Leviathan Dawn’s mission is clear. It wants to bridge the gap between Event Leviathan and the upcoming Event Leviathan: Checkmate as it sifts through the fallout and sets things into motion so the series proper can hit the ground running. In that sense, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev succeed with a tight script and great art that brings together a set of disparate characters on a common mission. What remains to be seen is whether or not Bendis’ ultimate vision will pay off in the end or if we’ll be stuck with yet another miniseries that runs in circles. However, as of now, Dawn promises higher stakes than before with an even more unique set of characters taking center stage.
I’m a fan of Brian Michael Bendis for the most part, but this book exemplifies both his greatest strengths and weaknesses. While I’m aware of the time-honored tradition of making fun of “Bendis speak”, I like his dialogue for its sense of pace and timing. His conversations read like real conversations and don’t often veer into obvious and stale exposition, even when his characters are in info dump mode. The opening scene with Steve Trevor and the mysterious Kingsley Jacobs shows this perfectly. This scene exists mostly to catch both Steve and the readers up with what has been happening recently in Bendis’ sphere of the DC Universe. Most importantly, Clark Kent has revealed his identity and Leviathan was revealed as ex-Manhunter Mark Shaw. Maleev’s art fits this type of scene well due to his ability to render authentically human figures out of otherwise extraordinary characters. This sort of demystification doesn’t always work, but seeing an exhausted Steve try to make sense out of a stranger breaking him out of jail and telling him the world has changed while he’s been imprisoned only works because of Maleev’s art. His figure work is great mostly due to how he expertly renders clothes and all the creases and crevices created by movement. Even if his character poses are not exaggerated, the sense of texture in his work, from Steve’s shirt to his haggard face and beard, creates a lived-in world that feels authentic. I do wish he’d allow himself to use a less restrictive color palette for each scene, even if I do like that each environment feels unique from each other.
What works less is when Bendis’ dialogue veers into infantile back and forth exchanges that are too self-referential for their own good. The first scene with Leviathan addressing his minions and taking stock of what went wrong has more than a few moments where the dialogue’s tone is far too comedic and out of character for our would-be villains. An “oh my god” here and a “Hell yes” there mixed in with a few too many exclamation marks creates the atmosphere of a high school cafeteria and not the secret lair of a supervillain trying to leave his mark on the world. It’s the inverse of the opening scene, with dialogue that calls far too much attention to the fact that it’s largely exposition. When a minion uses comic book lingo and asks what the next “event” will be, Bendis tilts too far into being cheeky. Even Maleev’s work, while still aesthetically sound, doesn’t always result in the best facial acting as his style fits a gritty vibe far more than the self-aware tone this scene exudes.
The majority of the issue takes on the form of a standard, yet effective, gathering of the team structure. Some of these character intros are better than others. Lois Lane’s intro is the most effective of the quieter scenes, showing her in full investigative reporter mode and displaying her ability to forge a more humane connection with those around her. This is where Bendis’ strength with dialogue really shines, in more grounded situations where he can focus on a single character’s unique abilities. His greatest stumbles are when he has a few characters interacting with each other. Here his dialogue becomes increasingly interchangeable with one another. His characters tend to speak the same and have similar sense of humor. In certain panels where the dialogue isn’t easily traceable to a character, it can be hard to even tell who’s talking. These shortcomings are usually alleviated since Maleev is more than capable of creating some stunning action sequences, such is the case with the Question’s introduction. The Question beats down on some Leviathan thugs and Maleev stages the sequence wonderfully, with ample blood to create impact along with effective lettered sound effects that sell the brutality. Even as one minion yells “Oh my gooaaadd!” and nearly derails the tone, Maleev’s work keeps the atmosphere intact visually. In general, Bendis’ sense of humor is hit or miss. It’s a great moment when Iron Heights prison guards are terrified to go inside of Talia al Ghul’s cell and just want her out of the prison. A less great moment is when Talia yells “I am going to kill his face!” when she learns Leviathan bought an entire country. I can’t claim that Bendis writes everyone out of character as there are more than enough truthful moments within the script, but sometimes he goes for the joke rather than being true to the character.
Speaking of character moments, Bendis does great work with Damian’s conflicted feelings with what used to be his birthright, the Leviathan organization, being taken from his mother, Talia. It’s an angle I didn’t even think of yet makes complete sense. I like Damian as a character and Bendis writes him with a humanity that others rarely afford him, which is shown when he apologizes to Kate Spencer (Manhunter) for accusing her of being Leviathan. Whereas Event Leviathan had everyone at odds with one another due to the inherent mystery of Leviathan’s identity, this new chapter benefits from a new sense of clarity as to what their mission is. Less infighting and more teamwork is what I hope emerges from this series. As the issue comes to an end we have a new team that comprises Checkmate. Lois Lane, Mr. Bones, Steve Trevor, Green Arrow, Talia, the Question, Manhunter, and Kingsley make for an interesting set of characters to bounce off each other. Of them all, Bendis’ Steve Trevor stands out the most as being slightly out of character, but his jaded nature is understandable given what he’s been through and the lack of Diana to help guide him.
- Event Leviathan left you wanting more.
- Alex Maleev on art duties makes it worth the purchase for you.
- You like seeing a set of unique characters bounce off each other.
Leviathan Dawn does its job of setting up the next miniseries to come with great art and a solid, well paced script. While I think Bendis has a tendency to get lost whenever he has a group of characters talking over each other, there’s enough truly spot on character moments within the issue to show he has a grasp on them. Leviathan has the makings of being a memorable villain, but it’s time for his speeches to stop and for his organization to truly put his make the world a better place plan into motion. Bendis has used more than enough arcs over several different series to set the stage for Leviathan’s big play. Only time will tell if issues like Leviathan Dawn will be paid off in full, but for now, I’m game to stay aboard.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.