Much in the same way he redefined Marvel superheroes with 'Avengers: Disassembled,' writer Brian Michael Bendis is doing the same for the spy side of the DCU with the upcoming event Checkmate.
Working with longtime partner (and friend) Alex Maleev, Bendis is aiming to tell "a real David and Goliath story" about a band of DIY detectives, heroes, and special agents out to topple a shady organization known as Leviathan who has, as the name suggests, subsumed pretty much every espionage agency - good or bad - in the DCU.
Checkmate is framed in some ways as a shadowy counterpart to the "shiny" side of the DCU he presents in the concurrent ongoing Justice League series, starring Green Arrow, Manhunter, Lois Lane, Talia Al Ghul, Steve Trevor, and more teaming up under the new leadership of Mr. King
With Checkmate #1 on sale June 8, Newsarama spoke with Brian Michael Bendis about the title, the team, and the shadowy characters Mr. King and Daemon Rose. Along the way we dig into the connection this has with Justice League (as Bendis and Green Arrow are on both books), and also how Checkmate will affect the broader DCU going forward.
Newsarama: Brian, Checkmate is coming while you're writing DC's ongoing Justice League series - and given that, this feels like perhaps the flipside of that, moreso than Event Leviathan previously
How do Checkmate and Justice League tie together, if at all?
Brian Michael Bendis: Two words, Green Arrow. But that's just the person that connects the two stories. I've inherited this character at one of the most interesting times in his whole publishing history, and we're about to reveal some truths that Oliver has brought to the DC universe. He kind of has a new status quo and he's made some choices based on that.
He's coming to a lot of money, more than he's ever had before, and he's going to be making some choices with what he does with that money that will be controversial to some, but a relief to others. This will put a lot of stress on him, both in the Justice League and Checkmate. I think people have already seen from some of the cover reveals that the events of Checkmate directly affect what's going on in the Justice League. The DC universe is turning and both of these stories are happening at the same time to him.
Nrama: Speaking of what's happening and to happen, how does this spring off of what's already happened with the previous series Event Leviathan? Does it?
Bendis: Well, it totally does. If you read Leviathan - fantastic, brilliant. We have a treat for you. But if you've never read anything about any of these characters ever before you are ready to go and we've got you covered.
Checkmate is a small, very DIY team of detectives, heroes, and special agents that find themselves without a home because Leviathan had destroyed all of the organizations within the DC universe - like Argus, the Cadmus. They got wiped out by Leviathan.
A lot of their stuff is taken and repurposed in the guise of Leviathan, and what Leviathan has done with it is build something enormous. Checkmate is a real David and Goliath story about this band of detectives and heroes, who are the only people that can outsmart, outthink, and hopefully defeat Leviathan in what is a very strong - I want to say world domination, but world changed so harsh that Leviathan would have to be in charge for it to work.
Nrama: What made you want to return to these characters two years following your Leviathan event? Why these characters?
Bendis: I've been working on it the whole time. We were originally going to come out right after Leviathan, but it just wasn't the time. Instead, what we did was we got Justice League up and running and we used that as the centerpiece of the DC universe for us to build Checkmate underneath.
Justice League is the shining people right upfront. We know we need people in the shadows doing some dirty work and Checkmate is a perfect reflection of that.
Nrama: Manhunter was supposed to have a limited series and story spinning out of Event Leviathan, are there still future plans for this character outside of Checkmate?
Bendis: I wasn't involved in that series other than I was really excited they were doing it. I never even read what was coming. I have a deep love and affection for that character and her history. So, she is right up front in Checkmate.
She's a big part of it, but hopefully, people will see how cool she is any kind of demand more Kate Spencer material.
Nrama: Talia Al Ghul will be taking part in this, and has already been teased to have a big role in the DC Universe in Infinite Frontier and even Robin. What's her role here and does it connect to her role in other books?
Bendis: They're all connected. You're going to find things that happened in Checkmate that directly influence the choices she's making particularly in Robin's solo series and other places. But what I'm really excited about and for people who liked the Leviathan Dawn Special know that you don't know what side she's on. We don't know where she's headed.
A lot has happened to her. A lot of big losses have happened to her, which makes even someone of her profound ego, have her second guess the choices that she's made that led up to these big defeats. She had Leviathan taken from her. Her throne has been taken and that affects someone. Meanwhile, what were previously enemies of her have reached their hand out in support, and those are some of the members of Checkmate.
