While the basic concept and title of “Checkmate” existed before this new incarnation of the book debuted in 2006, it is safe to say that writer Greg Rucka was the person responsible for current expectations on the book. When you pick up an issue of “Checkmate” you expect to find a combination of covert operations, super-powered forces, and interpersonal drama. It wasn’t just a series of missions performed by faceless characters, but the power struggles within the organization as well as within the emotional struggles of its members that was really the heart and soul of “Checkmate”.
So why, then, did Bruce Jones promptly throw that part of the book out?
What we have with his storyline, “Chimera,” is the introduction of a super-soldier program within Checkmate, and the hapless soldier left for dead in Iraq who becomes the first subject. The basic idea isn’t bad, but rather the execution of it. Jones focuses almost exclusively on the soldier and his grieving ex-girlfriend, but there’s nothing of interest in either one of them. Adam is a blank slate after his operation, and the ex-girlfriend gets the traditional sobs of, “I know he’s out there, alive!” Perhaps more importantly, the regular cast of “Checkmate” is either curiously absent, or there only to serve as muscle when Adam goes wild. People who enjoyed reading about any of the characters from the first 25 issues are out of luck; it might as well be faceless characters in their place.
Perhaps just as importantly, two issues in the story, it’s really dull. All of this should have been accomplished in a quarter of the time; had there been something interesting happening (Adam’s mind is still active but trapped inside the body? Members of Checkmate are conflicted on this new program? The ex-girlfriend is secretly a member of Checkmate that signed him up?) I could see it taking a full two issues to actually complete Adam’s transformation and send him into the field, but that’s not the case. None of the characters seem to care what’s going on, things just happen at a snail’s pace. Add in some muddy, ugly art from Manuel Garcia and the end result is two issues of a comic you may wish you’d never read.
The first 25 issues of “Checkmate” were a little uneven in places, but they had heart, and a real sense of style. There were always hooks for the reader to want to stick around, and Rucka and his co-authors clearly had a definitive goal that the book moved towards. This new era of “Checkmate” feels almost like Jones is stalling for time. Be that cancellation, a different writer, or an idea of what to do with the book, I’m not sure. But this is a colossal disappointment, to put it mildly.