Brian Michael Bendis and event comics go together like Batman and Robin, but Event Leviathan, despite sporting the word “event” in its title, is no typical line-wide superhero smash-fest. Spiraling out of Action Comics, Event Leviathan starts off with a culling of the DC Universe’s myriad governmental agencies and dark-ops groups, from ostensibly heroic organizations like Task Force X to the purely evil Kobra Cult. From there, an assemblage of the publisher’s greatest detectives comes together to decipher the clues to Leviathan’s identity and true mission.
Action Comics is currently in the midst of “Leviathan Rising,” the prelude to Event Leviathan, and readers can learn more in the 25-cent DC’s Year of the Villain issue out May 1st, which finds Bendis and Event Leviathan artist Alex Maleev kicking off the event proper. From there, fans can nab the oversized Superman: Leviathan Rising Special on May 29th, which features contributions from Bendis, Matt Fraction, Greg Rucka and more. Finally, Event Leviathan itself, a six-issue miniseries from Bendis and Maleev, launches June 12th.
With things about to get very Event-y in Brian Michael Bendis’ corner of the DC Universe, Paste hopped on the phone with the Super-scribe to learn more about what sets Event Leviathan apart from other events, how the series will reshape espionage in the DCU and why Lois Lane is one of the greatest characters in fiction. Check out the results of our chat below, along with art from Maleev and Yanick Paquette. For more on Event Leviathan and DC’s 2019 plans, stay tuned to Paste.
Paste: You’re no stranger to event comics from your time at Marvel, but Event Leviathan marks the first time you’re pulling out the all-hands-on-deck approach at DC. How soon into your DC career did you start conceptualizing Event Leviathan, and what made it the right opening salvo for your event storytelling at the publisher?
Brian Michael Bendis: Well the history of it is really interesting. When I was first thinking of coming over to DC, I met Dan DiDio, really for the first time—we had never met, even in passing, all those years, even though we had a lot of mutual friends and acquaintances. So we got together and we were just talking about stuff, and we got to what he was hoping for for DC, and one of the things that was bothering him was the organizational clutter of the DC Universe, I think was how he put it? There’re a lot of organizations and there seems to be a lot of organizations that do similar things.
Whereas Marvel had S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra and a couple of others, there are about 30 or 40 versions of that at DC and that could be a little frustrating from a storytelling point of view—and maybe there was a story there. And I was like, “Oh, okay, let me think about that.” I certainly was intrigued by the door he was opening for me. He knew I kind of had a real soft spot and passion for espionage and that angle of the superhero genre. So I was like, “Oh, let me look at this.” From there, we started cooking what would happen if someone started thinking like Dan. [Laughs] What if someone thought there were too many organizations in the world, like Dan, and took it upon themselves to restructure the world to what they think is the right way to be? So this villain is going to reveal what their point is. And it may not be as black and white as the heroes would like it to be. That’s going to be a big part of it because, as we all know, one person’s justice and another person’s justice—they’re not necessarily the same thing.
Paste: Our first real hints of the event—and am I right calling the event, Event Leviathan?
Bendis: The official title is Event Leviathan. What we’re in right now in Action Comics is called “Leviathan Rising.” Kind of like setting the table as it were, as to what’s happening. In every issue of Action Comics, we’ve been seeing Superman and the gang slowly figure out, “Oh shit. Something happened. It’s happening right now under our feet,” and that’s all going to lead up to the Superman: Leviathan Rising 80-page special which will be out in May. And that is a giant Superman story by myself and Yanick Paquette with special sequences by Greg Rucka, Matt Fraction, Marc Andreyko, and that’s going to really set the table of what’s going on across all the corners of the Superman universe. Specifically Event Leviathan, which is what the disaster is referred to in the intelligence community.
Paste: Well our first real hints of the event came from Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen doing his journalistic footwork. Now that Event Leviathan is starting to spill out of the pages of Action Comics, which other DC heroes and villains are set to take center stage in the event? And are you getting a chance to write any of your wishlist DC characters for the first time?
