Friday, February 28, 2020

Review: Leviathan Dawn #1

For anyone who has frequented this site for the last year, you know that the mystery surrounding Leviathan plagued me. I had a Leviathan Theory and I was sticking with it. But I also considered other candidates. It consumed me.

I enjoyed Event Leviathan very much, even if my guess was wrong and I was glad when DC decided to further cement Leviathan as a threat by promoting the villain and continuing his story.

The first chapter of that came out last week with the Leviathan Dawn #1 special. Written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Alex Maleev, the special is both an epilogue to the Event Leviathan mini-series and a prologue for what is to come. And the book delivers, bringing together a ragtag group of characters to battle Leviathan under the name Checkmate. It also continues to deepen the character of Mark Shaw and his group Leviathan. With a very good cliffhanger, this definitely served the purpose of making me want to read the upcoming Leviathan Checkmate mini-series.

For me, I find the character and motivations behind Leviathan interesting. In theory, it all sounds like a good idea. But the means seem wrong and the aftermath seems to lead to chaos. Leviathan sounds at time like a populist hero at other times a benevolent dictator and still in others like an evil megalomaniac. I like complex characters in Mark Shaw, for now, is pretty complicated.

Bendis has always been a master at dialogue and he has these characters talk like normal people would even if they are in extraordinary circumstances.

Add to that Alex Maleev's incredible art. Maleev really brings a dynamic feel to this book. There is a lot of action here which flows very well. And the rich color, each scene dominated by one shade, really adds to things.

On to the book.

We start in a holding cell where Steve Trevor is being kept prisoner.

Suddenly the guards are unconscious and the door unlocked. His rescuer? Kingsley Jacobs, the King.

Jacobs needs to get a group together to fight Leviathan and Trevor is going to be his right hand man.

I don't know Jacobs at all. I don't know if he is an established character or a new one. To be honest, I haven't read many DC spy books in my time. So I assume he is on the level. His responses to Trevor seem to be legitimate.

But I love how unhinged Trevor is. Remember, when Event Leviathan happened, Trevor snapped. He assumed everyone was behind Leviathan, even himself at one point. I'm glad that hasn't changed. Seeing someone of Trevor's credentials so off kilter adds some oomph to the threat of Leviathan. This is all new, even for a veteran.

I include the two page splash because it is a gorgeous and pithy retelling of the Event Leviathan mini-series.

Seriously, beautiful.

And love how bright blue is now the Leviathan color.

Meanwhile, on Leviathan Island all isn't smooth sailing.

Shaw converses with his lieutenants, including people like The Guardian and Dr. Netz. He is upset that Amanda Waller was able to upset his dreams. And he wants answers.

Unlike before, there is some dissension in the ranks. Dr. Netz is convinced that none of Leviathan's troops joined on their own. They were brainwashed. But somehow she was able to hold back this control. And she wants answers.

Shaw's answer is quick. Disintegration. Maybe teleportation. But either way Netz is gone. Remember, this is a 'We are...' group. Their power is in their unity. He can't have opposition. They have to trust each other and the dream. And, per Shaw, they aren't bad guys.

But I love this panel because it reminds me of me when I was trying to solve the Leviathan mystery and was implicating everyone from Ted Kord to Adam Strange. I thought my brain was different from everyone's and that I was working on a different level.

In Coast City, a Leviathan ship crashlands at the airport.

The first person called to investigate? Lois Lane.

With places like ARGUS and the DEO offline, the personnel didn't know who to call. And since it was Lois who outed Leviathan, she became the de facto expert.

Once more we see just how powerful a person Lois is in the DCU.

I love it.

The bulk of the rest of the issue is Trevor trying to put together the band.

His first stop, Arkham Asylum where a very much alive Director Bones is recovering from his near fatal encounter with Leviathan.

Trevor gives Bones an offer. Join him and fight Shaw, something Bones wants to do anyways.

It's interesting. I thought Bones was dead. But if alive, why not bring the head of DEO into the group with the head of ARGUS. Both have experience and an axe to grind against Leviathan.

Here is also where Bendis' dialogue works. The recovering Bones, strapped to a table after needing sedation, says he really needs a burger. That's a very natural response said by a talking skeleton fighting off a worldwide coup. I love that dissonance.

