Review: Justice League Vol. 3: Leagues of Chaos hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

With what is the final DC Comics volume by Brian Michael Bendis left on my list, more of the same. Justice League Vol. 3: Leagues of Chaos is not particularly poor by any means, and it’s always fun to see the Justice League proper and the Justice League Dark together, but neither is it especially riveting or groundbreaking. The two teams join up, they fight an enemy, the end.

It’s wholly clear here not only that what always plagues League iterations — the needs of the characters' own titles — has come for Bendis' League too, and also that the rising Dark Crisis has cut this book’s plans short but good. There’s no strong indication that more was intended for Leagues of Chaos (like there was for Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes), but too it would be hard for this story to mean much less. I don’t by any stretch want to discount the enjoyment value of just a good story, but equally if one wanted to get in on the very latest with the Justice League, I wouldn’t blame them for skipping this and going directly to Dark Crisis.

[Review contains spoilers]

I have appreciated the throughway of Bendis' DC work, from — as I’ve mentioned before — the near minute-by-minute continuity of Naomi’s adventures to villains from Rogol Zaar to Synmar Utopica traveling from the Super-titles out to other appearances. That continues here with Bendis using his Xandadoth from Superman Vol. 4: Mythological, such that, in that respect, no book seems wasted and they all rather fit together.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

That said, there’s nothing particular in Chaos to hearken back to Mythological, no recognition among the characters who’ve met Xanadoth before. I guess one doesn’t want new readers to feel they missed something, but neither do I feel rewarded for following along when it’s like the other story didn’t happen. And for a story that’s ostensibly meant to set the Justice League beside their supernatural counterparts, I felt Bendis missed the opportunity for a magic-tinged tale; Xanadoth pitching energy beams back and forth while cackling over his evil plans is not all that different from your everyday rogue.

One of the early clear indications that Bendis' plans at DC hadn’t gone as intended was he and David Walker’s Naomi series. Though narratively interesting in its own right, Naomi failed to deliver on significantly hyped relevance to the DCU (bowled over, it seemed, by the increasing prominence of Dark Nights: Death Metal) and never quite appeared to regain its footing.

In both Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes and Chaos, Bendis still hints at great mysteries to unfold regarding Naomi and her powers (that she’s a “queen” in the future and that she’s seemingly invulnerable to magic), but neither book actually delivers any details. (That Naomi Season Two and the events of this book are largely disconnected is also unfortunate.) It is, again, another sign of plans cut short — I’m very curious to see where, if anywhere, we see Naomi again in the DCU with Bendis apparently departing.

Black Adam gets unfortunate short shrift in Leagues of Chaos, given that he’s possessed by Xanadoth for most of the story. Chalk this up again to things that didn’t have a chance to reach their potential; while Black Adam was most certainly a “must add” for DC’s post-Infinite Frontier League by virtue of the movie, Bendis did well in positing Adam as an anti-hero who’s often been on the outskirts of the DCU now gradually warming to the hero life. Insofar as we get no resolution to Justice League Vol. 1: Prisms' thesis statement of a more inclusive League, at the least there’s the moment here where Adam is compelled to accept the League’s help in rebuilding Kahndaq, the hint of a smile on his dour face. Interested to see, too, if we next find Black Adam in the new Shazam! series or where.

Art in this volume is by the unlikely pairing of Szymon Kudranski and Emanuela Lupacchino, but it works precisely how it ought, with Lupacchino taking the “regular” Justice League scenes and Kudranski drawing the overtly supernatural scenes and those in Xanadoth’s mystical dimension. Having a few times found Kudranski’s art cluttered and confusing — while acknowledging that his is a more abstract style where complication is part of the draw — I was pleased to see it fit so well here. Though, in the climax I had some of the same concerns (not for the first time, perhaps because the end of the book is where the action gets the most chaotic), with Kudranski doing repetitive close-up panels of characters' eyes where I wasn’t always sure what I was looking at.

Leagues of Chaos ends with the Justice League 2022 Annual, a lead-in to Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes and also collected in that book. I’d as soon DC collect the annual than not at all, though I’m not thrilled with the double-dipping; if you cared enough to read the annual, you probably cared enough to want to read JLvLSH too. Though, I acknowledge DC’s tough spot in otherwise not having enough by the same author to fill a trade besides Bendis' final three Justice League issues.



There’s no sense in a long obituary for Brian Michael Bendis' initial run at DC Comics; between Justice League Vol. 2: United Order, Checkmate, Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes, and Naomi Season Two, I feel I’ve been watching this run grind to a halt for a while now — not by and large with bad material, but with material that clearly wanted to be more than it was. It’s regime changes, it’s box office, it’s not even as though the directions DC has gone lately are bad — it’s just unfortunate that the confluence of events was such that Bendis time at DC was a house of cards that swiftly tumbled. I’ll have a soft spot especially for his early Super-title work.

[Includes original and variant covers]


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