Kobra. A.R.G.U.S. D.E.O. CADMUS. Spyral. All down. All gone. Vanished, with no trace left in a single day.
The espionage community has one name for this treacherous and terrifying incident: Event Leviathan.
If the arch foe, who takes his name from the legendary organization created by Grant Morrison and David Finch, resembles Doctor Doom and Darth Vader to varying extents, that’s intentional. Whoever Leviathan is, they’re using familiar imagery and established expectations, with no ego whatsoever, to project certain ideas while they go about their true agenda. They like to operate in the shadows and act quickly, they like to seek counsel and get perspectives they simply do not have. And most importantly, they’re likely to be someone we know. A hero we’re currently reading about even, for all we know. And that’s the suspense of the narrative here, as all of DCU lies in shambles at this one single point in time.
Being Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s first event book at DC Comics, Event Leviathan comes with a lot of expectations and weight. It’s two big names who have a great rapport, tackling the entire DC world. And they’re joined by the extraordinary letterer Josh Reed, Bendis’s frequent collaborator and a creator who really gets both Bendis and Maleev’s voice. That’s a big deal. It’s also worth noting that the story is very set to have major ramifications across the board. Then there’s the fact that a lot of it is has been teased and set up previously in titles prior, also by Bendis, as the creator weaves a shared web of story across numerous titles, lines, worlds and characters in the realms of DC. So there’s a lot going into it, as last month’s Superman: Leviathan Rising #1 laid the ground work for this and the entire Superline, following in the footsteps of the Leviathan Rising story arc in Bendis, Epting and Reed’s Action Comics.
So the big question: does it work? Well, yes and no. To start, it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous book, with Maleev getting to color it all himself and put his signature style to use on as many DC characters as he possibly can. If you felt Epting and Anderson steeped the mystery narrative of Action in shadows and blacks to serve that story well, Maleev goes a lot further, excelling in the darkness. It’s the blacks that really leap off the page and stand out consistently, for the most part, as Maleev makes such great use of them. His specific palette is a good choice for this detective story of investigators solving a case, where in the entire world is just washed up in dark blues, blacks and grays, with color seeping in whenever it needs to. It’s night time and the dawn is far away and cannot be relied on. For dawn is death, it is doom, it is Leviathan. The night is the time to win, to get to work and to solve this. And thus it’s the time of uncertainty, doubt, suspicion and betrayal. Maleev brings all of that to the table here, elevating any scene he’s given with his pencils, inks and color-work.
The book is primarily centered around the aftermath of an event in Coast City, where in a new-in-works-base of A.R.G.U.S., dubbed “The Odyssey,” has been destroyed. A space meant to connect the superhumans with the people they protect, with various outreach programs and other big ideas, it’s razed in a matter of seconds by the familiar black specter we’ve been seeing in the pages of Action Comics. His arrival is heralded by the blue Kirby Krackle and jellyfish-shaped energy zapping everything away, save for one individual, who’s left behind: Master Chief Steve Trevor.
Lois Lane and Batman arrive at the scene and speak with Trevor and in due time, Green Arrow arrives as well. Throw in a question cameo and voila, the origins of the detective squad are right before our eyes. It’s slow and the team deliberately paces it the way they do to give a different sensibility to an event comic, that of a restrained mystery that takes it a bit easier rather than go huge and apocalyptic. It’s an admirable goal, but there’s some problems in this context. The audience, largely, knows all the details that the issue offers and has known them for a good few months. Even if they didn’t, those that picked up the Leviathan Rising one-shot were essentially all caught upon the matter. So what you have is an issue that’s largely people talking about things of which you’re aware and have been aware of for a while. The issue kind of delivers exactly what all the past issues over the last few months have, but without the relative density, revelations or any of that. It feels like a recap for anyone who hasn’t been reading, which is fine in the grand scheme of things, but for those who have, there’s not much in here.
