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The Janus Directive
Synopsis | Review | Titles

"You're under arrest, Kobra, for -- oh, breaking just about every law that ever existed."

11 issues, 1989.
Checkmate, Captain Atom, the Suicide Squad, Firestorm, Manhunter.
Kobra, the would-be world conqueror.
Firehawk, the Force of July, support members of the Captain Atom project, Checkmate, and Suicide Squad.
A war between various factions of the U.S. intelligence community is instigated by Kobra to keep them from interfering in his plans for world domination.
In Kobra #1 (1976), it was revealed that the villain had a twin brother on the side of good, and that they were psychically linked to share sensations of pain.
The Kobra series (1976-77); earlier issues of Captain Atom, Checkmate, and Suicide Squad; Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1 (first appearance of the Force of July).



FOR AN ALL-TOO-BRIEF TIME during the late 1980s and early 1990s, DC Comics published a number of titles based on superhumans who were either covert government agents or involved with shady government agencies.

Checkmate was the name given to an intelligence agency that dealt with both foreign and domestic threats to U.S. security. It was headed by a "King," a "Queen" and a "Bishop." The "Knights" were the field operatives, and the "Pawns" were the Knights' ground support. Despite the hokey names, Checkmate's agents meant business and came (literally) dressed to kill, with special masks and body armor designed to take a lot of punishment. Although a few characters had recurring roles, all knights and pawns were considered expendable, and often died in the line of duty.

The Suicide Squad was a top-secret project headed by the abrasive but effective Amanda Waller. Its mandate was to do the dirty covert work that no one else wanted to do, because the missions were almost always suicide runs (hence the name of the team). Waller got her agents by approaching incarcerated super-villains; in exchange for their services, their sentences were commuted to time served. Many of DC's more forgettable villains died while on a mission, but several survived often enough to form a close-knit team.

The Captain Atom project began when a soldier who supposedly died during a military experiment in the 1960s re-materialized in the 1980s with new and unexplained super powers. Anxious to keep him under control, the military blackmailed him and concocted a cover story for "Captain Atom," leading the public to believe he was an all-American superhero, and not the government operative that he actually was.

Together, these three agencies represented the core of the U.S. government's superhuman espionage efforts. None of them (except maybe Captain Atom) operated in public, and none of them really knew a lot about what the others were up to.

Unfortunately, the secrecy that came naturally in their line of business caught up with them, when the would-be world conqueror known as Kobra used it to his advantage. Knowing that any of the agencies might interfere with his plan to kill a large portion of the Earth's population and have himself declared ruler of the survivors, he set in motion a scheme that would use the agencies' suspicions against them, decimating their ranks and distracting them from stopping his final preparations.

Of course, the heroes eventually learn who is behind everything, and they band together to stop Kobra from carrying out his scheme. Once he's captured and his weapon is secured, the President holds a briefing with the agency heads and immediately orders a reorganization of the country's superhuman operatives to ensure a little more accountability and openness.


GO AHEAD, CALL ME AN OLD FOGEY, but they just don't make 'em like this anymore.

"This story was full of intrigue and offered more than repetitive superhero action."

- The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide

You have to understand -- the late '80s and early '90s were the perfect time for titles like these to exist. People in the U.S. had just finished hearing months of testimony about secret deals with Iran and diverted funds to Central American commandos. George Bush, a former CIA man, was the president. "The X-Files" was still a few years off, but Americans already had plenty of reasons to trust no one. To my mind, no other titles better captured the spirit of that time than these, and this storyline is a great introduction to their style of writing.

It also helps that this isn't the usual "heroes team up and kick butt" stuff; there was an actual story here. Not to mention a moral -- something about he who lives by the sword, etc. As the President says in his briefing at the end of this story, the agencies were as much done in by their own paranoia and suspicions as they were by Kobra's machinations.

Speaking of Kobra, points have to be given for taking another of DC's second-run villains and making him a star. Kobra was a seven-issue series that ran from 1976-77, and it was mainly about two twins -- one who became a nice guy and one who grew up to lead an evil cult that revered him as a god. As you can guess, it didn't set any sales records, and Kobra drifted from title to title for the next decade as your standard would-be world conqueror. But here in this story, he finally moves up the ranks to become one of DC's vilest villains.

But the thing I liked best about this crossover was that it didn't feel like one. A lot of crossovers make me feel like they're just marketing gimmicks to boost sales, especially when the crossover is pretty much nothing more than a group of heroes beating up a group of villains. But this one was different. Every character had a part to play, and played it well. I'd be willing to go so far, in fact, as to say that this series was one of the better examples of comic writing in the 1980s, and a reminder of the kind of escapist fun that comic books are meant to be.


  • 1: Checkmate #15
  • 2: Suicide Squad #27
  • 3: Checkmate #16
  • 4: Suicide Squad #28
  • 5: Checkmate #17
  • 6: Manuhunter #14
  • 7: Firestorm #86
  • 8: Suicide Squad #2
  • 9: Checkmate #18
  • 10: Suicide Squad #30
  • 11: Captain Atom #30

NOTE: This is an unofficial list, and may contain errors or omissions. Please email me if you notice any, and I will correct the information as soon as possible.

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