Interview: Brian Michael Bendis on Event Leviathan, Superman and More

WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Event Leviathan #4 from Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and Josh Reed, on sale now.

For a little over a year now, Eisner Award-winning writer, Brian Michael Bendis has steadily been making waves in the DC Universe, whether its penning the ongoing adventures of Superman in his eponymous series and Action Comics; introducing a new teenage superhero in Naomi or shaping the DCU’s future in Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium.

The crossover event miniseries, Event Leviathan, also written by Bendis, is just over halfway now, with the titular villain systemically dismantling the various clandestine organizations and agencies within the DCU and targeting those associated with them in a mystery with no shortage of suspects to the culprit’s true identity. The latest issue of the series features even more twists and turns, with Silencer entering the mix and communicating with a mysterious associate, Batgirl infiltrating Leviathan’s organization, and Lois Lane confronting a new group of investigators by the issue’s end.

In an exclusive interview with CBR, Bendis discussed the origins of Event Leviathan, how his experiences with the CIA informed the story, the continued surprises of writing the adventures of Superman and the sheer, unbridled joy of getting to craft the Legion of Super-Heroes relaunch.

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CBR: With Event Leviathan you’ve been exploring the intelligence agencies and clandestine underbelly of the DCU. Was this a story that you had been sitting on ever since you started writing for DC Comics?

Brian Michael Bendis: No, it actually first got pitched to me the first time I met [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan Didio. We didn’t know each other at all — even though we have hundreds of mutual friends — we had never been the same room together so, when me coming over became very serious, he and I had a secret coffee and we immediately started talking story because we’re both nerds.

He just started talking about stuff he wanted in the DC Universe, stuff he’s told other writers too, and one idea he had even been personally playing with in his work was this idea of the redundant agencies. And it happens, not on purpose, there’s just a lot of really good writers creating good stuff but some of that created stuff there was already a version of in the DC Universe. There was, like, seven organizations that did almost the same thing and, as the curator, he was always frustrated with that and he said to me, “If only there was a story that could clean that up and do so in a way that empowers all of it,” and I was like “Oh!” and I got sidetracked.

I have a soft spot for spy thrillers, it’s kind of what I write about always, and I guess maybe he felt, not knowing me, maybe this is something I would like. It also gave me an opportunity to really laser-focus my research on this area of the DC Universe and I called him like a week later and said “Hey, is that a thing you were serious about because I think want to do it!” And so, literally from our first meeting, it was like Superman and this.

What I was thrilled about was that everyone was cool with the genre that we were choosing, that we weren’t doing a beat ’em-up or disaster film; it was our quote, unquote “thriller” and that’s a different flavor and I’m so happy so many people have gotten into it.

CBR: If I remember correctly, you once delivered a talk at the CIA and I was wondering if that visit had informed this story at all.

Bendis: Yes, absolutely. It was two years ago. I got invited to speak there with [Marvel Comics editor] Sana Amanat just to talk about what we were doing with popular culture, how it affects what they do and it was really interesting. That whole process you get super-vetted so it was like two trips to [the CIA headquarters in] Langley. One, to meet everybody and have dinner in their fancy dining place and the second time to do the actual talk. Both of these were filled with tours, meeting people and research and all of that came about because of the work I had been doing at Marvel and in the genre.

So, hell yes, not only this but the [Jinxworld] book Cover I do with David Mack. These things came straight from the experiences we were having, both true and fictitious, absolutely. You get such a flavor when you walk into Langley and I know other writers that have had that opportunity too and some of the people I’ve seen on TV. It’s a really unique place that speaks to a completely different universe that you and I live in and so once you’ve lived in that world — or even visited it for ten minutes — you realize you know what to write about and how real it is.

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CBR: The scope of this is huge and — you’ve gotten a little over a year under belt now with DC — is there any specific character you were really jonesing to add into the story or give the spotlight in this crossover?

Bendis: In this one, it’s the last page of Issue #4, I was dying to get to. From the moment we announced who the stars of the series were, people were — rightfully so — aggravated that there were certain detectives that were not in the forefront. Little did they know that we had a plan for them and that they were in the story and that we were going to reveal them in the second act but it was a mystery and I couldn’t spoil that online.

So, I was very excited to show that we knew Elongated Man and Zatanna and Hellblazer and everybody else who should also be in the story and that one of our characters was smart enough to make sure that happened. That, I was very, very excited about.