Next on the list? Green Arrpw.

Now other than Star City being hit hard by Leviathan (indeed Ollie is fighting Leviathan foot soldiers at the beginning of this scene), I don't know why Jacobs would want an irritant like Ollie on this group. He isn't a great detective. He often follows his own lead.

The pitch by Trevor is simple. "If not us, who?"

It's crazy to think a small group of street level spies and fighters can knock down this massive organization ... but someone has to.

But tuck that line away. We'll see it again.

Also in the group is The Question.

He is in China fighting off some Leviathan men who are trying to steal some tech. Luckily, The Question can grab the item before they all teleport away.

What is this thing? It looks sort of like a mask ... hmmm ....

A new Leviathan Theory at the end.

The art here, with the purple overtones, is fantastic. I'd love a Maleev drawn Question book.

We get an interlude in the Batcave, all colored in musty greens, where Damian talks to Kate Spencer Manhunter.

It seems a little out of character, or perhaps a sign of character growth, that Damian apologizes to Spencer. He had pegged her for Leviathan all along. But he picked the wrong Manhunter.

I am not the biggest Damian fan. He can be one note at times. So seeing this softer side reminds me of the Super Sons book where he was rubbing of on Jon Kent ... but Kent was also rubbing off on him.

And then Trevor has the luck of trying to gather the last recruit, Talia Al Ghul.

This was perhaps my favorite scene, both dialogue and art wise.

Maleev clearly shows how strong and confident Talia is through his art. There is a panel where she throws a knife which breaks the panel border, implying incredible speed. Since that technique is rare with Maleev it feels even faster.

Trevor has to both talk down Talia (she is irate that her organization was stripped from her) and bring her in. He needs her.

I love how Trevor implies that Talia is the solution to all this. Remember, the bulk of Leviathan is made up of people formerly loyal to her alone. She could be the thing needed to bring down Shaw.

The gang's all here.

Look at this new Checkmate.

They're your typical semi-dysfunctional family!

And I giggled when everyone gets some sort of name like 'The Truth' and Director Bones is 'The Bones'.

Honestly, how is Jacobs going to get this group to work together.

As for Shaw's next move?

Why not establish a real power base.

He buys off the Markovian royal family and makes that country Leviathan.

It is unprecedented, impressing even the gathered heroes.

And it also makes Leviathan a bit trickier to attack. How do you invade a nation? This isn't the Ha-Ha-Hacienda. This is a country with international borders. Wouldn't an attack be an act of war?


And if that wasn't a big enough hook, Shaw gets on air and gives his spiel.

He asks people to look at the world around them and ask if they think it is working. If it isn't, and you think you want things to change, then you are Leviathan. Because who is going to bring down all the ills of this world. 'If not us, who?'

That's truly a populist cry for revolution. And it just might work. It is a widely broadcast plea to go to the window and yell 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!' This isn't someone threatening to poison the Gotham reservoir. This is someone saying we need equality and honesty. Squint a little and he's a hero.

And that's delicious. I want more.

As for my Leviathan Theory? Perhaps that mask the Question obtained is some sort of new technological Medusa Mask. Maybe he has embedded mind control tech into his suit and this was a new addition. And maybe, when that tech gets undone, the hive mind of Leviathan will unravel leaving him a solo villain without an army.

I'm calling it now.

Let's see if I'm right.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

Loved the art, though in a couple of places Maleev's faces are unclear and I wasn't 100% sure who was speaking.

I also noticed Talia's knife crossing panel borders, precisely because Maleev almost always keeps to conventional panel borders. DC art style in general has artists doing unconventional page designs, but Maleev can and should do his own unique thing. His style is not to everyone's taste, but I love it. His art might become incoherent if he didn't ground it with more traditional page layouts.

So here Leviathan continues in the direction Luthor proposed to him, thinking big as he transforms from someone who wanted to shake up the world by revealing intelligence agency secrets, to someone who wants to transform the world (with himself in charge). I guess in this story, people are no longer acting out their base instincts and rioting to bring out their inner Doom; but are just angry about the plutocracies, kleptocracies, and kakistocracies (a real word) they are living under.

I think this is a good opening up of the character. His original goal was too small, almost a bit of clerical work and then publication. His goals now are more commensurate with this power.

