Checkmate #23 Bruce ****ing Jones. I still can’t believe it. Anyway, Greg Rucka, Eric Trautmann, and artist Joe Bennett begin their last hurrah on this title, a three-part "Castling" arc that deals with Pawn 502, last seen some twelve-ish issues ago, successfully infiltrating the terrorist organization Kobra. Pawn 502 breaks radio silence and contacts the Castellan through the Checkmate mainframe (which shouldn’t be possible), transmitting information: some sort of genetic sequence, and a list of over seven million names, who are either potential victims or potential weapons. Checkmate calls in all of its operatives, with the White Queen declaring they’re going "to war." As the cover suggests, Checkmate enlists the aide of Superman in recovering 502, since their own projections show that anywhere from 50% to 100% of their Knights would perish in an assault on the Kobra facility in question. The scene where the Black Queen enlists Superman is great; they initially try the "draft" thing, but Superman objects to the idea that he can be pulled into service, so she tears up the order, and just asks him, which he freely agrees to. There’s a real pall over this arc since we know Rucka & co. are leaving at the end, but it’s up to the book’s usual standards (and the covers show Wonder Woman appearing in an upcoming issue, and I’m always game for Rucka writing Diana). I expect this team to go out with a bang. The Incredible Herc #114 Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Khoi Pham’s debut arc (and Pham’s only arc, before he departs for bigger things on Mighty Avengers) reaches its penultimate installment, pitting Hercules and his sort-of ally Amadeus Cho against the berserker Ares, God of War. On a sad note, this issue represents some of the last work of colourist Stephane Peru, who suddenly died at a deplorably young age a few days ago. We get some more mythological flashbacks, dealing with Hercules’ single-handed sacking of Troy after the king broke faith with him; Hercules, driven insane by the blood of the hydra, thinks he’s sacking Troy again, when he’s really fighting his way through a small army of SHIELD agents to get to an obsolete SHIELD helicarrier guarding the Warbound’s stone ship. Cho sneaks in, but Black Widow knocks him out by kicking him in the back of the had; rock on, Natasha; this issue just makes you more and more awesome (Cho’s dog gets his back broken in the fall, but there are sacrifices to everything). Widow also exploits Herc’s delusions and makes him think he’s on the Champions again (complete with an hysterical editor’s footnote), frees him from his delusions, and does a Carol and lets him go. Meanwhile, Ares and Wonder Man have some more amusing antics, before Ares knocks him out (complete with more Fox News style narrative-rewriting) and leaves him in the arms of a fangirl whose care Ares takes. The crippling of Cho’s dog seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Athena warned, as he now plans to cause all of SHIELD’s helicarriers to drop from the sky and release everyone in the N-Zone prison; actually, as Herc finds out at issue’s end, he’s already sent the signal. So, in conclusion, the series is awesome, folks; buy, buy, buy. Mighty Avengers #9 Bendis' run on Mighty Avengers continues to demonstrate that he can in fact do big action superheroics, though some flaws persist here; however, this is another entertaining issue, with art by Mark Bagley and Marko Djurdjevic. After tracing the symbiote bomb to Latveria, Iron Man uses his authority as Director of SHIELD to launch what amounts to a full-scale invasion of the country, backed by a SHIELD helicarrier, an armada of fighter jets and agents on jetpacks, and, of course, the Avengers themselves. Doom was shaggin Morgan Le Fay in the 13th century, so he arrives only moments before the strikes, leading to a big battle with an army of Doombots (and a really, really gratuitous three double-splash pages depicting Doombots fighting Avengers/SHIELD, with no dialogue) before Iron Man confronts Doom himself, telling him he’s under arrest for crimes against mankind. The Iron Man/Doom battle is quite good, actually; Bendis has, from the start, had Iron Man’s armour constantly giving all kinds of sensor readouts, and now he has Doom’s armour do the same (coloured grey), so you can see their strength levels and them prepping their attacks in advance. It’s quite neat. Doom’s sorcery gives him the edge in the fight, but Ms. Marvel orders the Sentry to intervene, and, in a good display of his power, he makes his way through Cyttorak’s crimson bands and clobbers Doom. However, the ensuing melee leads to all three getting sucked into Doom’s time device. And then it gets weird, as Iron Man wakes up in a kind of pop-art New York in seemingly the 60s or something (no internet, as the armour tells us), where he is surprised by an angry Doom. I honestly don't know what to make of the ending, so I'll be very interested to see where Bendis is taking this. Bagley's art is quite good (the difference on the last two pages in terms of style is quite impressive); Djurdjevic's opening three pages are absolutely beautiful, and I can't wait to see him on Thor. You can tell that Bendis is a big fan of the Micheline/Layton "Camelot" two-parter, since this issue is full of references and callbacks to it (he also used that story as the basis for Civil War: The Confession). Runaways #29 Joss Whedon’s penultimate issue on the title has arrived, and I can’t even remember when it was that the antepenultimate issue came out. Jeez, Joss (and Michael Ryan); bad form. Of course, Astonishing X-Men isn’t exactly the world’s fastest comic either. Scheduling aside, this story is quite good. Whedon has conjured up a really fascinating 1907 New York scene with a vast array of "Wonders" characters; in their brief scenes, these characters exude story potential (though a couple die, in typical Whedon fashion). I’d actually be very interested in more Whedon stories set in this era. Nico’s ancestor has a very interesting attitude towards Nico and her lack of interest in developing her magical powers. All this aside, the scheduling has caused my interest in this series to severely wane. Only one more issue to go.