THIS REVIEW OF ‘EVENT LEVIATHAN’ #3 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Contemporary Big Event comic book architects work from a template. To guarantee sales success, include Herds of Established Characters, Death(s) of Established Characters, Big Action, Threat to the Universe, Bigger Action with Splashes. Slight variables to the formula exist, but somewhere these become givens. Do these things and, good or poor, books move.
DC’s Brian Michael Bendis dared discard this recipe for Event Leviathan. He’s ignored the formula in lieu of a Comic Event New Coke. No, the six-issue mystery isn’t bad. In fact, it’s exceptional. Sublime. But like the manufacturing cautionary tale of New Coke, not being what readers are programmed to expect can automatically be undesirable. Even if it does include Batman.
It shouldn’t be. With the third issue of Event Leviathan, Bendis proves he’s brazenly helmed a damn great story worthy of event status. With little confirmed death. Small pinches of action. Using DCU detectives to solve a baffling conundrum. Batman as the World’s Greatest Detective being only one part of the ensemble. Characters scripted deftly and on point, not being turned into what they aren’t for a plot point. A threat more impactful to super-normal relations than preventing galactic consequence.
All the covert agencies of DC have been taken out in swift fashion by a mysterious figure called Leviathan. Batman and Lois Lane, investigating the attacks, are soon joined by other heroes involved, then bring in allies to solve the mystery: Who is Leviathan, what motivated the attacks, and what the villain plans next.
In issue #3, from a new remote safehouse, the group recounts their confrontation with primary suspect, Red Hood. Jason Todd may or may not be Leviathan, but he gives the deducers insight on the villain’s goals and methods. Amanda Waller, early casualty of the conflict and unaccounted for in its wake, remains in play (naturally). But she’s been located, and not in a good way. The book ends with the unexpected arrival of a hero whose timing is impeccable to take a hand in the unraveling mystery and ensuing confrontation.
With that last panel, Bendis creates a perfect series mid-point. The cloak and daggering may go differently from here. We’re treated to clever dialogue between its sharpest-knives-in-the-drawer players, appropriate to an espionage tale. When Plastic Man is referred to as not-Elongated Man regarding his shamus skills, it’s a funhouse mirror to readers’ thoughts regarding the substitution.
In testament to Bendis, he’s refrained from turning to the darker elements of spy fiction. Fiction too rooted in the actual work should come with a warning label: Shower After Reading. It would also have been easy to James Bond the story into nothing resembling counterintelligence. Event Leviathan handles the subject seriously but without leaving a wake of groanable word plays or soap scum residue.
Action is applied only as required by Bendis here. There are fine sequences of battle against Red Hood, but they come in that true-spy thriller way. Not in a machine gun fuselage or showy LAWS rocket detonation. He makes sniper rounds of conflict. Or small caliber, sub-sonic, up close confrontations. There’s much more down time and talking than death-defying moments, like actual covert operations.
On the downside, there are minor instances of ‘because Plot’ outcomes. Plastic Man, most notably, is less formidable than he should be when action time arrives. Yes, he’s nutty. He’s also quite powerful, especially compared to others in this mostly street-level cast.
Artist Alex Maleev knows those sorts of characters, and Bendis’ style of storytelling (Daredevil, Moon Knight). He’s also an experienced renderer of super-powered tales alongside Bendis (New Avengers). It explains why Maleev works well here. His action sequences can sprawl, focus, or shake the page as needed. Scenes of quiet discourse or verbal spars are just as varied. Measured precisely against Bendis’ words in setting the stage, they create the mood. The impact of words.
His understated coloring never dives too deeply to shadows but tames uniforms that might otherwise upset the tone. Manhunter’s and Red Hood’s scarlets aren’t sports car vivid. His mingling of lines and blocking of tints create believably composed backgrounds at distance. Details vague, implied forms recognizable. Josh Reed’s lettering comes through in creative, colorful sound effects, distinct from the overall coloring to stand out beautifully. Likewise, the crimson dialogue boxes during battle scenes in this issue.
By issue’s end, despite footwork by the investigators, it’s still shaky footing regarding the villainy at hand. Could it be a con game? A ploy to improve the world using regretted but necessary means? Feigned altruism concealing a ruthless, sweeping power grab? We don’t know yet, but we so very much want to. If you’ve taken a pass on the series, read Brendan Hodgdon’s review for #1, then catch up. It’s not your typical summer event. It’s better.
DC / $3.99
Written by Brian Michael Bendis.
Illustrated by Alex Maleev.
Letters by Josh Reed.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Event Leviathan’ #3, including a variant cover by Jay Anacleto, courtesy of DC!