I do think Dr. Netz was vaporized, judging by the look of horror on the faces of the standers-by. Mark Shaw apparently has a history of being on both sides, hero and villain, and right now I think the villain is winning.


Martin Gray said...

Top review. I quite enjoyed this reading it, the dialogue was entertaining, but I have reservations.

Why was Steve still being held when Leviathan's identity is known? How can the David Bowie lookalike just wander in? (Kingsley Jacobs seems to be new... I suppose King Faraday and Clock King were busy.) Why should Steve, being so raddled and untrusting,  believe him, why not seek out Superman? Or, you know, his girlfriend Wonder Woman. And bringing in Talia, a woman who has only ever followed her own, or her father's agenda? She will betray you in an instant. Madness.

Really, who would follow someone with a man bun?

The 'ragtag group' bit is one of my problems. Why Green Arrow, for instance? As we said previously, he's not a detective, and he didn't really bring anything to the table. he was just a suspect.

Killing Netz in front of everyone seems a serious mistake, it shows him to be a dictator, not a leader... and why would Shaw include an old nazi in the first place, she should have been removed when he took over Leviathan I.

I'd disagree that they aren't bad guys. Shaw has some good points but in going about them as he has - blowing up property, killings spies - or at least removing them from their families - he's quickly become the bad guy. 

Buying Markovia makes for a fun moment, but would the UN really recognise it as a sovereign state when it's the puppet of a known terrorist? Why worry about acts of war, they're already at war with Leviathan. May as well make the Joker a diplomat,,,
The idea that if you don't believe the world is working, you must fall in with Leviathan, is dramatic, but plain silly.

Basically, I'm much less enthusiastic about the Leviathan business this time. I guess I'm just so disappointed by the unanswered questions from the previous mini-series and allied stories (what changed Mark's personality, how did he take over the organisations overnight, did he kill thousands or teleport them away, is brainwashing involved, did he murder dissenters because if brainwashing isn't involved, not everyone will agree with him) that I have no faith we'll get a satisfying story this time. Heck, the Mark Shaw reveal was so rubbish... honestly Anj, even your least favourite theory was better than this, it smacks of Armageddon 2000 changing-after-the-fact. You probably guessed correctly in the first place, I've been enjoying loads of Bendis' DC stuff, but as with his Marvel work, he's not great at structuring mysteries,  and sticking the landing.

My favourite thing about the script this time is Mr Bones - he's a hoot!

Bostondreams said...

Martin, some good points. Though my understanding is that Steve Trevor went a bit around the bend following Leviathan (which may be why he was still in custody), and he and Wonder Woman are no longer together either, following a recent arc in her book.

Anonymous said...

"Once more we see just how powerful a person Lois is in the DCU."

Frankly, the respect and prominence Bendis gives Lois is what got me to plunk down my cash for this and the other "Leviathan" books. To me, she's the star anywhere she appears.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks Bostondreams, I didn’t know Steve and Diana we’re split yet again. I’ve dropped off Wondy again, though I was back for issue 750... oh dear!

Anonymous said...

Wonder Woman didn't do well under G. Willow Wilson. Started ok but went into odd directions. And then got saddled with many Cheetah-Year-of-the-Villain installments. It was under Wilson that Diana and Steve split - it was a casualty of Wilson's interminable and bizarre plot about Love.

Orlando swooped in to tidy up. The first 2 issues he wrote, which included the main story in #750, finished the prior arc, and there wasn't much that could be done though I think he actually made it worse. What was Silencer doing there? Made no sense at any time.

But he started a new arc with #751 and it's looking promising. Introduced 2 sets of antagonists (one may even become an ally I hope, and the other is von Gunther from past stories, who is picking up her own allies). There's also a new, skeptical Boston detective who is tailing Diana but giving her room to work.

And Max Raynor's artwork is great. Jesus Marino is also a regular who will be back, but I wouldn't mind Raynor staying for a while. It's a splendid-looking 20 pages.


Bostondreams said...

So. Speaking of Wonder Woman in this book. Read it today. Also a big reader of Diana’s adventures. And Steve Trevor is thinking about the wrong Wonder Woman. At least if we go by the image. That’s New 52 Diana. Hmm....