I’ve been holding out hope for some time that Greg Rucka will be able to do at DC or Marvel what he’s done with Queen & Country at Oni: Write a smart, intriguing, and exciting book with unpredictable plots and well developed characters.
He’s tried, I know. Wolverine was interesting, but never quite got off the ground. Adventures of Superman was pretty dull. Wonder Woman was promising, but never really delivered. The OMAC Project was promising, but turned into a convoluted and pointless mess disturbingly quickly. Gotham Central has been his best DC work to date, perhaps because it’s not a superhero book.
Checkmate springs out of OMAC, which is bad, but it’s more focuses on Rucka’s home turf of espionage and regular (more or less) people, which is good. It’s got a distinctly familiar feel to it>: A high-tech team of spies and operatives fight evil terrorists and political opponents. Conceptually speaking, it’s Queen & Country with super powers, which is a good sign indeed when it’s coming from Rucka.
Unfortunately, Rucka hasn’t quite brought his A-game to Checkmate – at least, he hasn’t shown it yet. The book is off to a somewhat generic start: The bulk of the issue consists of showing off how much ass the field team can kick as they systematically wipe out a terrorist Kobra base. Meanwhile, organizational leaders Alan Scott and Amanda Waller attend the UN’s hearings on whether to extend Checkmate’s charter.
As an introduction to a new series, Checkmate is a mixed bag. Rucka gives a good sense of what the organization is about, both operationally and politically. (Short version: They beat up bad guys. Covertly.) But he doesn’t do nearly as good a job introducing the cast. They’re a collection of DC characters of fair-to-middling stature; some of them I knew (such as Green Lantern Alan Scott, JLI survivor Fire, and former Suicide Squad boss Amanda Waller), others were only vaguely familiar. None of them are exactly household names, which means they require more of an introduction than just their name and rank within Checkmate – particularly if you expect any sort of audience reaction when you kill one of them off at the end of the book.
Very few get any significant screen time, and those who do don’t seem particularly well developed. Even Waller, a force of nature in John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, seems bland and uninteresting; her and Scott seem to exist solely for expository purposes. Sasha Bordeaux, a Rucka creation and ostensible star of The OMAC Project, gets most of the screen time. Rucka likes his strong female leads, but Sasha’s not quite up there with Tara Chace or Renee Montoya – she’s perhaps too strong and tough, and still doesn’t get much in the way of character development.
Rucka’s success with Queen & Country was a reason for optimism with Checkmate, but perhaps it’s also the reason for disappointment: One can’t help but feel that Checkmate is a dumbed-down version of Rucka’s other espionage book, and that he’s making a play for being meaningful and significant in the fictional DCU instead of building characters and plots on his own. Q&C continues to give me hope for Rucka’s mainstream work – yes, it’s just that good – but he’ll need to do better here than cardboard characters beating up on generic and disposable bad guys.