By Brendan F. Hodgdon. One unequivocal truth about Image Comics is how well it fosters the creative instincts of its talents. Thanks to their largely hands-off editorial approach, Image often serves as an ideal playground for creators to let loose and throw their most unbridled and uncompromised stories straight into the audience’s face. While this does risk the occasional overindulgence, by and large it results in unique, high-quality work by and for everyone.
John Layman and Nick Pitarra have both demonstrated and benefitted from this in the past. Layman, of course, was the writer of the Image title Chew, while Pitarra previously illustrated The Manhattan Projects. Both of those titles—weird, longform epics born of powerful artistic collaboration—are indicative of Image’s success, and continue to serve as high points for both Layman and Pitarra’s careers.
But now, with the release of Leviathan last week, it seems we have a new exemplar for all of that. Layman and Pitarra combine their talents for this fearless new series, following a guy through a giant monster apocalypse that may have been caused by his beer-deprived party guests. Besides reaffirming Layman and PItarra’s skills, the existence of Leviathan once again proves the value of Image’s methods.
Written and lettered by John Layman.
Art by Nick Pitarra.
Colors by Michael Garland.
A New, Old Kind Of Monster. One great thing that a story can do is find an angle on a genre that’s so natural you’re actually surprised you’ve never seen it before. So it goes with Leviathan, as Layman’s choice to frame the titular beast as a creature of Biblical prophecy makes sense for a giant monster tale and still feels fresh. And the way that Layman introduces this idea is smart: as the story opens, he shifts the focus of the story from twenty-somethings talking about cinematic kaiju to a priest reading from Revelation to a street crazy ranting about the end times. In doing so, Layman peels away the social/cultural trappings we’ve applied to such mythic beasts, and boils it down to the most unsettling, existential context he can provide.
Just as Layman deconstructs the modern trappings of these sorts of stories, so too does Pitarra pare down the visual concept of these monsters in a refreshing way. His Leviathan is a big red lizard with lots of spikes that belches fire—simple, old-school maybe, but effective. It’s a blunt engine of cataclysm, a straightforward design for a straightforward purpose. Of course, Pitarra’s ever-detailed style gives the monster a good deal of personality besides, but it’s the unassuming fundamentals that make the Leviathan stand out, and makes for stark imagery throughout the issue.
The End Of The World As We Know It. Layman and Pitarra fill this debut issue with details large and small that tie the story to the present moment. In particular, they capture the friction that comes with trying to live a full life in the face of impending doom. Our protagonist Ryan spends most of the first issue fretting about getting beer for his party and proposing to his girlfriend Vee, unaware of the destruction waiting in the wings. And even after the Leviathan presents itself, he’s still more concerned about Vee’s safety than the end times erupting around him. In an era of perpetual crisis, it’s a very relatable feeling—trying to put one foot in front of the other, even though it feels as though the bridge is collapsing beneath you.
But our intrepid creators don’t stop with that existential pitfall. With the suggestion that Ryan’s party guests actually summoned the monster (out of sheer boredom no less), the story reflects the role our own cultural apathy plays in the world’s ongoing strife. And with a brutally-cartoonish rendition of the current president sleeping through the chaos, Layman and Pitarra also reflect the negligence of the system that should be diffusing tensions instead of inflaming them. Like the best giant monster stories, Leviathan is a great allegory for our cultural psyche. And like its predecessors, what it has to say about us is far from reassuring.
Fun, Thy Name Is Pitarra. While his monster design and his satirical depiction of 45 are real standouts here, Nick Pitarra delivers astounding work in every panel of this book. His ever-detailed aesthetic does wonders for this story, giving the issue added heft and amplifying the chaos as it unfolds. His caricaturish approach to the story’s human characters emphasizes both its absurdity and the emotions hiding behind it. With the quick glimpse he gives us of the “toys” the government plans to use against the beast, he promises us a lot more mayhem down the line.
Pitarra is ably assisted here by colorist Michael Garland, who is just as brazen and dramatic in the execution of his craft as his collaborators. His colors are bright and vivid, almost scalding your eyes with their well-suited ferocity. Particularly when it comes to the Leviathan’s initial appearance, or Ryan’s lovey-dovey interactions with Vee, it is Garland’s colors that bring home the energy of the scene. Together, Pitarra and Garland are beautifully in sync, bringing Layman’s script to an aggressive, full-blooded life.
According to Layman, Leviathan may not have quite as much longevity as his or Nick Pitarra’s previous efforts did. But even if the series only lasts around 10 issues (as Layman has indicated), it’s clear this creative team is putting everything they have into their execution. This debut issue promises a dense, evocative new series with personality to burn. With a blast of hellfire and a whole bunch of attitude besides, Leviathan has the goods to reign supreme.
8.5 out of 10
You can read our ‘Leviathan’ interview with John Layman here.
Check out this seven-page preview of ‘Leviathan’ #1, courtesy of Image Comics!