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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 09/20/06
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Each week we look through the upcoming releases to offer our two cents as to what's hot and what's not. You can agree with us or not, but spend your money wisely.

Checkmate #6
writers: Greg Rucka,
Nunzia Defilippis and Christina Weir
artists: Cliff Richards and Dan Green

If it's Qurac, it must be the DC Universe. And if that guy in the tiger mask also happens to have a costume you could call bronze, it must be the Bronze Tiger, a martial arts expert whose viability as a character never seems quite so strong as when he's with the Suicide Squad.

So really, you can connect the dots and see that the book Greg Rucka should be writing rears its villainous-forced-into-heroic head here. To be fair, if we can't have Suicide Squad, then Checkmate will do quite nicely. But some of us are greedy - why not both?

The book starts off with a bang, as the aforementioned Bronze Tiger breaks into a Quraci prison to rescue a character we should recognize, but hey, without a fancy costume, you never can tell. But despite the presence of costumed superpowers, Checkmate really is about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, and so this issue quickly shifts over to the United Nations.

There Amanda Waller fights for her political life, and the more this book delves into the mechanics of the organization Checkmate, the more it seems like this is the DC version of Civil War. Unlike that book, though, this is low-key and consistently entertaining without shocking us to keep us interested and not insistent that we buy cross-over issues to understand. That's a pretty tall order when deconstructing the political landscape in a world with superheroes, but it's one of the things Rucka and his cohorts do best.

In the Brave New World, though, there's a third factor that the Squad didn't have to face the last time around. The Secret Society of Super-Villains is pretty strong, and they don't take kindly to any rogue operations of rogues, even if it comes from older loyalties.

With this issue, the writing team has captured the flavor of John Ostrander's original work. I'd say they updated it, too, but that's unfair; Suicide Squad, at least when it featured super-villains, was ahead of its time in its unflinching grittiness. Let's just say it's all fun and games until someone in a ridiculous costume dies.

The artwork throws back a bit to the original series, too, with Richards and Green doing a slightly more cinematic riff on Luke McDonnell's style. It's a little bit stiff in places, but the pacing of the story makes up for it.

Granted, this title has been steeped in intrigue, but it slows down more than enough for new readers to jump on. There's a vacancy in the leadership of Checkmate due to events of the previous issue, but it's not something that is in any way relevant to this story. You're free to have fun, in a gritty but not too grim way.

Also on the Stands:

Birds of Prey #98: Okay, so the new/old Batgirl isn't who we thought it was. Gail Simone also happens to be a good enough writer that even though we probably don't have any clue, it doesn't feel like a cheat. She'll reveal it all in good time. Meanwhile, Black Canary grapples with the thought of becoming a mother, while the rest of the team wonders if it's fair to bring a child into the life. When a book touches on one of those realistic questions, presents great art and still has lots of action, it's a winner in my book.

Catwoman #59: Will Pfeifer reminds me of why the Film Freak had to die in his first appearance. It's too easy to quickly burn through all the iconic film references, especially when you keep the character's influences limited to black and white. In just a few pages, the Film Freak makes a case for himself to fit in with Batman's rogues, but it's highly unlikely that he himself would approve of a sequel. Oh, yeah, and we learn who the baby's father is.

Deadman #2: John Watkiss' art really sets a paranoid tone to this book. Unfortunately, Bruce Jones' story seems to be treading water a bit. Granted, he adds some information here that may be sending Brandon Cayce's story in a new direction, but he belabors the point three or four times before the characters catch up. If he had condensed this to a single issue story, like his horror and sci fi work that marked his early career, it would probably be taut and really cool. He's just losing his momentum.

Hatter M #3: Doing a science fiction version of Alice in Wonderland and turning the Mad Hatter into some sort of super-soldier shouldn't work. But it does. Ben Templesmith ratchets up the creep factor while maintaining a strange innocence on Hatter M's face, and Frank Beddor's story refracts Lewis Carroll's original without seeming forced. It's easy to see how things could have been bowdlerized for children while explaining a somewhat whimsical but no less deadly war. It's a simple idea done extremely well.

John Constantine, Hellblazer #224: Denise Mina has made her mark with her run, restoring Constantine to the character he seemed meant to be. World-weary, cynical and with a keen eye for consequences, he's at his best when he still gets blindsided. Of course, Mina has blindsided him, and the concept that gets "The Red Right Hand" rolling is a pretty good one. It turns this comic into one of slow creeping horror, a subtle effect that the book has been missing for a while.

Krypto the Superdog #1: Adapting the pilot episode and contributing one original story, this is hard to turn down if you have young kids in the house. It reads like an old Gold Key book, and that's high praise. Though older readers will probably be annoyed (they can't get past the continuity violations), it's as charming for kids as the TV show is.

Occult Crimes Taskforce #2: Give Rosario Dawson all due props for using the comics medium to build herself a franchise. Heck, give yourself extra points that Dawson admits she's a geek. We take hope where can find it. Despite an interesting premise, though, this book just doesn't flow. It jumps from idea to idea, explaining some of it in text pages in the back but still not really holding together as a story. The artwork seems almost photo-realistic in places, and that's actually a drawback, as everything looks posed and static. It has potential, but this issue doesn't even come close to reaching it.

Shadowpact #5: They've been gone a year. Guess what? Life moved on. Never mind that they also appeared in 52. Bill Willingham will probably get around to explaining that - probably. Shadowpact has so far been goofy fun, but nothing more. Willingham really needs to crank up the stakes soon if this is to hold people's interests. You only have so long to coast on people thinking the idea of the characters is cool.

The Walking Dead #31: Barely any zombies in sight, and this book is still utterly compelling. It's got tight, consistent characterization, and Robert Kirkman always manages to throw a plot curveball without cheating. I think I said that last month, and it holds true this month. It's a zombie book even for those that hate zombie books.

Sight Unseen:

Astonishing X-Men #17: You just know that Kitty Pryde is going to kick some Hellfire ass. This has any right-thinking comics fan swooning like sweaty Baby Boomers at a Tom Jones concert.

Blade #1: A decent writer with one of the giants in the industry. This time the character's just GOTTA work!

Civil War #4: "Dear Sharon Carter, tomorrow we march on Quackychaps…"

Dwight T. Albatross' The Goon Noir #1: Other creators take a crack at The Goon, in a hillbilly redneck inbred version of Batman: Black & White. What could possibly be wrong with this book, other than its basic sensibility?

Impeach Bush: The subtlety of the title intrigues me, and I'd like to help but the economy has rendered me unable to pay the $12.95 cover price. Oh, Irony, we meet again.

Wetworks #1: It's back! It's…aw, heck, does anybody care for any reason other than the McFarlane toys were kind of cool?

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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