Written by John Layman
Art by Nick Pitarra and Michael Garland
Lettering by John Layman
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“Kaiju!” “Leviathan!” “Apocalypse!”
The comic book equivalent of a heavy metal black light poster, the first issue of Leviathan is less of a cohesive story and more 20 pages of over-the-top carnage and lovingly rendered violence. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing - while this book is less structured than you might expect from Chew writer John Layman, this zero-pretension tribute to kaiju disaster movies feels like unchained id thanks to the Darrow-esque cartooning of artist Nick Pitarra, whose level of detail is matched only by the exaggerated features he gives his characters. This comic book may not be for everyone, but Leviathan feels like the kind of wild, art-driven statement that only Image Comics could get away with.
But when you’ve got Nick Pitarra on art, you might not need much more. Pitarra has always following in that Frank Quitely/Geoff Darrow school of hyperdetailed cartooning, but Leviathan feels particularly like his wheelhouse, as we watch a thousand-foot-tall behemoth wrecking buildings and breathing fire into the sky - his characters are certainly distended and overexaggerated, but that makes everything about this series feel so visceral. You can almost feel the heat of nuclear fire blow through the streets, or the crunch of someone’s head being caved in by a piece of debris. But he’s also able to get his own sense of humor across, from the self-obsessed living quarters of the 45th U.S. President to the almost toy-like weaponry that the military has in store for the kaiju.
Sure, there are people who live in the big city - but honestly, you’re not really reading a book like Leviathan for the character work, are you? Layman establishes his city dwellers quickly, and so far they’re still basically stock characters - but you can tell from just this first issue that Layman is a vengeful creator as well, with his skewering of a certain well-known political figure along with the unexpectedly brutal murder of someone you would think would be a central character in the series. Right now, it’s just Layman taking the toys out of the box, revelling more in smashing things together than revealing any ulterior motives just yet.
Still, for some, Pitarra’s larger-than-life artwork might not be enough to grab their attention for the long haul - those who are expecting the methodical plotting of Chew are going to be thrown for a curveball, as Layman generously allows his artist to take the spotlight on this book. There are going to be some who ask what makes Leviathan different from other kaiju projects - and I would respond that if Layman’s gleeful sense of humor in all this destruction isn’t enough, seeing how Nick Pitarra would draw a Godzilla-style spectacle should be enough.
Is Leviathan a creature born of nuclear experimentation? Or a monster conjured up by twisted goth magicks? Does it want vengeance, or solitude, or perhaps the tender caress of first true love? Honestly, these aren’t the questions you should be asking - instead, Leviathan is a book that demands you consider it at face value, asking you to forgo headier questions of theme and metaphor and instead embrace the screaming, terrifying destruction with a wink and a tongue firmly in cheek. This book isn’t one that’s for everyone, but for those looking for beautifully realized spectacle, Leviathan might be a big new book for you.