This week: Alex wanders into the depths of DC’s clandestine organizations as Event Leviathan begins in earnest.
DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal (redux!), Wildstorm, Jinxworld, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Letterer: Joshua Reed
For a number of years now, DC Comics fans have been living in a world where the motto is “bigger = better.” This is the central conceit of a line-spanning event like Dark Nights: Metal, which threatened the entire DC Universe with the existence of a Dark Multiverse. It was a story that conceptually revolved around Batman, but in practice incorporated other prominent heroes to a degree that it felt more like a Justice League story than a Batman one. Now, however, even though we still live in the wake of Metal, DC fans get to experience Event Leviathan, which is a tentpole event of a very different DNA. Rather than a dramatic plunge into multiple new worlds, Event Leviathan has been slowly built up across Action Comics and several one shots. There’s a hint about another world– at least some sort of pocket dimension or super secret layer– but the marble is being worked at with a chisel rather than a hammer. And the result is an introduction to a summer event comic that basically entirely takes place in the ruins of a single building.
To catch everyone up, Event Leviathan takes place in the wake of a “royal flush” that has wiped multiple powerful clandestine organizations, including A.R.G.U.S. and the D.E.O., off the face of the Earth. The underworld of spies and informants is in total chaos and all whispers point to Leviathan as the perpetrator. This Leviathan, however, is not an organization led by the legendary Talia al Ghul, but rather something brand new that has coopted her organization. The new group is run by a mysterious figure in a mask who can change their face at will thanks to secret camouflage technology. And, as has been slowly revealed throughout multiple issues of Action Comics, the Year of the Villain one-shot, and the Leviathan Rising special comic, Leviathan isn’t killing many of the people it seems that they’re blowing to pieces. Instead, those who have been disapperated, including Batgirl, are waking up in an unknown location and are being made an offer by Leviathan. It goes like this: the world we live in is a failure. We admire you and your commitment to building a better one. Work with us to help make your dream– our dream– a reality.
I’ve often talked about how I wish DC would focus on building characters as much as they pay attention to grand ideas. And to Event Leviathan #1‘s credit, it’s a very character-centric comic. The plot of this issue revolves around Batman and Lois Lane exploring the ruins of The Odyssey, an A.R.G.U.S. planned embassy where superheroes and normal people could hopefully meet to hash out ideas to better the world of tomorrow. In the ruins, Batman and Lois find Colonel Steve Trevor, who tells them about the Odyssey’s project manager, Doctor Strand, and her zealous commitment to the concept of the building. As the issue goes along, we get to see the ways that Batman’s and Lois’ detective instincts overlap and contrast. We get to see the way in which Leviathan’s nature has sown discord and discontent between those left to discern the lead figure’s identity and goals. And by the very end, we get to see Leviathan make an offer to Doctor Strand, recruiting yet another idealist in hopes of changing the world.
The thing I appreciated most about Event Leviathan #1, ironically, is the thing I also found most frustrating about it. On the one hand, the book does an excellent job of re-establishing the events that got us to this point. It does so in a way that doesn’t hammer you over the head with narration, offering characters opportunities to not only tell the reader what is going on but also to tell them how that character feels about the events. If you haven’t read Year of the Villain, the offer made to Doctor Strand and her reaction to it in this book establishes similar story and emotional beats as the offer Leviathan made to Barbara Gordon, filtered through a slightly different lens. If you haven’t read about Clark Kent’s “kidnapping” in Leviathan Rising, Batman, Lois, and Steve Trevor get to recap and extrapolate more information from the event here. These are good ways to make an event book feel accessible to a curious new fan. Frustratingly, though, these recaps, as elegantly executed as they are, aren’t paired with enough new information to make more seasoned readers, who are caught up with the storyline, feel like this story isn’t spinning its wheels a bit. I came into this book asking the question that the book wanted me to ask– it’s the same one people who have followed this story up until now having been asking: who is Leviathan? But I didn’t feel like Event Leviathan #1 took many steps towards even starting to answer that question.
That said, this book is beautiful. Absolutely, undeniably gorgeous. Alex Maleev has a wonderful eye for texture and color. From the sunset hues contrasting with dark blues on the opening page to the stunningly heightened shot of the Odyssey exploding and the electric reds and blues of the aftermath, Maleev captivates with every page. And unlike some digital, more photo-realistic styles, none of the flash comes at the expense of making the characters in this story feel weathered and expressive. Steve Trevor, in particular, gets a lot of room to brood and mourn.
And to be clear, I hugely appreciated the reduced scale at which this book plays at. Even though Event Leviathan is a Superman book, Superman doesn’t show up at all throughout it. And yet the weight of his existence permeates every page. Part of that is due to the simple fact that Leviathan’s story originated in Action Comics, but it also has a lot to do with the more complicated idea that this plot, by admission of Leviathan themselves in a conversation with the head of the Invisible Mafia (also from Action Comics), is specifically being designed to attack Superman in a way that he is not equipped to respond to. Leviathan’s war is a war of ideas rather than of strength. Hence the gathering of great minds throughout Event Leviathan #1. The ultimate result of minds over fists is a book that sets the stage for an event with cosmic stakes that will play out more like a character drama than a blockbuster– something I’m all for.
So yes, I definitely recommend checking out Event Leviathan #1 despite some of my gripes. It’s especially worthwhile if you haven’t been caught up on this story so far, and sets the table for exactly the kind of comic I want to read.
This week, I was thinking a little bit about DC Comics’ editorial direction. In the last year or two, the company has gradually shifted from being entirely centered around its main lineup, with other projects like Vertigo hanging at the edges, to being a company that is far less universe-centric and more diversified. From Young Animal to Black Label and Ink/Zoom– even Bendis’ direct market and younger reader hybrid Wonder Comics– the DC Universe is much more about meeting people where they are than trying to attract people to tentpole events like Event Leviathan all the time. I think that’s a good thing, as it means that everyone wins. The people who want prestige content can find it at Black Label (RIP Vertigo?). Those who like the stranger things in DC life have Young Animal. Ink and Zoom are basically entirely book market focused content, not to mention the domination of DC Super Hero Girls in a similar space. Hopefully what that means for the direct market focused content is that it can feel more free to take risks and not feel like it needs to be all things to all people. Event Leviathan certainly feels like something of a step in that direction.
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Alex is the New Media Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at First Second, Top Cow, and Papercutz. He primarily covers DC Comics and Magic: the Gathering.