it’s his nationality, he’s Israeli. Amanda Waller is annotated in the same scene as “Dr Amanda Waller – U.S.A. – White Queen.” Taleb stuck his neck out for to keep Fire (see below) within the organisation after Waller tried to blackmail her and rubbish her service record.
You may also notice that, consistent with his earlier appearances, Khalid is not wearing a tie. There is a belief in some Islamic quarters that a tie is a symbol of Western European/American culture and is something that should be rejected as un-Islamic (the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never wears a tie). Khalid, however, is an Israeli-Arab, a member of a group called the Druze, but the simple gesture of the tie makes him instantly appear distinct from the American interests that still dominate Checkmate.
3.1 OMACs are innocent people that have been affected by a nano-machine virus. It lies dormant inside of them until it is remotely activated. The virus particles then generate a almost impenetrable shell over the host turning them into the characteristic blue OMACs. Hosts usually don’t know they’ve been infected and don’t remember their actions. The innocent sleeper agents inside of the OMACs makes them exceedingly difficult for most superheroes to fight effectively.
4.2 Ice died during Justice League Task Force #14 (July 1994) fighting the Overmaster. She was resurrected in a crossover between the Secret Six and Birds of Prey when a Russian businessman tried to use her return to his political advantage. The Six were working for him while the Birds where trying to discover his plans. She had kept a fairly low profile since then.
7.1 Teleportational gateways are new for Max.
8.3 Amanda Waller was originally put forward as the US government’s choice for Black Queen, but the other members of UN Security Council distrusted her and would only compromise on an appointment to the non-operations White Side as the White Queen. That didn’t sit well with Waller and she played a game of dangerous internal politics and blackmail to advanced her and US President Horne’s agenda. That included forcing Fire (Beatriz Da Costa) to carry out an unauthorised assassination to silence an escapee from Waller’s Suicide Squad who would have revealed Waller’s double dealings to Checkmate. Fire’s activities, but not her link to Waller was revealed by the Black Queen’s Knight Thomas Jagger.
8.4 Operation Condor is not fictional. During the 1970s much of South America was under the control of right-wing military dictatorships. Operation Condor was their name for a collective anti-terrorist operation which targeted civil rights activists, “revolutionaries”, communists, and practically anybody else they considered to be undesirable. Fire’s father, Ramon Da Costa, was a fictionalised participant of that Operation under his original name Ramon Corvalho. He survived the fall of the Brazilian dictatorship, changed his name, and lived out his retirement in a walled Villa in Rio. Waller knew that Fire’s original name was Beatriz Corvalho and used that to blackmail her.
Khalid overheard Waller use the word Corvalho and deduced Fire’s predicament. He went to visit her in her Checkmate prison cell in this sequence from Checkmate vol 2. #12 (May 07, written by Greg Rucka, Nunzio Defilippis, & Christina Weir):
Khalid convinced Fire to turn in her father rather than start down the path had he had once taken. It’s an important distinction that it’s Khalid that’s confronting Fire. He’s obviously got faith in her, but Maxwell Lord’s influence breaks that strong bond of loyalty between King and Knight.
8.5 The allusion to Fire’s father is shown above, but I think that this may be the first time we’ve heard about her mother – she certainly isn’t shown during the Checkmate sequences.
14.1 The Scarab that creates Jamie’s suit is embedded on his back. It is intelligent although a little blood thirsty if left to its own devices.
16.1 “Magnetism” – OMACs, like most computers, are vulnerable to eletro-magnetic pulses. When Maxwell Lord was controlling Checkmate he had millions of OMAC sleeper agents at his command. A large fraction of them were deactivated in OMAC Project #6 when they were lured into a EMP trap. This may, however, be the first time that this stunt has been used.
22.1 The Rocket Red Brigade is the Russian (formerly Soviet) super-soldier programme. They were created with help from the Green Lantern Kilowog when he was living on Earth and became fascinated with the communist political system. The USA and Russia only agreed to the establishment of the JLI if their own heroes were included. Captain Atom was the American representative, Rocket Red Dimitri Pushkin was the Russian representative. Dimitri’s original armour was destroyed and replaced by a suit of armour from Apokolips. He was killed fighting OMACs during the Infinite Crisis. The rest of the Rocket Red Brigade did not fare so well and they were badly hit by the chaos associated with the fall of the USSR. However, post-Infinite Crisis, they’ve been shown more or less back to full strength.