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Superman: Leviathan Rising #1 review: A Storm Brews

Matt Fraction. Steve Lieber. Greg Rucka.

Brian Michael Bendis, Marc Andreyko, Greg Rucka, Matt Fraction
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The DC Universe is poised for cataclysmic change. Whispers in the shadows. Riddles in the dark. One word amongst it all: Leviathan.

The Brian Michael Bendis era of Superman has overseen a major revitalization of a number of classic DC concepts and conceits, all the while adding new ones to the sandbox and this is no different. Superman and his family have been facing major challenges and changes over the last year, with cosmic war in the spaceways on one end, while espionage terrors pile up on another. Building two distinct titles in Superman and Action Comics, with Supergirl backing him up, the creator has given the Superline a major jolt of energy it’s needed for years now. There’s a clear purpose here, to everything and everyone. Everything has a clear niche and a defined draw, an appeal that can easily be communicated, providing the readers with an array of stories that showcase the variety of not only the DCU but the corners of it that the Superfamily characters inhabit.

And thus, out of it all, we have Leviathan Rising. Building out of Action Comics, this issue very much reads like an epilogue to the latest installment of the series, while simultaneously operating as a core primer. Action is the fun but not completely necessary lead-in for a reader to grasp the story within the pages of the special. The contents, however, are definitely meant to entice the reader enough to go back and pick up those issues of Action to really get in and have the full context and scope of things, so they can really get cracking on this mystery alongside the heroes in next months’ Event Leviathan story.

Much like the Rebirth special of 2016, this is meant to catch you up on the current state of things and tell a complete story, while playing as a teaser for all the big events underway in the realm of the DC world and most specifically in the Superline. Bendis has brought in two of his close peers onto the line, helping expand it and growing out its potential, with big names on key characters. Greg Rucka takes Lois Lane on a journalistic journey alongside Mike Perkins, while Matt Fraction (making his DC debut) teams with Steve Lieber to unleash the wacky madness of Jimmy Olsen’s world. It’s a dynamic explosion of new blood and creative energy and this special is very much a taste of what’s to come in that regard.

Yanick Paquette is the key artist of the special, working with Bendis for the very first time and doing the openers and bookends. His free-flowing, gorgeously detailed artwork is a great match for the contents, as he nails every single back-and-forth that a Bendis script inevitably requires while nailing the high-flying action, humor and every shift the story requires. Paquette’s signature flair for unrestrained and creative layouts which put the reader right in the character’s headspace and anchor story in perspective really come through here. The artist even litters the background with some of his terrific Justice League covers from the past, amongst other great touches and callbacks, such as Reflections, Diana’s book from the Greg Rucka era of the character back in the 2000’s. Fairbairn remains Pacquette’s colorist here, as always and their combo is always a treat. The team which delivered some of the best art in comics last year with Wonder Woman: Earth One really delivers lush pages that handle lighting really well, making every element pop. This is a spy thriller, yes, but the wonderful explosion of color is never forgotten nor ignored by Fairbairn. There’s almost a Ryan Sook quality to the overall finished product, which looks absolutely and idiosyncratically Paquette and Fairbairn, which is an achievement.

Bendis’ core narrative in his segments moves from Leone, the mysterious leader of the Invisible Mafia and her unexpected meeting with a disguised Leviathan to a Clark Kent who gets kidnapped on purpose for the sake of luring Superman. From the flying skyships of Leviathan to Talia Al Ghul and her secret plotting, there’s a lot going on and the intrigue is a lot of fun, as plans with-in plans are revealed and backstabbing is fairly regular. Top that off with some terrible and overly melodramatic ‘acting’ on Clark’s part, all presented by Paquette who excels at capturing the nuances and little motions of the human figure and you have a winner. Dave Sharp’s lettering, which has seen much success over at the Wonder Comics line, finally makes its way into a big Bendis Super-project and event here and their combo also certainly works!

