Following the Event Leviathan miniseries, Checkmate #1 is an intriguing look inside the DC Universe’s espionage world. Led by the mysterious figure known only as The King, a ragtag team consisting of Green Arrow, Lois Lane, Talia al Ghul, Steve Trevor, The Question, Manhunter, and Director Bones seek to reestablish Checkmate and take down Leviathan: a group led by Mark Shaw that has quickly become the most powerful counterintelligence agency in the world. But first, these spymasters have to get their own trust issues sorted out before they can make any moves against Shaw and Leviathan.
As a first issue, writer Brian Michael Bendis does a great job of introducing new readers to his long-running Leviathan saga. There are some ongoing plot threads from previous issues, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming to someone like me who hasn’t followed anything Leviathan related previously. In fact, many of the characters in this issue don’t really have a clue as to what’s going on either, which makes this a great jumping on point.
The issue is text-heavy, but Bendis manages to make it engaging the entire time. The only real complaint is Robin, who has some awkward and boring dialogue in the middle of the issue. He’s Damian Wayne, so I expected more sass from him than what we get in this issue. The real standout, however, is Lois Lane, a character that Bendis has had lots of time to familiarize himself with during his Superman and Action Comics runs. She doesn’t like being played for a fool and is constantly searching for answers, making her a perfect member for Checkmate. She has the issue’s best scene when she is confronted by a shady coworker at the Daily Planet and immediately understands who she’s dealing with. It’s mysterious, tense, and hopefully a good indicator for what we can expect from this miniseries going forward.
Although there is a lot of dialogue in this issue, Maleev’s artwork is still great to look at. It’s gritty, dark, and perfect for a story focused on spies and espionage. He also does a nice job of portraying the unique facial expressions of characters during conversations, whereas some artists tend to have same-face-itis. Overall, it’s a mostly restrained effort with standard layouts that are easy to follow. However, there’s a memorable scene in the beginning where Talia al Ghul lavishly sits upon a throne amidst the dead bodies of slain assassins, and Maleev perfectly captures the kind of cold-blooded confidence you’d expect from an al Ghul. The colors by Dave Stewart match well with Maleev’s dark and gritty artwork. Even scenes that are in broad daylight feel grim. Also, Josh Reed’s letters are clean and concise, ensuring that the dialogue-heavy conversations flow smoothly.
Checkmate #1 follows a long-running Leviathan saga that Bendis has been building for quite some time now, so I was unsure if I could reliably jump into this miniseries without any prior knowledge. But I’ve always enjoyed the espionage and underworld aspects of the DC Universe, so I took a stab at this first issue. Thankfully, Bendis has made this a perfect jumping on point for readers who may have missed out on Event Leviathan and everything else that came before it. Maleev’s art is also consistently great, and I’m glad that I’m finally getting to see his take on the darker side of the DC Universe.
If you’ve been stalling on jumping into Bendis’s Leviathan saga, Checkmate #1 is a great starting point to see if this story is for you.