The decompression decision here really hurts the work here, as it feels like next to nothing happened in the entire issue. The same basic setup could work if the issue had more new details to offer, but it very much relies on character interaction. And that’s the other trouble — the book struggles with characterization. Lois Lane feels entirely too cold and distant towards the man who is essentially her husband’s brother and a close ally she’s known for ages now. Similarly, Batman acts in mutual fashion. That air of tension is intended to set up the nature of the story where trust is hard to find, but it nevertheless comes off awkward at best. This Batman doesn’t quite feel like the one in Bendis and Derginton’s excellent Batman Universe and neither does this Lois quite feel like the one in Action Comics.
Then there’s the case of Steve Trevor, who is likely the one who comes off the worst from this entire issue. With the collision of three things — the 2017 Wonder Woman movie by Patty Jenkins, the Legend of Wonder Woman series by Renae De Liz, and Wonder Woman: Rebirth by Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, Liam Sharp and Bilquis Evely — Steve Trevor has seen a huge outburst in popularity. Up until then he’d been treated as a paranoid, unlikeable sadsack endlessly moping over Diana choosing to be with someone that wasn’t him in bitterness in the pages of Geoff Johns’ Justice League run. He wasn’t being handled like a character anyone was engaged by. But with the arrival of Chris Pine’s charming and lovable soldier, the character, alongside the works in the comics running concurrently, got a massive revamp that was much needed. De Liz cast him as the charming gentleman you couldn’t help but love and care for. And in mainline canon, Rucka, Scott, Sharp and Evely effectively revitalized the character as essentially a Captain America-type. A warm, lovable soldier who dreamed of a better world and was eternally kind, considerate, compassionate, polite and charming. He was a guy you could reasonably believe Diana falling in love with and wanting to be with and over the course of the run, many fell in love with him. He was the constantly shirtless beefcake sidekick in the book about queer women.
But here he’s turned into the mopey, paranoid sadsack figure once more in a move that feels like a serious regression from the work Greg Rucka and co. did to bring him forward. The context of trauma and this awful event justifies the choice, but nevertheless, given the overall context with the characters coming off somewhat awkward, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s off and out of character for Steve. While Liam Sharp’s lovely Team Diana tattoo and facial hair remain, not much of the actual character here does, which is a shame.
That being said, Bendis and Maleev have a fantastic take on Green Arrow in this book. Popping in just in time and speaking the words ‘Shush, nerd’ to Batman, Oliver Queen’s charm is impossible to miss. Bendis’s voice for the character, as delivered by Reed’s talents, is impeccable and feels spot on. Much like Morrison in the previous week’s The Green Lantern, Bendis just nails the character and Maleev draws one of the best and most visually striking Oliver Queens you’ll ever come across. So that’s a resounding winner and once Ollie enters the scene, things get more exciting as he spices up the interactions a bit more with his rapport.
Reed also does some brilliant work here, setting up the dynamic typefaces for the various spy societies of the DCU, making them each stand out and selling their base conceit in one singular image. And juggling all of Bendis’s heavy text and immense dialogue with the spacious art of Maleev isn’t easy, but he makes it look easy, which is what’s eternally fun about seeing Reed tackle Bendis’s scripts, whether it’s Action Comics, Pearl or anything else.
Now as for Leviathan himself, the big antagonist, the figure around whom the book revolves, he remains as enigmatic as ever. He’s dismantled all the espionage and peacekeeping agencies across the globe and by morning something new is set to arise. What might that be? Few can tell, but from the teases Bendis has been putting out for DC Millennium, if one were to speculate, it’s possible that Leviathan is aiming to and might just form The Global Peace Agency from Jack ‘King’ Kirby’s OMAC comics. A force whose operates all look like faceless people, in a disturbingly similar fashion to that of The Question, they’re a likely progression here. It’s not without precedent either, as Grant Morrison set up The Question and Global Peace Agency connection in Final Crisis and tried to tease it out, although no one followed up on it at that time, which is now over a decade ago. But it’s still ripe for usage.
Event Leviathan #1 is a decent start to an event that seems to very much want to be a slow-burn mystery. And that’s fine. When you have Alex Maleev cutting loose on your book about the DC spy world, you can make that choice. This is arguably some of Maleev’s best work to date, brimming with such clear purpose, confidence and clarity. You can tell the man is having the time of his life drawing Batman and this world of espionage. In any case, if you’ve been following what’s happening in the DCU, you know what you’re in for. If you haven’t, this is the place to jump on.