Checkmate #1 - Review

by Olivier Roth on June 22, 2021

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Art & Cover: Alex Maleev

Colors: Dave Stewart

Letters: Josh Reed

Published by: DC


After a year on the shelf, Bendis and Maleev’s Checkmate has finally graced our comic book shelves, and I for one, couldn’t wait to get my hands on this series. As a quick little recap, Checkmate follows Event Leviathan from 2019, which saw the total takeover of the spy / covert agencies - good and bad - be taken over by a mysterious figure calling himself Leviathan. Not to spoil any surprises, but the identity of said mysterious figure was a pretty cool deep-cut in DC lore, and I still think about it today. 


Fast-forward almost two years and we get the continuation in Checkmate. Delving into the story can be a little spoilery, which I want to avoid, so all I will say is that the Detectives of the DC Universe (minus Batman) have gathered together after the events of the previous series and have reformed Checkmate - almost the ultimate covert agency in the DCU. The one distinguishing factor is that each member is linked to a piece of a chess set, which makes for some fun dynamics - at least it did in past iterations of the series. 


When it comes to the plotting and scripting of the issue, what we get is prototypical Bendis at his street-level best. I’ve enjoyed Bendis’ runs on various properties in the past, but my favorites have always been the ones steeped in either street level (see: Daredevil), or when he concentrates on the more mysterious / secret aspects of the comics universe he’s working in. Checkmate is somewhat of a mix of the two. My favorite though, is his use of Lois Lane. She’s always been one of my favorite characters in comic books, and Bendis’ take on her has been amazing. The action revolving around her, and to a lesser extent Talia al Ghul, make for a fun read. 


Bendis does lose me at some points with his dialogue choices, namely with the Leviathan henchman, but it’s nothing too egregious that took me out of the story. I say that, but on the other hand, his take on Robin (Damian Wayne), got a few chuckles out of me while I was reading. 


On art, Maleev and Stewart are a tour de force. You can tell right away that Bendis and Maleev are longtime collaborators as Bendis knows when to let the art breathe, and Maleev’s art is always a breath of fresh air. What I’ve always liked about Maleev is that he does not overcomplicate his pages and because of this, they always come out looking polished, but not overly slick - his style suits the cloak and dagger nature of this series. And his design for the credits page should be made into a print / poster - it is so gorgeous I’d love to have it hanging on my wall. 


Complimenting Maleev’s line work are Dave Stewarts’s colors - and boy, does Stewart compliment Maleev. Stewart’s mastery of color is expressed wonderfully throughout the issue. I would say there were four distinct set pieces throughout the issue, and the reader was queued visually to know, even without the text, that we had changed scenes, and this was all down to Stewart's colors.

In all, the first issue of Checkmate continues a pretty good run for these creators on the Spy side of things in the DC Universe. Time will tell if the ideas seen within the series will bear fruit in the wider DCU - a one year delay and sometimes muddy plans - but I for one can’t wait to see more.

Our Score:


A Look Inside