CBR: I feel like Harvey Bullock is right in your wheelhouse from your pulp stuff before Marvel and with Daredevil.

Bendis: Bullock was definitely the one everyone at DC wanted Alex [Maleev] to draw the most. It feels like Alex has already drawn him and probably did in No Man’s Land. Any character that’s in Leviathan is someone I was deeply trying to get to and thought I wasn’t going to get a chance to in the other books that I’m writing. We handpicked them specifically for what they bring to the story and for what we thought we could offer them.

CBR: This all spun out of Action Comics and you’ve been writing it and Superman for over a year now. I remember hearing Superman was one of your big draws to sign with DC. Now that you’ve got quite a bit of experience getting in Clark Kent’s headspace, I was wondering what are the joys or surprises you’ve had over a year on writing that character, especially at the center of this crossover.

Bendis: I think what I deeply respond to is the enormity of his responsibilities. I’m always writing about power and responsibility; kind of came with the gig I used to have [writing Ultimate Spider-Man for eleven years]. You take it with you to other superheroes, you can’t help it. Superman is the ultimate embodiment of it and kind of the adult version of it. If Spider-Man is sort of the teen version, Superman is the adult version; if there’s a difference in power between teens and adults, there’s a big difference in responsibilities with power as an adult and I really dig having a character that represents that which I can relate to, and I’ve been feeling that way about other people and what he’s been going through with his family and what he’s been going through as a reporter, which is what this story’s about.

It feel likes the most truthful stuff I’m writing. You try to write everything truthful but everything with Superman feels super, super truthful to me and that feels good.

CBR: It almost feels like the protagonist of this story, more than Superman or Batman, is actually Lois Lane. With Issue #4, we’ve seen some revelations about her own investigations that she’s keeping from the others. What can we expect moving forward and what’s the appeal of the character overall?

Bendis: Yes! First of all, she’s a master investigative reporter. She’s maybe the best in the world of DC Comics and we write her that way. She’s not the best investigative reporter because she knows Superman and Batman, she’s the best reporter so Superman and Batman hover around her; they gravitate to her.

And her extra special sauce here is that her father is [U.S. Army General and military secrets overseer] Sam Lane so she grew up in that. It’s part of her blood, it’s part of her mindset, it’s probably why she’s such a good investigative reporter. She immediately looks at things because of the way her father looked at things with a fine eye and different viewpoint so this story is really maybe built for her to solve. Kind of like in Avengers: Endgame when the Hulk says “Shit, maybe I was invented for this.” Like, who better than her to solve all this! So she’s bringing everything to this. She doesn’t know who everybody is until she knows who everybody is so she’s just doing it smart.

Her story gets very personal because of her connection with Sam Lane and with the villain now at hand. Where they are in their relationship is a big emotional deal and it will also be reflected in the Lois Lane comic. [Lois Lane writer] Greg Rucka was just here last night making sure that the emotions flow from our book to his properly so, yeah, it’s going to get very personal.

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CBR: You’ve dusted off a lot of characters in this, including Silencer and Manhunter, but also Vic Sage. What was it about the classic Question that you wanted to bring into it?

Bendis: The truth is that I write the Question with Greg in my head. The Question and Greg Rucka are the same person to me sometimes and, if you knew Greg, that’s why he writes this character all the time. He is the Question. To express that idea after all that me and Greg have been through personally as friends, that idea was very exciting to me. I know that’s a weird thing to say but I’ve been watching Greg be the Question for twenty years and I couldn’t wait to express that idea in print.

CBR: Between Event Leviathan and the Red Cloud in Action Comics, you’ve been telling mystery-tinged stories within the DCU. Was that a conscious shift?

Bendis: Yeah, I knew Superman would be the galactic book. I knew with “The Unity Saga” and now that people have experienced it and it’s so big and here comes the Legion of Super-Heroes, when the last bit of your story is the Legion of Super-Heroes, your whole flavor is just hopeful and inspiring and friendly; literally, it’s about unity. So I made Superman about that and, in reflection, Action Comics kind of becomes about the opposite thing and have the character, at the same time, dealing with those things.

