WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Event Leviathan #6, by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and Josh Reed, on sale now.
After months of speculation and fan theories, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's crossover comic book miniseries Event Leviathan, which saw its eponymous antagonist targeting the various clandestine organizations throughout the DC Universe, has come to an end. As Lois Lane rallied the greatest detectives in the DCU to discover the masked figure's identity, suspicions ran high between the various heroes, leading to false accusations and explosive intrigue.
When the dust settled, Lois' estranged father General Sam Lane lay dead at the villain's feet, Leviathan led by Mark Shaw, the first modern Manhunter in the DCU. In an exclusive interview with CBR, Bendis discussed the shocking reveal and ending to Event Leviathan, clues to the antagonist's identity and teased the fallout to inform the DCU as it moves into a morally uncertain, gray future.
CBR: We've got Manhunter Mark Shaw as the mastermind of Event Leviathan. What made you want to use him as the big bad in all of this?
Brian Michael Bendis: A good amount of research. We were diving into a lot of old Checkmate stuff and a lot of other classic stories and thinking literally about who would go, "I have had enough, I'm going with new rules." There's actually a couple of amazing panels of Mark Shaw basically looking at the reader from decades ago saying this philosophy, just as a frustrated Manhunter and hero, and I was like "Oh my goodness." It was verbatim!
And I pitched it and everybody at DC went "Yes!" I thought there was going to be more of a debate or pushback or they were going to go, "Here's something you don't know about the character that would make that not work." But everybody said, "Oh my God!
That really elevates it and there was some other stuff going on with the Manhunter technology that made it all make sense. So we got to dive in early on, and I know there's a history in comics where there's a mystery and the mystery changes because the internet reacted to it or something. That's always a worry you have and my friend [Lois Lane writer] Greg Rucka actually years ago made a statement online saying the worst genre in comics is mystery because everyone's online guessing; thousands people online guessing the answer and there's only six possible answers...somebody's going to get the answer!
So to play the mystery game in a monthly comic, you have to really plan and that was our motivation going forward, making it work as a story, making it work as a mystery and making it work as an online mystery, if that makes sense; people can come and argue with it and argue with me about it. And so that I felt that was the most fun we had and the most successful part of the whole thing and I was very grateful for it. People are guessing and you want enough people are guessing the right answer. I wanted, like 8% of people guessing the Mark Shaw reveal so it was a good one but not so good that everybody gets it right away. So I was really grateful on Instagram, like two weeks ago, literally dozens of people were guessing and only, like, three people got Mark Shaw and I was like "Yes!" That was my biggest worrying goal.
You and I have talked about this before and you promised that this was a mystery you could solve, that there are clues. What were some of the most prominent clues you had here and in Action Comics that tipped it to Mark Shaw?
Bendis: There's quite a few, number one, the design of his outfit actually builds upon the Manhunter technologies and designs from previous things without ruining them. Another thing is I wanted to do this without dumping all over the history of the Manhunters. Walt Simonson is one of my heroes. and I didn't want to do anything to dismantle all that awesome stuff. I just wanted to build on it and be additive instead of destructive; additive towards Mark, the character. So if anyone knows their deep, deep history of this stuff and some of it is pretty deep, right?
It's all there but if you've never heard of Mark Shaw before in your life and pick this up as a brand new story, then you feel all these people know him from something; that's all that would matter. So it was a matter of making sure it was reader-friendly and a good mystery no matter where you were coming from in your DC lore; that was my job. They're not going to get everybody but we took that very seriously and as the months progressed. I was feeling a deep amount of relief because there's not a lot we can control as creators because who knows what they guess or how loudly they guess. So it was great people were having so much fun.
You had mentioned you were worried about pushback earlier. Was there any pushback killing off General Sam Lane?
No, I guess we'll find out Wednesday when people find out it's for real for real and people finding out what really happened. Some people who still haven't read all six issues might think it's still Sam Lane [as Leviathan]; there's a lot of guessing of that too which is great. But the fallout for the Lane-Kent family is enormous, right? Unrelated, [Lois and Clark] both have lost their fathers in a short amount of time; that's a traumatic event for anybody.