Rucka also finally returns to the DCU once more after a 2nd legendary run on Wonder Woman, this time plunging into the grimy world of investigative journalism within a world of superheroes and supervillains. Thus you have a classic Rucka protagonist, chugging a drink, ready to deal with crime-noir scenarios and solve some problems. It’s perhaps the closest the creator’s gotten to Gotham Central, in a sense, given the book operates in the space it does. A fairly ground level look at a superheroic world, with the lead being an ordinary person who encounters, deals with and maybe has to work with these superheroic figures. It’s a solid, engaging read with Mike Perkins, Paul Mounts and Simon Bowland joining the creator on their dive into the best reporter of the DC world. Perkins and Mounts really bathe the story in darkness and shadows, setting it apart from all the other stories in the book and establishing a different tone and sensibility, while Bowland nails the readability and presentation of Rucka’s dialogue. With a charming little appearance by Wonder Woman, as well as Batman, the creative team showcases what people can expect out of their Lois Lane maxi this fall. And it looks solid, as you’d expect given the team.

However, the real big champion of this special is easily and by far the Jimmy Olsen teaser by Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber, Nathan Fairbairn and Clayton Cowles. If Bendis’ work at DC hummed with the joy of being able to enter and explore this wondrous new universe, multiply that a dozen times over and you get this take on Jimmy. The book is utterly wacky, full of Gorilla-lovemaking paintings, ancient multi-dimensional superthieves, Jimmy Olsen’s unexpected marriage and even the space cat Dex-Starr and an in-universe published book by Jimmy. Oh and he’s also in Gorilla City. If that sounds like a wild explosion of wacky ideas and fun, it gets even better. The team, with Cowles doing some heavy lifting, even lays out pages and certain titlecards to evoke classic silver age stories and is structured wonderfully, referencing 5th Dimensional imps and other glorious nonsense upon which Fraction thrives and Lieber lets loose on. The latter’s comedic genius, showcased especially well in books like The Fix, is put to great use here, as Fraction sets up the jokes and Lieber nails the comedic timing and reaction panels on the page. Good humor requires art capable of conveying it and with the range Lieber has, he almost makes it look too easy. Fairbairn’s flatter, restrained color palette also helps give the book a light, breezy and distinct feeling that no other Big Two book on the market has.

Jimmy Olsen looks to be joy encapsulated on the comic page and living up to Bendis’ big promise, it is, indeed, Hawkeye-good. It’s an absolute perfect synthesis of writing, artwork, colors and letterwork and it really shows. The exaggerated reactions and yelling as presented by Cowles in the above page are positively hilarious and are exactly the kind of thing DC books don’t have much of. It really does feel like Lieber, Fraction, Fairbairn and Cowles are a rock band here to just knock everyone’s socks off, as they stand tall here and do so with admirable confidence.

While the issue also contains a mini Supergirl tale by Marc Andreyko and Eduardo Panscica, it, regrettably, feels wholly forgettable and outmatched next to the other offerings in the special. One comes away yelling about how incredible Jimmy Olsen was or how fantastic the Leviathan narrative was or how great Lois’ handling is, while forgetting the Supergirl story was even in there and that is a shame. It’s a fine story, dealing in flashbacks and showcasing Kara’s adoptive parents separating, but it doesn’t have the weight or the draw of the other material, with the reader just waiting to get onto the next part.

Superman: Leviathan Rising #1 is a fun little intro into what’s coming down the pipe for the Man Of Steel and his world this year, as industry heavy weights come to expand his line and the lives of those he cherishes and whole new possibilities emerge, lighting the fire forward.

Is it good?
A deliciously exciting taste of what's on the horizon for Big Blue and his entire world, from hysterical & strange Olsen adventures to grounded thrillers with Lois Lane and so much more
Fraction, Lieber, Fairbairn and Cowles are the clear standout and are doing some astonishing work
It's great to have Rucka back at DC and writing not only Lois but getting some Diana and Batman in there as well, it really works
Leviathan continues to be an intriguing player and Ms. Leone is proving to be a wonderful new addition to the DC Universe
Pacquette and Fairbairn's artwork is sublime and is some of the best one could come across in all of comicdom
The Supergirl story is entirely forgettable and feels like a fairly uninspired direction in contrast to the strong impact of the other stories
9
Great
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