Checkmate #1 preview
She's kind of in this weird mindset where the people who are asking her to trust her are the people she should trust, but she's just not wired to do that. So, watching her use her motivation to take down Leviathan is enough for her to team up with these people that she also has a history with, and that's a lot of fun to write and hopefully fun for the readers as well. If you're a fan of Talia, you are getting a lot of Talia in these first issues of Checkmate.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the team's new leader, Mr. King?
Bendis: I will say that in the very first issue Lois Lane investigates pretty hard and starts to investigate who he is. We have someone with a deep secret to the DC universe - that secret will be revealed in the pages of these first issues of Checkmate, but not in the first issue as we are going to do a little bit of teasing, but you will discover who it is.
It's someone surprising. It is someone with a history and I'm excited for the people to see it, but what's great about it is that it's a mystery that challenges even people like Lois lane, and you get to see her work that out.
There's also a new character in the first issue, Daemon Rose, and that character has a very, very deep connection to the Superman universe.
Nrama: Speaking of Daemon Rose, what else can you tease about the character?
Bendis: It's a character with some secrets that when revealed I think will be very delightful to people. I quite enjoyed the reaction inside the DC offices to all the Daemon Rose reveals. Also, Daemon Rose will be appearing in issues of Justice League, starting with issues #66 and #67. So that story will be happening in both series as well.
Nrama: Following your departure on Superman, what was it like returning to Lois Lane again? What stories do you feel like you haven't told with her?
Bendis: Lois's life's goal is an ongoing concern. So, there are always stories to tell with her. There are always truths to explore. Any journalist will tell you that it's not like you're ever without stories to tell. They're everywhere. There's always someone lying. There's always someone cheating. There's always someone who's pretending to be someone they're not.
Checkmate is offering her not only a chance to be that person, but here's where it gets very personal because Leviathan killed her father, Sam Lane. She ended that relationship without closure, without a solid base in which she could look back and go, okay, at least we worked that out before he passed.
The Lane part of her life is quite messy while her marriage Kent part of her life has a strong base to it. Her marriage is there and her relationship with their kid is there. The relationships she grew up with are still a big mess. Checkmate is a grand opportunity for her to try and work some of that out.
Funny enough, I was leaving Superman, fully aware I was coming on to Justice League and Checkmate. Superman is in every issue of Checkmate. Superman is in every issue of Justice League. So is Lois Lane. It doesn't feel like I've ever stopped writing them. I get to continue with the parts of the characters that really mattered to me that I thought I had something unique to say with them. So that's pretty cool.
Nrama: You are, of course, working with Green Arrow on both Justice League and Checkmate. How will this title affect Green Arrow in particular?
Bendis: It's a big one. I hate to be vague because I reveal it in the story, but he's going to step up in a major way on a couple of different levels. Some of which will be controversial, and some of which a lot of people will feel, 'Oh good, he's stepping up.'
I want that to be revealed in the book itself, but it leaves Black Canary very concerned about Oliver's choices. That's the part of the story that's going to be revealed in Justice League, where Black Canary finds out what's been going on with Checkmate and all of those relationships through it and how she feels it's going to affect them in the long run.
Nrama: Will Checkmate be causing any ripple effects to the rest of the DC Universe?
Bendis: Yes, because we're kind of creating a shape of the spies of the DC universe. That was always what was up, from the earliest days of Leviathan up until now. That's been the task for me here is to create some very organized organization for which we know who the good guys & bad guys are and what they want.
What Leviathan has done is level the playing field and allow Checkmate to kind of re-establish itself. You need people in the shadows to fight this, because the Justice League isn't always in the right place at the right time for this. Leviathan is counting on the Justice League to not get into the shadows.
Nrama: Are there more stories from Checkmate and Leviathan following this mini?
Bendis: The audience always decides, but absolutely there's an enormous amount of material here. It's so great, and what we've done is set up these mini-series to be kind of be like spy novels, hearkening back to the late John Le Carre novels - not to be so hoity. That was the purpose – little novels or novellas with real hard-boiled mystery right in the middle, but at the end of it something is very different every time.
Hopefully, people will dig it and no matter what you think of the choices we make, you get page after page of beautiful Alex Maleev artwork - absolutely stunning. It's one of the best he's ever done. In fact, there's a set piece in every issue of Checkmate. I specifically choreographed every issue to really allow a unique set piece for Alex. There are a couple particularly starring Talia that I'm very excited for people to see.
Make sure you've read all the best DC stories of all time.