Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1 is a confusing mishmash of the inaccurate and the unexplained. This is the sort of book where the cover proclaims that “THE EPIC STRUGGLE TO CONTROL THE DC UNIVERSE BEGINS HERE,” but you haven’t got a hope in Hell of knowing who any of the characters are or what is going on unless you’ve been reading at least three other comics. In other words, this is a typical Brian Michael Bendis event.
Here’s the short, short version of what this book should have explained at the beginning. Leviathan is a criminal organization founded by Talia Al Ghul after she got fed up with her father and quit the League of Assassins. Recently, someone started a coup within the organization that has resulted in many of the DCU’s greatest mercenaries and assassins being killed or forced into hiding and various government agencies (including the DEO) being completely destroyed. As the book opens, the apparent leader of the Leviathan coup approaches the head of Metropolis’ Invisible Mafia from Bendis’ Superman books about an all important question – how would you kill Superman, if you had to do it?
This leads to them enacting the wholly original plan of trying to abduct Clark Kent instead of Lois Lane and using him to get Superman’s attention and lure him into a death trap. Naturally, Superman sees this coming and decides to play along in order to figure out who the mysterious black-clad soldiers in his apartment are. Unfortunately, the story gets wildly predictable from there as they stick Clark Kent in a room with a piece of Kryptonite and it falls to Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to come to the rescue.
This leads to the best parts of the issue as the Leviathan aspect of the story is set aside so that we may see Greg Rucka writing Lois Lane as the tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners, Batman-is-scared-of-me character she should be. Meanwhile, Matt Fraction engages in wacky antics, with Jimmy Olsen wakeing up in a Gorilla City hotel after getting married the night before while in a drunken stupor. Sadly, unlike a certain classic Silver Age comic book cover, Jimmy did not get married to a gorilla.
These segments represent the only parts of the comic which make any attempt to be friendly to new readers. The irony is that while Bendis’ introduction is made up entirely of dialogues where two characters deliver exposition, nothing is really explained. This is also true of the final chapter, in which Supergirl – newly returned to Earth – investigates the ruins of her foster parents’ home and tries to figure out how it got destroyed. Oh, and Manhunter is seen in the background, but you’ll only recognize her if you’ve been reading Action Comics. This section doesn’t relate to anything else in the book, apart from Kara finding a hidden message from her foster mother (a DEO agent) saying that Leviathan is responsible for what happened in the last page.
The artwork is uniformly excellent but all the artists involved are tasked with painting a cow pie. There is no way to make the story, such as it is, palatable. There’s also some continuity issues that should never have made it past editorial. For instance, you’d expect someone to have looked-up the fact that while Red Lanterns vomit blood, the blood acts as an acidic plasma that sets things on fire. So the scene in which the Red Lantern cat Dex-Starr begins throwing up on everything in Jimmy Olsen’s hotel room should have resulted in a four-alarm fire – not Jimmy looking like Carrie.
It’s telling that the best parts of the Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1 are those that have nothing to do with the Leviathan storyline. It is to be hoped that the new Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen series might get a sizable sales boost from the preview here. As for the rest of the book, the Leviathan organization may be rising, but this (anything but) special crashes and burns exiting the gate before it can get onto the runway.