Also, I'm very grateful to all the previous writers who have written [Sam and Lois' relationship] because it's an excellent relationship that's been written over the years and has always been a frustrating relationship which a lot of people can relate to a family relationship ending without closure. But when your job as a reporter is to see closure, is going to be a very interesting road for her, especially -- not to get into spoilers -- but Sam leaves her a great deal of his secrets for her to unpack and discover.
So there's all kinds of new paths and stories for her to go down and discover about herself, about her father, about the world she's been helping protect. Even if people are upset about the Sam thing, I think [they'll admit] there's a lot of story there that I'd like to see. You don't know what Lois is going to do next and that's always the best story.
So did you have this in your back pocket when you set up Jor-El to meet his untimely end [Superman]?
It was not in the original plan but these stories were constructed at the same time but sometimes from almost different parts of my brain. Where Event Leviathan was almost a Lois Lane mystery, what's going on in Superman is a big, cosmic epic but a very personal Clark story. I'm very much in Clark's head when I'm writing Superman and, in Event Leviathan, I'm in the detectives' head. These two stories were in very different parts of my brain but as they were coming together, as they were finding their truth, I realized both fathers -- unrelated -- are going to be gone.
I brought it up to DC too and was like, "We're going to have a new family dynamic but I don't see any story negative as far as what they're going to get out of it." So we talked about it for a long, long time and then went for it.
You were mentioning fallout and you had planted a lot of red herrings in this story with Jason Todd, Kate Spencer and Talia al Ghul. Are we going to see fallout with them?
Yep! Yeah, any character that was touched by this story, there's going to be fallout from. This mystery is solved but, past the mystery, a lot has happened. They were semi-successful in their quest that Leviathan has arrived and is now a power in the DC Universe and that comes with a major shift in how everyone's doing business; so that's number one.
Everyone also has to deal with the fact that Leviathan set some of them up, like, why does the Red Hood get set up for shit like this? And that does eat at the character but also lets the character know "You have a job here. You have to take care of Leviathan because they are coming after you and they've made that very clear and they're doing the opposite of what you want in the world."
As far as Jason goes, I will say I did the most research of all the characters on Jason because I wanted the red herring to be honest and, at the same time, respectful to the character and have the character walk away as almost one of the big heroes of the story. If you really look at it, he kind of walks away the most unscathed and it certainly points Jason in the direction of what he has to do next.
This is one of the first things you and Dan Didio talked about when coming to DC, about looking at the number of black ops organizations active in the DCU.
Yeah, this all came from a very early meeting with Dan, we were just getting to know each other and making our list of dream projects and he had brought up something that was frustrating him as an editor was how many organizations there were and they were all awesome but a bit repetitive. And so we do need that thing but more streamlined, with Leviathan more dominant and structured in the DC Universe as something to fight against like a David and Goliath kind of thing at the end.
So that was written in the first document about this and Mark Shaw and the ending really stayed the same which made me really happy because it meant the truth in the piece was always what it was meant to be. This always felt like we had a really strong end and also we knew how much story we're going to unveil by the end of this story. Lois is going to literally make a list of things to do after this story is resolved; as she says, for a journalist, it's like Christmas. She has like eight major headlines to chase, all of which are important to the DC Universe.
You mentioned this being like a big Lois Lane yarn. She loses the most. What was it about telling an event-level story from her perspective and how closely did you work with Greg Rucka, who's writing the main Lois Lane series, in exploring that fallout moving forward?
For people who don't know, Greg, Matt Fraction and I are all old, good friends and ever since they agreed to join us on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, they've been coming over almost every Tuesday night to have what Fraction refers to as the Metropolis City Council where we talk city business and get to work on the characters.
Greg had this awesome Lois Lane series all planned out and, two months into his run, I turned to him and go, "We might kill Sam Lane." So I dropped on a bomb on him and he looks at me like, "What the hell kind of collaboration..." and, in the middle of a sentence, started smiling because he realized what a gift it was emotionally. He may not have gone that direction, but just like real life, he had something to work with here and nailed it and it was amazing.
