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Rocket Red (shouting): NO — it is you who –
Fire (quietly): Time to make an exit.
Rocket Red (quietly): Already? I vas just warming up.
Fire (quietly): Gavril!
Rocket Red (quietly): Okay. Wrapping it up.
Blue Beetle: Screw it! The cat’s out of the bag and ripping up the furniture!!
Synopsis "Would it be okay with the management if we checkout early?"
The Justice League International (JLI) has decided to go on the assault against Maxwell Lord. Jaime Reyes, the current Blue Beetle, traced Max’s radio signal to Checkmate Castle and Fire, a former Checkmate Knight, planned the break in. The team disguised themselves as dissident Rocket Reds and broke into the Castle hoping to reach the Nest – the omnipresent surveillance centre which would have recorded Max’s presence if he was there. They managed to reach the Nest, but immediately found themselves surrounded by the Black King’s soldiers.
Booster, takes charge and has Skeets interface with the Nest’s computers while he orders Rocket Red (Gavril) to stall the Checkmate guards. Gavril launches into a virtuoso performance of communist rhetoric, but it is in vain as Skeet’s scan reveals that the Nest has no record of Max’s presence. Without that trace their justification for breaking into Checkmate evaporates and they are suddenly very vulnerable. Ice freezes the floor and the JLI barrel out of the control room whilst the guards are skidding around. They make it into the corridor, but can’t use their powers because they need to maintain their cover story as dissident Rocket Reds.
The only person with functioning weaponry is the real Rocket Red, but a Checkmate agent attaches a “feedback clamp” to his armour. Gavril screams in pain as the clamp tries use an electrical attack to disable his armour. Fire changes to her flame form to destroying the clamp, but in doing so she reveals their identities to Checkmate. With their cover blown Booster signals to Captain Atom to provide an escape route. He blows a hole through the Castle to the JLI’s location and they escape through it. Checkmate’s Black King is all for pursing them, but Alton Janus, the new White King, convinces him that it’d be better for Checkmate if they hushed up the entire affair.
The JLI make for the decommissioned jLI embassy in Potsdam, Germany. Ice is getting near the end of her tether and is nearly in tears when she tells Beetle and Atom that she just wants to go home. Fire is with Gavril. He was pretty beaten up by Checkmate’s weapon, but he impressed Fire and his team-mates with his fortitude. Booster tries talking to Fire about the failed operation, but she claims that she’s okay. She leaves to set up the computer lab, but is surprised to find Max waiting for her.
- Michael Holt and Sasha Bordeaux have resigned as Checkmate’s White King and Black Queen. Holt has been replaced by Alton Janus. The White Queen Valentina Vostok is deceased. The White and Black Queen positions are vacant.
The result of this two-part excursion into Checkmate is a dead-end. This is slightly frustrating as the reader, but it does serve to tighten the sense of the characters as a team. Booster in particular really starts to prove himself as the leader by taking charge when Checkmate shows up and then when they need to be evacuated. He really makes the transition from being talked about as a leader to becoming an actual leader.
The new Rocket Red continues to be a scene stealer – whether you like this or not will depend on you opinion of the character – although I did find the accent (v for w, “Da”, etc) to be a little tiring by the time I’d finished reading this issue. The scene with Ice towards the end explains some of her recent behaviour and as Sakuuya at iFanboy says she “comes across as justifiably overwhelmed rather than whiny or bitchy, which I think is a first for this title”.
As usual Lopresti is the strongest of the regular artists. Although, Jesse at IGN abscribes a measure of the improved art to the departure of Keith Giffen,
Keith Giffen’s departure as breakdown artist has allowed the various pencilers to break loose and be more original with their layouts, which seems to be benefiting the book so far.
Tough one to call. Giffen’s art may favour a characteristically regular panel grid, but he is also a consummate storyteller so his loss may still be felt elsewhere.
Read/Rant has some thought provoking comments about this series and its relation to Brightest Day – including the suggestion that these are all Geoff Johns unfinished business from his old projects (Hawkman, Booster Gold, Magog, etc).
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Page 1 - The Black King is Talib Ben Khalid and for once they’ve avoided listing his name incorrectly by just listing his title. Khalid is Maxwell Lord’s successor as the Black King. The Checkmate soldiers are wearing a variant of the armour that the old 1980s Checkmate Knights use to wear – you can see the Knight symbol on their helmets. Although, under the current Checkmate structure these are at the most Pawns as the Knights are now the elite agents who work directly for the Royal Family (the White/Black Kings and Queens).
Page 13 - More codenames. Skeets is “Rockets” because he’s an adorable little floating rocket – or may be its just became they’re disguised as Rocket Reds. Captain Atom is “Fat Man”, the codename is based on the name of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The evacuation procedure is called “Hey Rube” which is a phrase used by circus folk to call their friends into a fight.
Page 16 - This is the first appearance of Alton Janus, Checkmate’s new White King. Quite frankly if any other character appeared in a comic book with the name Janus I’d suspect that they were Two Face in disguise. Janus is the Roman god of gates and doorways and he has two faces, one face facing forward-looking into the future and a second face facing backwards looking into the past. Either Alton Janus is a massive red herring or we’s tied into Maxwell Lord’s plans somehow. However, I do find it rather strange how Janus was able to convince Khalid of his ideas. Read/Rant notes that Janus is also a nod to an 1980s Checkmate/Captain Atom storylined called “The Janus Directive.”
Janus does give us little bit more background information on the other characters from Checkmate’s last series. Sasha Bordeaux and Mister Terrific have resigned and Valentina Vostok is dead. Vostok was a Russian character who first appeared in the Doom Patrol as Negative Woman. She replaced Amanda Waller as the White Queen, but appeared in Blackest Night as a Black Lantern. I’m not sure if it’s been revealed how she died unless she was killed by another Black Lantern.
Bordeaux, the “Black Queen”, was romantically involved with Mister Terrific, the “White King”. She’d been turned into a cyborg by Maxwell Lord’s OMAC experiments and had slowly been losing the rest of her humanity. The events of JSA Vs Kobra showed her being cured of that condition. It would appear that Terrific and Bordeaux may have left Checkmate together.
It should be noted that the last time that three of Checkmate’s Royal Family were replaced so suddenly was when Maxwell Lord murdered them and took control of the organisation.
Page 17 – The Potsdam JLI Embassy. The JLI was originally written during the tail end of the Cold War era when Germany was still partitioned. Potsdam was in East Germany so this could be the East German JLI Embassy – which would explain why it wasn’t in the Berlin the unified capital. Then again, Potsdam is close enough to Berlin to be considered a posh suburb.