Review: Justice League Vol. 1: Prisms hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

June 5, 2022

 ·  7 comments

Oh, I wanted more from Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez' Justice League Vol. 1: Prisms. And I do rather feel like I should have seen this coming, another Wonder Comics/Young Justice scenario. Bendis is not at the center of events in the DCU, so whatever it is that’s happening in Justice League, if this first collection is any indication, Bendis' Justice League is only going to be related in a tertiary way at best. Maybe things will pick up when the ties to another of Bendis' series come along, but the plot of Prisms is so thin, and so much reminds me of Bendis' Young Justice, that I don’t hold out a lot of hope.

[Review contains spoilers]

In the five issues of Bendis' Prisms, the Justice League is attacked by an alien force, then travel themselves to the alien’s dimension, tussle for a bit, and go home. It is anticlimactic in the extreme, even despite Marquez' energetic two-page spreads; compared to other notable Justice League launches — Grant Morrison’s JLA: New World Order or Scott Snyder’s Justice League Vol. 1: The Totality, Prisms offers no great revelations about the DC Universe nor even much in the way of a notable villain.

If anything, it all seems mostly intended to remind us of the history of Bendis' superhero Naomi up to this point. I like Naomi, I’m glad she’s included in the Justice League, but what we’ve got here is like a brisk recap of Naomi (Season One)’s final issue, only spread out over five issues — she comes from a dimension of super-powered beings who’ve wrecked their planet, etc. And yet — a complaint I had about the Naomi series, too — there’s not a particular amount of nuance here, not Naomi meeting people who knew her parents or feeling she needs to lead her people in rebellion against oppression. Naomi’s central to the story but one doesn’t come away with a lot of feeling about her ordeals.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

This may be small in terms of the plot overall, but I can’t ignore that the story turns on Flash Barry Allen sending the League unprepared into Naomi’s dimension because of bad multiversal math. It’s to the extent that there’s even some question whether Barry may have killed the League (though as it turns out their powers are just haywire). And it doesn’t appear as though Bendis means for the audience to wonder whether something’s up with Barry, whether he’s ill or mind-controlled, etc; instead, as Green Arrow says, “You $#%^& this up, Barry!”

I don’t, of course, expect every character to do everything perfectly. But, that founding League member the Flash shouldn’t forget to carry the two when sending his teammates across dimensions seems inherent in Barry’s character — that Barry is smart and isn’t careless. And, if all is what it seems on the surface, this feels like lazy writing to me, like the villain Brutus crash-landing right in front of Black Adam and just so happening to come from Naomi’s homeworld — the League’s difficulty comes not from something unique they learn or some great revelation, but because Barry simply messed up.

Another annoyance: This one isn’t Bendis' fault, but it’s telling when late in the book, Bendis has Aquaman turn to Hawkgirl and ask about her mace, “Where did you get it? I forget.” Which is a good question I’m not sure anyone knows the answer to, because Snyder essentially dropped this Hawkgirl into his Justice League with barely any preamble. Even if we take for granted that Hawkgirl palling around with Black Canary here is because of a shared history, the audience still struggles to know what that shared history is — did they serve together on the modern Justice Society? Again, we’re meant to feel a certain amount of emotion for these characters, but it’s hard to muster when we don’t really know who they are.

What did not bother me, but I recognize might bother some, it’s how “Bendis-y” all the characters are. The aliens in particular all speak in the hip slang endemic to Bendis' writing, and Batman citing Ducktales to calm Naomi made more than a few heads explode with annoyance, I’m sure. For me this is part of the charm of a Bendis comic, not unlike the requisite tangents in an Aaron Sorkin script. Bendis' Superman remains flawless, particularly Superman’s “only as much violence as necessary” approach to Black Adam (compare their actual interaction to what was teased on the issue cover) and the shorthand that Superman and Batman have in talking strategies and old cases.

As excited as I was when Brian Michael Bendis took over Young Justice, what was promised for the title never manifested — what was supposed to be great revelations about where the Young Justice characters had been turned out really to be nothing special, and then it was over and done with in 20 issues. Same for the big doings promised in Naomi. Possibly the stories that Bendis set out to tell got preempted by other events in the DC Universe — assuredly, that’s happened to writers before — but it was unfortunate nonetheless.

2

Rating

But with each of those titles, the likelihood of dashed expectations did not feel nearly so immediate as it does with Justice League Vol. 1: Prisms. There is nearly nothing here — strip away a few trappings and it’s a run-of-the-mill alien attack, and what the end of the book foreshadows is just another, bigger alien attack later on. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised — I hope so — but as high profile as Brian Michael Bendis on Justice League ought to be, this seems suddenly, clearly filler until the big doings that come next.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook by David Marquez]

Comments ( 7 )

  1. Great review as always and spot on. I was so disappointed with this storyline.....it just goes nowhere and the dialogue is seemingly so simplistic. I like Naomi, but the story really doesn't do her or any of the other characters...Justice (sorry pun intended). The artwork is topnotch, but Bendis just doesn't pull through by providing a strong story. Flash messing up....seemed more like comic relief than anything else. I just didn't enjoy this arc at all. Superman's characterization was spot on, and I did enjoy his and Black Adam's interactions.....just didn't enjoy much of anything else.

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  2. I can't help but wonder if so much of what Bendis had planned at DC got wiped away when there were editorial changes behind the scenes. It seemed like he had a lot of ideas and then things suddenly shifted. My sense in every interview I have seen with him is that his experience with DC was not what he had hoped. Maybe I am reading too much into it.

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    1. I think you are spot on. Bendis had some big plans and it looked like he was building up to something, but everything was cut short.....basically once Didio was fired.....Bendis' days at DC were numbered.....from getting removed from the Superman titles, to his Jinxworld titles being cancelled....Justice League was probably severely impacted by the fact that he had one foot out the door. This resulted in a storyline that just doesn't feel worth the read.

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    2. AnonymousJune 06, 2022

      Agreed. Didio was Bendis' biggest advocate (no doubt in the hopes of replicating the success he had at Marvel). Didio's ouster, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic' s effect on the industry, selated his fate as you say.

      But even if it hadn't, Bendis' tenure at DC overall has been EXACTLY what I was afraid I was going to be. During the 2000s, Bendis was usually a must-read writer because I began reading mainstream comcis at the same time as his greatest hits (e.h. Daredevil, Alias, New Avengers).

      But for all his accomplishments at Marvel, he's been running on fumes for a decade now -- and being at DC didn't re-energize that for me.

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    3. AnonymousJune 08, 2022

      Well said....I was recently rereading Ultimate Spider-Man, and it was really good....still holds up well.....but I don't think that Bendis is able to recapture that creativity anymore. I guess that creative well is running dry. Hopefully he can recharge and come back with a better book/story.

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    4. Will be curious to see if there's anything after Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes, or if that's it.

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    5. AnonymousJune 26, 2022

      It's almost a given that mini-series will be Bendis' swansong with the team. The League's now under Williamson's custodianship for the duration of the Dark Crisis era.

      The only other DC project Bendis is on right now is Naomi: Season Two (and with the show cancelled, I don't forsee a Season Three or how long Naomi herself will stick around).

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