Up until now, Brian Michael Bendis has been a godsend to DC. Penning Action Comics and Superman, he’s brought cosmic wonder and introspective drama to the Man of Steel. So it was quite exciting to hear he was being given his own event that would connect Superman with the likes of Batman, the Question, Green Arrow, and many more to fight a cult conspiracy.
But then the first issue was released…and it was like a parody of Brian Bendis’s style. Interminable dialogue and interchangeably quippy characters made for a rough read. Luckily, this issue isn’t as difficult to slog through — however, it’s still a dry take on a cool concept.
Here, Batman talks to the Red Hood about Leviathan like he did with Lois Lane in #1. The dynamic of these dark heroes having to put aside their rough relationship for the greater good isn’t bad in theory. Yet, Bendis doesn’t press the conflict enough to truly make it a sticking point.
I’m not opposed to dialogue-centric comics or media. It can be riveting if done right, like Aaron Sorkin’s and David Mamet’s work (who particularly inspires Bendis). But you know the meme about West Wing characters walking and talking? Yeah, that’s there for a reason — nobody wants to see two characters sit for ten minutes straight to relay exposition.
Is it so hard to have Batman and the Red Hood doing something while they talk? Wouldn’t it help the story immensely if they actually, you know, investigated? You can’t have a mystery or noir or thriller without some snooping, interviewing, and fisticuffs with goons. But apparently that’s too interesting for Bendis.
While the heroes and villains aren’t totally interchangeable, there’s a flippancy to their dialogue. Yes, that’s Bendis’s MO, but he’s shown restraint before. There’s a time and a place for jokes, as demonstrated by Joss Whedon’s talent for mixing the dark and humorous. Such subtlety and craft is not here. Even the leader of Leviathan, who shows up for essentially no reason before Plastic Man (who doesn’t even try to fight the big bad), is frustratingly blasé. Also, the Question is supposed to be a brutal pragmatist. But, you guessed it, he’s cracking jokes here.
Alex Maleev’s art has lots of personality and you have to appreciate how well he can establish mood with his painterly backgrounds and angular linework. Unfortunately, he’s not given a lot of room to work with in these word-suffocated pages. He only seems to spring to life on the last splash page. Before that, he doesn’t give the characters very convincing environments, isolating Batman and Redhood on a desolate roof with impressionist blobs in the background.