On Christmas Day, I finished reading a very extraordinary comic. The comic book in name was Leviathan by Ian Edginton and Matt ‘D’israeli’ Brooker. I had known about it for a while but never got round to reading it. However that all changed as I finally sat down to read it, and holy shit, what an experience it was!
Ian Edginton first came to my attention via 2000AD and Brass Sun; a beautiful steampunk comic serial which he wrote (chapter 1 of which has just finished at time of writing) complemented by I.N.J Culbard’s superb artwork. And D’israeli also came to my attention thanks to his work on Dirty Frank for 2000AD too. I find his artwork hugely appealing; it’s quite unlike anything I have seen before. His style from the way he draws his characters to the surroundings is both intriguing and mesmerising to behold.
The story opens in 1928, with the old Pathe film reel style panel depicting the christening of the Leviathan by the royal family and the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Its clear that the ship is modelled on the Titanic, but far more eye catching and vast. The name Leviathan truly is a fitting name; it is less a ship and more a floating city.
The two page spread by D’israeli in the beginning showing the breadth and scope of the Leviathan is truly breath-taking to behold. There are towering sky scrapers, houses, parks,fields, zoos…nothing is uncatered for in this mile long ship.
The story then forwards 20 years and the first introduction to our protagonist; Detective Sargeant Lament. We learn that he is a widower having lost his wife to childbirth. We soon gather from his thoughts that the Leviathan never arrived at its destination of New York. It has been stuck in limbo; the sea is lifeless, and the sun is not visible above the sickly skies. No one knows where they are and why the ship still has fuel and lighting although both should have run out a long time ago. The ship is segregated into classes, with the rich at the top and the poor in the lower levels and steerage. Food is rationed. Crime is rampant in the lower levels. Suicides have become almost epidemic; it is not hard to see why people have lost hope. But why has this happened? Why have they come to be trapped in this hellish pergatory? We soon find out as Detective Lament is called to a meeting by the captain of the Leviathan. Here we are introduced to key characters, such as Sir William Ashbless who is the architect of the ship. A vain and unlikeable man with a deep dark secret. A secret which may hold the key to unravelling the mystery of the Leviathan.
After being tasked with uncovering the murders, Lament makes his way toward the bowel of the ship. A descent to hell almost literally as we soon find out. The lower levels conceal a city within a city, bustling with drunks, prostitutes and killers. The one page panel showing these dangerous quarters is superb. He soon teams up with a ‘policewoman’ named Sky (look out for the homage to Judge Dredd!) who accompanies him to the very heart of the Leviathan wherein they comes face to face with an ancient evil, and ultimately uncover the reason behind the Leviathans plight.
That panel with the big reveal is simply stupendous to behold. To say too much would be to spoil it, suffice to say it is a jaw dropping reveal. The detail in the artwork by D’israeli I have to say again, is breath-taking. Absolutely beautiful to behold. It is not hard to see why he is so highly regarded by fans and peers alike.
One if not the only criticism I would have with the comic is that its too damn short! A sentiment shared by almost everyone who has read it. But, you can argue part of the reason why Leviathan is such a joy to read and discover is because of the short length. You do not feel lumbered down with long expositional moments. A great deal about the characters is revealed just by their looks or a few lines. Our introduction to Detective Lament for instance is expertly done by Edginton and D’israeli. Ashbless is also another example when the reader is almost automatically suspicious of him.
But another key character in the comic has to be the Leviathan herself. The motif of the eye is quite prevalent on the ships design and integrated in the dress codes of the stewards/ guards. Of course we learn more about the ‘Masonic’ eye iconography later on as Lament goes to the engine room. Ian Edginton writes in his excellent foreword that he wanted to make the story ‘The Shining’s Overlook Hotel’ at sea, and he has succeeded.
The brief nature of the main story is compensated in the comic with other tales related to the Leviathan (released in 2000AD comic sometime after the original had been serialised). First among them is ‘Chosen Son’ (from 2000AD Prog. 2005). Its a really superb tale which ties in with the main story. It shows a 14 year old boy working in steerage. He is bullied by work mates and finds it hard to deal with the pressures of work. One night he cries to God for help, but something else comes answering his cries…
McLean’s Last Case (from Prog.1465) is the second story. I really enjoyed reading this. We find Lament talking to a steward about the name on a beer label; Captain McLean. The steward then talks about McLean’s legendary exploit aboard the Leviathan and how he delved into the ships dangerous hold to retrieve bottles of whiskey. And his encounter with the ‘Stokers’ (Leviathan’s bogeymen). Lament finds the whole tale a bit far flung and hokey. But the brilliant last panel shows otherwise!
Beyond the Blue Horizon (Prog.1466) is a poignant little tale about a woman who tasks herself with flying the mail plane to see if she can find hope for the rest of the crew. However the Leviathan has other plans.
The Captain’s Log is mainly wordless with three, double page spreads of the captains writing desk. We see his diary and the entries he had made in various intervals, mainly the begining of the ships 20 year limbo, and toward the end. Its nice to compare the panels to see the change which has taken place, with the items on his desk whether the whiskey bottle or the photo of his wife. Its a nice idea and D’israeli’s artwork is beautiful.
These tales help to enrich the world of Leviathan and are a welcome addition. I would love to maybe see some more tales from the Leviathan in the future, the world is very rich and brimming with idea’s. I must add that the presentation of the book itself was superb. The cover was very ‘felt’ like and smooth, and the quality of the paper was very fine; helping to bring alive D’Israeli’s magnificent black and white artwork. Rebellion’s books are always top quality but Leviathan felt that extra bit special even for a paperback. Overall Leviathan was a joy to read, and any fan of H.P Lovecraft or weird fiction needs to seek this one out as soon as possible.