Bendis: Well it’s funny you should say that, because what has happened [is] Leviathan’s actions have kind of forced the hand of the world’s greatest detectives to team up to solve this quickly—they have to solve it before the dawn. So the greatest detectives pool their resources, and it just so happens that most of the greatest detectives in the DC Universe are my favorite characters of all time! So it’s Batman, Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Lois Lane, Manhunter (Kate Spencer). And a few surprises, and The Question.
Paste: I’m glad you mentioned Lois because you’ve said elsewhere that Lois remains crucial to the plot throughout. How do you keep non-powered characters like Lois and Jimmy at the forefront of all this costumed action and insanity?
Bendis: Well it’s never about the powers. I see other writers struggle with this sometimes. The powers are fun, but the powers are literally the special effects to the character’s actions. It’s really about what the character does and the choices they make that make a character compelling. Not what they wear, not how shiny and sparkly their fists can get. It’s what they’re doing. And in that regard, hundreds of writers have shown that Lois Lane is one of the most interesting characters in all of literature, not just comics. So to celebrate that here is easy pickings, to be honest with you. It’s the easiest thing I’m doing at DC right now, is showing everyone that Lois Lane is the smartest, most dangerous person on the planet.
Paste: And along those lines you’re bringing Greg Rucka back to DC and Matt Fraction to DC, I think for the first time ever, right?
Bendis: I think so. I’ll have to double-check—he may have done some weird Matt Fraction-y thing at DC, it’s not impossible. I’ll double-check. But It’s a definite, enormous return to form for fans of Greg’s work at DC Comics.
Paste: How did that come about, getting them involved in this event?
Bendis: Well we’ve been friends since we were kids, and Greg was obviously a great rabbinical soldier for me when I was deciding whether or not to make this transition [from Marvel to DC], having been one of my few friends who has had massive work at both companies. And I hate bringing it up, but when I was sick last year, Greg was at my bedside literally whispering to me about Superman. A lot of people don’t know this, or some people don’t know this, but Greg used to be an EMT worker and has quite a bedside manner. It’s quite amazing if you know Greg, because his normal self is not a bedside-manner person. It’s more like being friends with Lewis Black most of the time. [Laughs] The fact that the other part of him is this nurturing, beautiful soul that literally just kept me focused away from the things that scare you in the hospital and just talked about Superman all night—yeah, I can’t help but look at the Superman special as the art that came from that.
Paste: On the subject of old friends, you’re kicking off Event Leviathan with your longtime collaborator Alex Maleev, who’s also working with you on Scarlet and just illustrated your Detective Comics #1000 short. What is Maleev bringing to the event and how has it been carrying your partnership over into the main DCU?
Bendis: It’s so great that this Detective Comics #1000 is out and that DC has put our story out for free into the wild, because I can just point to that and say, “If you like that, you will love Event Leviathan.” It looks like that, it smells like that. It’s Alex at his most luxuriously decadent. The shadows are just crawling with ink. Everything about it is passionate and beautiful and, as great as me and Alex have had it over the years, the fact that DC has always teased us with coming over to do a project like this and that the fans have been so feverish in their fantasy baseball of it—over the years, fans have always wanted to me and Alex to do something with Batman. I was always like, “Well, if we came over here, I would do something with Plastic Man with Alex. That’s what I would do.” [Laughs]
We joked about it for years, so the fact that we’re doing it and doing it in such a huge story that matters to so many points of the DC Universe, it almost feels like, Oh good, we’re keeping an invisible promise we made. Does that make sense? It’s not just a Batman story, it’s so much more than even I thought it was going to be. And boy, as a fan, I would be excited about that.
The other thing you’re gonna get from me and Alex is the 25-cent issue that DC is doing this year, [which] features a brand-new chapter by me and Alex that is flat-out Chapter One of Event Leviathan. It is a giant inciting incident and it features Green Arrow and Batgirl. My first Batgirl scene and my first substantial Green Arrow moment.
The reason I’m bringing it up is that it’s maybe the greatest thing Alex has ever done. I was part of the 25-cent issue last year with José Luis García-López, and that book did so well. The numbers were so crazy because it was only a quarter, that I was able to say to Alex, “Hey, by the way, I think it’s safe to say a lot of people are going to see this, so go crazy.” And it is gorgeous. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Also, he painted the whole first issue of Event Leviathan so quickly and so beautifully, that it made me feel like—you can tell when it’s pouring out of him in the best way, like it has to come out of him. And that’s what’s happening with this. It’s really something.
