Review: Event Leviathan hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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In concept, Brian Michael Bendis' Event Leviathan seems flawless, collecting the DC Universe's greatest detectives (continuity be damned), taking them seriously, and setting them against a grand conspiracy and twisty whodunit (or "who is it," at least). Even the barest high concept — a Lois Lane/Batman team-up — bespeaks a "what took them so long" success.

In execution, however, Event Leviathan struggles more than expected. The characters are great — the ones included, the way they're written, their interactions. This collection is satisfactorily complete, too, including the Superman: Leviathan Rises special and the Year of the Villain Special short story. But plot-wise, Event Leviathan is a closed circle mystery uncomfortably shoved into the format of a six-issue comics miniseries, and the result is that it never succeeds at being either. Comics is a grand stream of "to be continueds," but Event Leviathan fails to feel complete on its own, nor does it conclusively earn its central revelation.

At the same time, Event Leviathan is a DC line-wide event that's really not in the least bit cynical, and whose storyline hardly rests on multiple Earths or events from comics thirty years prior (except when it does). In the final total, Event Leviathan could perhaps be better, but there's plenty else that's worse.

[Review contains spoilers]

Though controversial, I hold up Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis as a DC Comics mystery done right. There are suspects, clues, red herrings, and reversals; moreover, the culprit is on the scene, their motivations emerge naturally from the story, and the revelation of their identity ties thematically into the book as a whole. Identity Crisis had ongoing implications for the DC Universe, right on through to Infinite Crisis, but still it reads like a complete story on its own.

Event Leviathan fails to meet a couple of these benchmarks. For a closed circle mystery — in which the detectives basically stand around and accuse one another for six issues — the culprit turns out to be none of them (stretching a bit that these are DC's greatest detectives). There's no way within the confines of the story for the reader to determine who Leviathan actually is without stopping to dig out your old copies of Who's Who (former Manhunter Mark Shaw is never specifically named in the book prior to his revelation as Leviathan). Even the use of Shaw means that to solve the mystery, one must be able to presuppose that Event Leviathan isn't functioning within the basic Rebirth continuity, which the presence of Manhunter Kate Spencer from the get-go suggests but does not guarantee.

And whereas Event Leviathan is hardly alone in its sin of "to be continued ... in another book," revealing Shaw as Leviathan makes this feel particularly unfinished. Both Identity Crisis and, for that matter, Heroes in Crisis had culprits that arose from the story and, even as I think both of those stories felt complete in and of themselves, one also left those stories with a clear sense of the implications for the greater DC Universe.

Because the audience really has no idea who Mark Shaw is these days, and also because he's been absent from the DCU for the better part of a decade, there's no teammate or supporting cast affected by this revelation; the revelation of Leviathan's identity essentially doesn't matter. As such, Event Leviathan doesn't end in a satisfactory way; the revelation is dropped and the book just ends, with answers promised in other titles. The epilogue doesn't even really hint at how the spy agencies of the DC Universe will be affected by the book's events going forward.

Further, though I adore the back-and-forth between the detectives, precious little occurs here. The first issue simply sees Batman and Lois Lane confront Steve Trevor, the second is almost entirely the Question fighting Leviathan goons, the third consists mostly of the detectives fighting Red Hood, and the last three are predominantly the detectives standing around accusing one another. Ultimately the detectives aren't at all effective in finding Leviathan; they're only able to confront him once Batgirl radios out from inside his organization. That third issue feels the most wheel-spinning of the bunch, as Robin Damian Wayne's theory that Red Hood is Leviathan comes with no concrete proof, seems outside Jason Todd's capabilities despite Damian stating otherwise, and you'd think at least one of the gathered master detectives might think, "This doesn't really make any sense ...?"

All of that said, for those put off by Heroes in Crisis' wanton body count and general bludgeoning of the legacies of a couple different DC Comics characters (and I liked that book!), Event Leviathan is a safer (and perhaps better-considered) DC event. In except for the fact that Mark Shaw has jumped continuities, there are no Multiversal threats here, no doppelgangers, no need for knowledge of the vagaries of Crisis on Infinite Earths, no meta-commentary on past DC events. Bendis here is wholly focused on telling a good story about the heroes of the DC Universe, not on fixing past continuity mistakes or nor reestablishing some hero's continuity-tossed origin — nor, even, on besmirching some heroes for the benefit of others. Even if Event Leviathan crashes to a halt, it's still more the kind of story DC should be telling than anything that drags the Anti-Monitor out of limbo again.

(One caveat to the "no meta-commentary on past DC events" is that Leviathan Mark Shaw takes a special interest in Plastic Man, with whom he claims some commonality. There's no connection between Shaw and Plastic Man that I can discern — but, Plastic Man and Manhunter Dan Richards were both Quality Comics characters later sold to National Comics/DC. I can't really imagine Bendis would suggest any angst there, and so in the main I think I'm reading too much into this, but Leviathan's issue #2 speech to Plastic Man that they "were born into a broken world and it almost killed us" and that they "took a step back, assessed our situation ourselves, and figured out we needed to start again before this world rolled us over like it does so many others" could be seen as a Grant Morrison-esque description of the characters' journey from one company to another.)

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Event Leviathan

And again, I can hardly dismiss an event miniseries that treats Lois Lane so well, or that includes Plastic Man and Elongated Man, Question Vic Sage and (presumably) Question Renee Montoya, plus Manhunter, Harvey Bullock, John Constantine, Deathstroke, Silencer, and the rest. Event Leviathan, eventually, folds under the pressures that a lot of other comics events do, the "never the end" cycle of mainstream superhero comics, but Brian Michael Bendis (not to mention artist Alex Maleev) respects the characters in getting there. Often that seems perhaps as much as one might hope for.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Event Leviathan
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I was seriously disappointed in this. While the premise was solid, the execution was way off. The "greatest detectives" team was mostly wrong. Green Arrow? Plastic Man? Damian was extremely "off model" and the Red Hood red herring was pointless. And as you said, it didn't have an ending, it just stopped. The reveal was extremely underwhelming and out of nowhere. Not at all recommended.


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