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Bruce Jones Checks In to Checkmate

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Back at the beginning of this year, this column put Checkmate on its annual “New Year’s Resolutions” list, a list of the best, lowest-selling books that deserve a wider audience. The bad news is, sales on the title dropped almost 2,000 copies per issue since then. This made a bad sales situation even worse.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the creator of this version of Checkmate, Greg Rucka, left the title only four months into the new year.  This never bodes well for the sales of any book.

Rucka’s replacement is Bruce Jones, a man with experience in giving titles a sales boost. But does DC intend for him to give Checkmate a shot in the arm, or is he just doing clean-up on an already doomed series?

Bruce Jones has been a veteran of comics for well over thirty years. His early career is known for his work in horror comics, most notably Warren’s classic Creepy and Eerie titles in the early 1970s. He built a reputation for himself as a master of the macabre, and his stories from this period have been adapted for television.

He used this status to jump start the Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds titles for Pacific Comics in the early 1980s. These titles were done in the tradition of the EC Comics of the 50s, and further cemented Jones’ name in the fields of horror and sci-fi.

Having left the world of comics for the world of Hollywood, he returned to the four-color medium with force in 2001, when he took over the flailing Incredible Hulk title for Marvel.

While many criticized his mostly Hulk-free stories for the title, fans responded to the game of cat-and-mouse and the twisty conspiracy tales he wove for the title. Sales on the series improved, and it became one of Marvel’s most talked about comics of that era.

Jones’ success on Incredible Hulk led DC to offer him an exclusive contract in July of 2004. But his work for DC since coming over hasn’t been as successful, either in terms of sales or critical acclaim.

His seven-issue, “One Year Later” arc on Nightwing was critically lambasted (although, to be fair, Jones’ writing on the title might have been influenced by editorial mandate rather than his own creativity). His revamp of the Warlord title was cancelled within ten issues.

His revamp of Deadman for DC’s Vertigo line lasted slightly longer—3 issues longer as a matter of fact—before it was cancelled as well. His writing on this series never seemed to rise above the “weirdness for weirdness sake” style of writing that hampers most bad Vertigo books.

So, Bruce Jones has both good and bad experiences reviving concepts from sales obscurity. But will DC give him the chance to work his magic on Checkmate? Or has the fate of the series already been decided?

You might think that bringing on a new writer—a DC exclusive, no less—is a sign of good faith on DC’s part. After all, why bring a new writer in just to end the book? And if they were going to end the series, why not do it when Rucka left, a natural time to end it?

But DC has established a policy of bringing in a new writer just to wrap up loose ends before cancelling a series. Dwayne McDuffie was brought in for this very purpose last year on Firestorm. And it appears that DC is doing it again this year with Rick Remender on All-New Atom, because DC cancelling the title after only five issues of Remender writing smells of a planned ending. And, don’t forget, Remender took over for Gail Simone on the book. Ending the series when she left also would be a natural place to cancel it.

So, will Bruce Jones be the savoir of Checkmate, or simply the nursemaid to ease it into it’s eventual demise? Only the next few months will tell. But if you are a fan of the series and want it to continue, I’d buy a couple extra copies of each issue just in case. The boost in sales couldn’t hurt.

Also out this week:

Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #24:

Jeff Parker has to be one of the most underrated writers working for Marvel today. While Ed Brubaker gets all the awards, Matt Fraction gets the magazine covers, and Brian Michael Bendis gets all the internet chatter, Parker has been putting out some of the best stories I have seen in a long time.

It’s easy to dismiss his work on this title. After all, it’s only a “kid’s book.” But Parker has written solid superhero stories that kids AND adults can enjoy. This is the man who had a lovesick Ego the Living Planet whisper sweet nothings ala Barry White to Earth a while back. If that doesn’t sell you on his writing, nothing will.

Well, Parker returns to this title this week. So, if you are looking for a great story to read for yourself and also one you can pass on to the kids, you might want to pick this one up.

Jeff Parker (W), Ig Guara (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Countdown to Mystery #8:

Steve Gerber was a legendary name in comics. His work for Marvel in the 70s help define the company and the decade. Forgetting the fact that he created one of the most enduring characters of the era—Howard the Duck—his work on Man-Thing, Marvel Two-In-One, and The Defenders would have been enough to enshrine him in comics’ history.