So that was a big part of how we collaborated and got together, even after I dropped the bomb. That became a whole conversation about their relationship and what it means to Lois as a journalist and what it's like to be raised by someone like Sam Lane; how they perceive the world. You can see that reflected in a lot of the quiet images in Event Leviathan #6. A lot of stuff was expressed through Alex quietly and he painted it beautifully. I ended up removing a lot of dialogue because it was just there, you could see it in her face.
There was a lot of cross-filtration with Action Comics, the darker of the two Superman books you're helming.
Yeah! That continues as we go, by the way. There was definitely a sense that Superman was formulating itself to be the bigger, cosmic book yet more intimate look at Clark, and Action was really about Clark and Metropolis and the Daily Planet and when you get down to the street-level things become, as you say, more dark but really a more relatable view of the world and those two just kind of became our mandate.
So after that mandate, so many months have passed and already you can see how the story drives itself. Going back to Leviathan, yeah, we used Action as the journalistic tee-up to this because it really is a mystery, a journalism story. You kind of use All the President's Men and stories like that as a template; you have to solve this story tonight or something bad's going to happen tomorrow. So we got to tee it up in a really nice way but there's always a frustration there. It's similar to what we did years ago with Secret Invasion where the event itself has to be reader-friendly. So we accomplished that and the fallout from Leviathan goes a couple places, one of which is Action Comics.
And I'm so happy to tell you that the first issue with John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson features a supervillain team-up between Leviathan, the Legion of Doom, and Lex Luthor; all the villains to meet each other and figure out a plan and people have already seen the artwork: A very brutal street war on the streets of Metropolis between the Legion of Doom and Justice League will break out and you're going to find out how and why and what Leviathan's connection with this all is. A lot of this is going to happen immediately in Action Comics #1017, a brilliant reunion for myself with John and Klaus; they're two of my heroes. Every time we get together, it's really warm and wonderful. One of the best experiences I've ever had privately and even though we haven't worked together in years, it's such a beautiful experience behind-the-scenes. I can't even relate to you how great it is.
You've worked with a lot of your artistic collaborators for a long time. You set with record on Ultimate Spider-Man [with Mark Bagley for longest-running mainstream comic collaboration].
And, I must say, I'm deeply proud of that. I'm deeply proud of my long collaborations, some of which are ongoing, like, me and Alex have never stopped working together.
What was it like bringing Alex into the DC fold for an event after working with him on books like Daredevil, Spider-Woman, and Moon Knight?
It was the impetus for all this! On top of the conversation with Dan, I immediately in my head was like "Oh, I want to bring Alex to DC!" I knew he was coming with me to be a part of Jinxworld [Bendis' creator-owned imprint] but, as one of my closest friends, I knew that the entire time we were on Daredevil, he would pine for Batman. And, by the way, when you're on Batman, you pine for Daredevil; it's just how people are.
I know he had done some Batman before and I know he had dramatically improved as an artist over the years and was dying to get back to the character to show his Batman. So knowing that, the entire piece was constructed around characters I knew he would kill on and, after our run on Scarlet, he said he wanted to paint it himself so I knew we'd get the whole Alex treatment. So the whole thing was written to every single power and strength he has an artist, it just happened to match the greatest detective lineup in DC history.
I cannot speak enough for what Alex does and I hope other artists take a hard look at the subtle stuff he does and his page design is brilliant.
Any parting thoughts on Event Leviathan?
I know I said this before but we had an enormous amount of people on Twitter and Instagram just enjoying the mystery of it flat-out. I've never had that before, as a writer, people just enjoying it about the mystery and enjoying that part so I just wanted to thank everybody. That's really why comics are next level fun storytelling where you can completely interact like that at the same time. So for people who enjoyed it on that level, thank you so much and, if you don't know what I'm talking about, hit the hashtags.
Go look at who everybody guessed! When I put out issue #5, I said last call for who is Leviathan and there was like sixty different guesses and they were all interesting and other writers were paying attention. So you're going to see some actual fallout from actual writers who got excited that readers were interested in those characters. So this was a really good interaction on a few levels that readers might not have known so I just wanted to share that because it was so cool and I had never experienced it before.
Event Leviathan #6 is on sale now.