Paste: I want to ask a little bit of a logistical question. In the past, you’ve been known to work on paired titles that cross back and forth fluidly, but Superman and Action Comics have so far pursued pretty different tones and plots. Will we see Superman tying into Event Leviathan, or should we expect that series to stay off in space for the most part? You did tease on Reddit that Adam Strange has a role to play in both books…
Bendis: He already has appeared in both books, in kind of a… I don’t to say “sinister,” but in a conspiratorial way. Like, “Oh good, it’s Adam Strange! Wait, what was that look at the end of the scene?” He seems to know something more about Rogol Zaar than we thought. And he shows up at the moment the D.E.O. is destroyed and that’s actually a nice connective moment. Something happened in Superman, Adam Strange shows up at the D.E.O. to report it, and why he was reporting it was going to be of interest as well. That’ll pay off later.
But as far as how the Superman family connects to it all, yes, there are definite moments in both books where you say, “Oh, okay, this is where the books split up.” So we show it very clearly. Lois says, “You go here, I go there,” it couldn’t be more clear.
Paste: Finally, I have to ask about Chaz, Superman’s alter ego who sports spontaneously grown facial hair. What can Chaz accomplish that Superman can’t, and what are the odds of Chaz coming face to face with Matches Malone?
Bendis: Oh my God, it was literally the first tweet I got when we announced the concept of Chaz, like—before I finished the word “Chaz,” someone tweeted Matches Malone at me. So excellent reference, but yeah, this is about Clark getting to the truth and Clark being a reporter and using his Superman powers in more interesting and less destructive ways. Some of his powers can internalize and this is one of them. So I think this is him being the smartest version of himself. The world’s falling apart, maybe Superman flying around isn’t the answer. Clark can get to the answer.
I will say, of my many moments that I’ve had in my career that I’ve enjoyed, standing up in front of the DC writers retreat, in front of Tom King, Scott Snyder, Kelly Sue DeConnick, some of the greatest writers of our generation, and pitching them Chaz, how Superman can just turn into Bradley Cooper from American Hustle—well, it was one of the greatest reactions I’ve ever gotten. No matter what the audience thinks of the comic, I was happy. I actually don’t care what people think of this because that room liked it so much. [Laughs]
Paste: Event Leviathan, I imagine, is going to be something of a puzzlebox, so I don’t want to ask anything too revealing—
Bendis: That in itself is something I wanted to talk about. It’s very different, when people hear “event” and even “event” is in the title, they think of those big, giant—Secret Invasion or Civil War. They have a kind of disaster-movie quality to them. Big, giant stuff happens on panel: the inciting incident, the gathering of the heroes. This is a different animal, specifically engineered that way. This is like a detective reverse-engineering the event from their point of view, and in doing so, creating clues and red herrings and really trying to figure out who Leviathan is to all the clues are being left in front of them.
So I’m excited for people to see how different it is from anything they perceive as a quote-unquote “event.” But I think this is so specific, I wanted people to know we’re doing something different.
Paste: A little more Mission Impossible than Mission Impossible 4 through 6?
Bendis: Yes, a little bit of both. I guess a mystery is what it is. And that in itself is exciting, and who Leviathan is and what they want will be revealed in the series itself. We’re not dragging it out. But of all the things we’ve discussed, I know that the last line of the 25-cent issue is all anyone is going to be talking about.
Paste: Interesting! Is there anything else you want to leave readers with at this point?
Bendis: I know that with a mystery comes a lot of people guessing and a lot of people worrying about their favorite characters. And right away, already there are some suspects that are people’s favorite characters. I know that can be scary. Let it unfold. Let it ride before you start tweet-storming me. It’s being done that way to have some fun. So be patient. There’re red herrings all over the place, misdirects and some things that are going to be damn well shocking. We’re gonna have fun. That’s the point of this. We’re gonna have a lot of fun.