And he was one of the rare legends to continue to find work, as his writing this title can attest. Unfortunately, Gerber lost his long battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis while writing this series. This issue stands as the last work of the legend in comic book form. While Gerber might be gone, his legacy still remains. This series caps a brilliant life and an enduring career.

Steve Gerber & Matt Sturges (W), Justiano & Walden Wong and Steven Segovia (A), DC Comics, $3.99.   Last Issue.

Twilight Crusade: Gabriel #1:

Moonstone Comics has built a name for itself over the past few years by putting out an array of licensed books featuring characters such as Captain Action, The Phantom and Buckaroo Bonzai. Now, they are about try something new and ambitious. They are releasing a five-issue crossover event called The Twilight Crusade, and you the reader will decide how it ends.

The battle between Heaven and Hell isn’t just the stuff of legend. It is still going on even today, with Earth as the battle ground. And after millennia upon millennia of combat, Gabriel is starting to experience a severe case of burnout. Can she pull herself away from the fighting to preserve her own sanity? And if she does, will this mean victory for the other side?

Paul D. Storrie (W), Walter Figueroa (A), Moonstone Books, $3.99. One-Shot.

Invincible Universe Primer #1:

Robert Kirkman made a name for himself partly by writing solid, classic old-school, superhero tales in his Invincible series. He has continued this trend in series such as Brit and The Astounding Wolf-Man.

What if you have heard all the good press about Kirkman and his series, but don’t want to pay the hefty price for the first issues of all these titles in the back issue market? What do you do? Well, Image has an answer for you.

The company has collected the first issues of Invincible, Brit, and The Astounding Wolf-Man into one convenient package. Now, you can see where it all began without breaking your bank or looking through the back issue bins! You can thank Image later!

Robert Kirkman & Bruce Brown (W), Cory Walker, Jason Howard, & Cliff Rathburn (A), Image Comics, $5.99.  One-Shot.

Ultimate X-Men #94:

The TV show Heroes has opened the world of superheroes up to a whole new audience. It has become the best goodwill ambassador that comic books has ever seen. However, there has been some criticism aimed at the show by some comic fans who think some the series plotlines bear more than a passing similarity to those found in the X-Men mythos.

Whether these similarities are coincidence or design will probably continue to be argued as long as the show stays on the air. But I’m sure Aron Coleite’s arc on this series will be studied very carefully. After all, he was a top writer on Heroes. We’ll get to see if the similarities now work both ways and what this will do to the bubbling controversy.

Aron Coleite (W), Mark Brooks (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Brothers in Arms #1:

Comic books and video games are linked in many ways. One of the many reasons for the decline in comic’s popularity is the prevalence of Playstations and Xboxes in the world’s homes. But some of the most popular games are comic book adaptations. And the most popular console games usually make it into comics. Such is the case this week.

Ubisoft’s popular World War II game, Brothers in Arms, comes to comics this week courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment. Sgt. Matthew Baker’s team had a mission—to recapture a French village from the Nazis. But an anti-aircraft gun had other ideas. Baker and his team had to bail out of their transport plane and are scattered over the landing zone. Now, Baker has to find his team, complete his mission, and get out of there alive.

Mike Neumann & David Wohl (W), Davide Fabbri (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99.  Ongoing Series.

Spawn #178:

Every great hero is made even greater by an outstanding supporting cast. Where would Superman be without Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and Perry White? Where would Spider-Man be without Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, and J. Jonah Jameson? And where would Spawn be without Sam and Twitch?

The two detectives have added a human face on the Spawn Universe almost from its inception. And now, they are back, investigating one of their strangest cases ever. What do you do if you are a vampire and an amnesiac? How can you continue to be a blood-sucking fiend when you forget how to suck blood? How can they pin a series of murders on you when you don’t know enough to lie?

David Hine (W), Brian Haberlin (A), Image Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Avengers: Initiative #13:

The previous class of recruits—the ones that survived, anyway—graduated and were assigned to their respective states as of last issue. So you know what that means. It’s time for the new class to take over. Witness the development and, if the past 12 issues were any indication, the deaths of Annex, Prodigy, Gorilla Girl, Sunstreak, Batwing and Butterball.

And it appears that the Initiative recruits are not the only ones whose lives are in danger. A contract has been put out on their trainer, the multi-skilled Taskmaster. Who ordered the hit? Judging from Tasky’s past, that could be just about anyone. Who is going to fulfill the contract? That would be just about every villain in the world. Will Camp Hammond keep him safe? Not bloody likely.    

Christos Gage (W), Steve Uy (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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