That was very intriguing to me and it was intriguing to bring some shadow to Action Comics for Clark to look under. Not Gotham shadows but strictly Action Comics kind of shadows and also come up with a story that needed Clark more than it needed Superman to challenge myself and challenge the character and see what was really going on. From there, I was really surprised how noir you could get Action Comics and it still feel like Superman; that got very exciting for us.

CBR: Action Comics is probably the book that ties into Leviathan the most but, in the most recent issue, we’ve seen the arrival of Naomi. Is that going to inform Event Leviathan or Action Comics moving forward?

Bendis: Not directly but what this expresses is that shared storyline stuff that sometimes gets lost in the mix and the comics that I loved had that shared story like, “Oh this is touching that and that’s touching this and I don’t even know where Young Justice is going to be compared to Legion of Super-Heroes!” It’s very exciting to me.

Also, the logic of characters kind of crashing into each other is one of my favorite Stan Lee lessons that I learned growing up. Like “I just got superpowers, what should do? I think I should go find Superman!” So right there, and her dropping into his story feels very natural and how the world really works and I think that’s what people really love about continuity; it feels like that’s how the world works. “I’m on fire, call a fireman!”

CBR: We’re about halfway into Leviathan at this point and we still don’t really know who Leviathan is. Without, obviously, giving the game away, what can we expect in the back half of this story?

Bendis: I mean, it really ramps up because you can even feel that in Issue #4, things are really starting to ramp. Superman shows up and other detectives are here, they have a whole different story to tell us so a lot is going to unfold very, very quickly. I will say — and it’s one of the scariest things about doing a mystery in comics — is that when you’re a writer from a story structure point of view, there’s only so many answers it could be and still be a good answer. You have maybe a dozen really good mystery answers — maybe only two — but that’s all you can get away with. And then there’s a bunch of bad ones and, with that, you have thousands of readers online guessing. And someone’s going to guess right, someone’s going to guess wrong but there’s guessing, guessing, guessing, guessing. Your fear on the whole is that no one’s going to guess it and you did a bad mystery because when no one guesses it, you suck and everyone guesses it and you suck because everybody guessed it.

I am so happy to announce that, right now, according to my Twitter, which I do look at, it has been guessed but not by many, many people. Like, only a couple people have guessed it so I feel very good about who Leviathan is, I like people who got it why they got it and the people who don’t get it are going to be surprised. And I guess as I go by Twitter and, like I said, I worry about Twitter ruining it for the reader experience but it accentuated it greatly. I am very, very excited by it. Like, if everybody gets it already, I blew it. But I know my clues are good.

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CBR: Is Batgirl kind of the wild card amidst all of this?

Bendis: No, I think Damien [Wayne] is the wild card in all of this and has expressed it so. Like, we didn’t even put him on the cover hiding; he’s in every panel. Leviathan is part of his heritage [as the son of founder, Talia al Ghul] so there’s a lot of wild card there. Also, who’s talking to Silencer? Who’s that? There’s some wild cards floating around! Silencer herself floating around!

Batgirl went undercover. Batgirl knows more than everybody else. So once we get ahold of Batgirl, we’re going to have a very, very big clue as to what’s going on. And just the fact that she’s reporting from inside Leviathan, that’s the first time that’s happened.

CBR: I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this up but you just relaunched DC Millennium. You had mentioned Jim Lee had pitched you the Legion even before you signed over. What is the appeal as both a reader and storyteller of the Legion of Super-Heroes to you?

Bendis: As a comic creator, it is a smorgasbord of original ideas and hopeful ideas and it just inspires. I have found recently that just the idea that there’s a future is very appealing to people. People aren’t taking that for granted as much as they used to anymore. I have a very unique experience when I say “this takes place in the future” and people get excited “oh good, there’s a future.” So that and also the Legion lets us express our love of this age of heroes in a different way. These are kids inspired by the world we live in today and they’re trying to achieve a version of what they think we’re about. That is very beautiful to write about; you want people to achieve that goal, you root for them. You have dozens of idealistic characters trying to live their best version of a Superman life and, I’m telling you, writing it is one of the great challenges and joys of my life. I cannot wait to share this.

And check out the Kamandi chapter in Millennium, there’s Leviathan logos there. The story is big and that is a clue, by the way.

Event Leviathan #4 and Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1 are both on sale now. Action Comics #1015 is on sale September 25 from DC Comics.

KEEP READING: DC’s Leviathan May Not Be the Killers We Think They Are

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