If I were to describe 90s era comicbooks it would be high octaine action with lots of style and flair. What Alfred Paige has delivered in his book CHESS is a love letter to that 90s style. CHESS is about a covert, privatized team of heroes that serves as an intel gathering and response force. The story follows this covert team as they investigate an up and coming Arms Dealer who has been selling top of the line equipment with a built in failsafe switch. While there is no red flags about that on paper as they do not hide this fact, there is rumor that they have been using this failsafe to put their foot down on their customers leading to hundreds of deaths. While CHESS may be the name of the team, that is honestly the feel that this book has, a story of opponents maneuvering pieces around a chess board, and it’s because of this that I decided to review both the first and second issue at the same time to capture that feel.
The first issue accomplishes a lot in setting the stage for the series. Within the first 3 pages we get a fantastic introductions to the series’ antagonist: Takashi Nakadai, CEO of a weapons manufacturing company: Conflict
Technology Solutions. Nakadai is shown as stoic and ruthless, so right from the get go we have a fantastic villain that can more than hold the spotlight against a team of heroes. The team itself, on the other hand are where the heart of the book lies, as it should.
CHESS is comprised of 6 members: Pinpoint, Blowtorch, Infrared, Footpath, Airborne, and the team leader Heart. They collectively report to Avery Davis, a former CIA spook with a desire to take clandestine affairs into his own hands with as little red tape as possible, director of C.H.E.S.S. (Command Headquarters of Espionage and Strategic Strikes). It’s very difficult to write a team book, each character needs to have distinct enough personalities to make sure that the team feels like a collection of individuals and not just a carbon copy of the same persona. While 2 issues is not a lot to run with in terms of accomplishing that feat, but Paige manages to do this quite well. Pinpoint is a roguish type with flexible morals, Blowtorch is a by the book soldier that is deep down an emotionally driven person, Airborne is a smartass flyboy, the list goes on and I’ll let you discover it on your own. However, as great as the writing is the art is a highlight of a book, and CHESS is no slouch when it comes to that department.
CHESS carries that Liefeld-esque 90s aesthetic that really suits the paramilitary approach to this book. Character’s designs are filled with molli gear, pouches galore, and it works. The characters look really cool ranging from heavy military style designs to sleak ninja like outfits. However, as important as the designs are themselves, what defines an action book is how dynamic the sequences are. CHESS‘s action panels are fantastic, even with the artist change between issues one and two, the way the panels are laid out draw the eye into the action and effectively accomplish the page turn effect and kept me on the edge of my seat as I went through each page.
For all of CHESS‘s strengths, there was one thing I had an issue with, and it’s less of an issue and more of a preferrence or nitpick. As mentioned before there is a change up in the artist for the second issue of the book. While the art is still REALLY good in this second issue, and has some of my favorie action sequences in the series, I do think there is something to say for holding stylistic integrity with the vision established in the first issue. While most character’s remained pretty much unaffected by this, there were some minor instances where the artist of the second issue’s vision for this book differ from the original, and as a result it can be a little bit jarring (this mainly happens in the presentation of the main villain).
All in all, the first issue of CHESS sets up a high octaine espionage thriller with pleanty of action and badass characters, and the second issue ups the antie with more action and does a brilliant job to help further the story. Issue 3 is in production, but the next adventure we will be getting from Alfred Paige is a one shot of the character Blowtorch, and from what he’s talked about in regards to this particular project, we are in for one crazy ride! So go check out CHESS issue 1 and issue 2, and get ready for a lot more excitment to come!