Updated: Jul 3, 2020
“Thanks for finally joining us, Pinpoint. Next time, keep your damn phone on.”
When I do reviews in the medium of comic books I usually do them one issue at a time. Once in a blue moon, I’ll review a Trade paperback or Graphic novel, but I like to sit and digest those longer and do rereads which, due to the length of some books, take a long time. In the case of this next series, I’m going to make an exception since C.H.E.S.S issues 1 and 2 flow into each other almost seamlessly. So without further delay here we go. But first ….
Our story begins with a firefight in the heart of Iraq, presumably during the war. A group of American mercenaries is pinned down in an abandoned building while insurgents rain holy hell down upon them. As they prepare to battle their way out, they find that all of their equipment is inoperable, from their automatic weaponry to their radio’s nothing works. Of course, they get turned into hamburger meat off-screen, and their boss Mr. Donald Garland goes off on a racially insensitive tirade on Takashi Nadakai, the Japanese arms dealer that sold him the items which had malfunctioned...or did they? Here we learn that the devices in question didn’t malfunction, they worked perfectly but Nadakai put a remote off switch on each of them. As punishment for Garland’s team sabotaging a shipment Nadakai had going to the former’s competitor. And as an added bonus Nadakai ships some of his newer sentient weapons to Garland’s home to demonstrate just how advanced they are. We also learn that he showed them to Garland’s wife and child as well. Cut to the C.H.E.S.S team lead by one Avery Davis
head researcher at Darpa, he’s like Nick Fury with more hair and more dickishness. As he briefs us on what went down and what is going to be done, we meet the rest of the team, Richard Kinkaid aka Blowtorch a fire trooper who wears a mask under his beret, William Rogers aka Airborne the teams pilot. Rowan Moore aka Footpath an infiltration specialist. Infrared, C.H.E.S.S’ version of Vision. Pinpoint whose real name is James Washington, the teams' resident alcoholic, and loose cannon, or one of them, and last but not least field leader Deborah Stewart aka Heart. Before Avery briefs the team on the why’s and wherefores of their latest mission he introduces them to an associate of his, Errol Schafer, an arms dealer with no codename. They hatch a plan to strike at Nadakai, squeezing a Yakuza informant and then breaking into Nakadai’s offices, which ends with Footpath getting apprehended and tortured by Nakadai’s newest cybernetically enhanced soldiers. Nadakai then calls Avery at work and spells out for him that in order for Footpath to be returned in one piece, Avery will make sure that the U.S. government must purchase a generous amount of ordinance from his company. Of course, being the hard-ass that he is, Avery gives a non-committal answer and starts on the team’s next plan of attack.
Writers Alfred Paige and Alex De-Gruchy craft a pretty simple, but by no means bad, story in C.H.E.S.S. A covert team full of familiar archetypes attempting to do some good in a very gray world. The team isn’t particularly likable, but for this story, they couldn’t be. Avery is clearly the most developed character, we have an idea of his motivations and temperament. Everyone else seems to be a little less rounded, I get that Pinpoint drinks a lot, but I’d like to get a sense of why? He’s clearly a functional mess but what made him this way. Blowtorch cares about the team and clearly takes the honor of being a soldier seriously, but I think I’d like to know why I should care. With the exception of Avery, I don’t know what motivates the other members. Did they lose a loved one to someone like Nadakai? Are they just murder junkies? Is violence all they know? This tends to be the issue with ensemble books like C.H.E.S.S if we have no prior knowledge of the character’s it can be a struggle to feel anything for them. With that being said, the team does feel like a team, they flirt, throw jabs, and genuinely care about each other’s well being. This makes Avery’s nonchalant attitude in response to Footpath’s capture more infuriating, we get the sense that Avery sees this team as expendable, where they view him as their leader and of course one of them. I mentioned earlier that Avery reminded me of Nick Fury, what I really meant is he reminds me of Amanda Waler, C.H.E.S.S seems to him what Task Force X seemed to her, assets to be utilized for special missions. I could be reading this all wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned on him or at the very least disobeyed his orders somewhere down the line.
Errol’s betrayal is played straight and clear. Almost as soon as he travels with the team to Japan, the only question I have is, "Was it supposed to be that obvious, or is there something else at play that we as the readers don’t see yet?" This story has a lot of potential tbh. Even though I’m typically not one for military influenced comics, there are a number of things that this series can play with to really make the audience invest. However, we (the readers) need to know a little bit more about the characters. So far my favorite team member is Pinpoint and that’s because drunks on a team usually have something they’re trying to drown within their bottle, I just wish I knew what that something was.
The art in this book started off pretty good but floundered a bit as it went on. This could be based on the fact that the artist’s duties changed from issue to issue. JC Fabul, Jorge Cortes, and Troy Peteri do a great job on Pencils, inks, colors, and letters for issue one respectively. At this point, we all know how much I love a well-lettered book. So, it was good that veteran, Jaymes Reed, was tapped to do issue two and put great dialogue on display. This left pencils inks and colors to William Allen Reyes and Jesse Hansen. Honestly, I wish they had done more than a serviceable job on Issue 2. A lot of the action scenes featuring the C.H.E.S.S crew are done well from Footpath leaping through the air throwing her darts, to Blowtorch lighting someone up like a Christmas tree. All of the C.H.E.S.S scenes look good and to be honest it’s not just action there is a conversation that
Heart has with Errol after he kills their Yakuza informant were they converse about why Errol pulled the trigger and the facial expression and the rain effects covering them look good, but as soon as we get to Nadakai and his cohorts the quality takes a drastic dip. Perspective is wildly inconsistent and the shapes of the character’s bodies and head suffer for it. This is especially true in issue two, where Nadakai appears deformed in a few panels like his shoulders are misaligned. The inconsistency in artwork between the two issues is glaringly apparent and this is why the artist's change hit so hard, the polish that Fabul and Cortes brought to the first book wasn’t replicated in issue 2. And this could be a matter of the new artists, not being familiar with the designs of the characters or just getting used to them. Hopefully going forward it won’t be a problem as they find their groove.
This book is very middle of the road for me, I can see its potential but the creative team has to really make us feel for the character’s going forward.
As always if you enjoyed the review please take the time to support! You can purchase a copy of issue #1 and #2 here!
This review was written by Ra'Chaun Rogers on behalf of Concept Moon Studios. If you enjoy his comic reviews click here or more!