One of the great things about the DC TV shows on the CW is their ability to take some lesser known characters and breath new life into them with a new audience. Arrow this season is doing that with its Big Bad, Prometheus. But the TV character has little to do with the comic book character created by Grant Morrison in late 1997.
Prometheus is maybe the biggest missed opportunity in the last 20 years of DC Comics character creations. The character was created by the super-talented and somewhat insane Grant Morrison in late 1997, as a foil for the JLA. Debuting in the “Fifth Week” event “New Year’s Evil” in late December, where the character’s background was laid out. He was created to be the anti-Batman. Police killed his parents, who were hippie criminals living on the lam and causing chaos wherever they could. In the event of their death, Prometheus took the money his parents had hidden around the country and used it to hone his skills and abilities in preparation of exacting justice on the people who took his family away from him. And then he discovered the Justice League. The big guns were back on the team and Prometheus took it upon himself to take them down and make them all look foolish.
The New Year’s Evil origin tale also leads us into his first big confrontation, taking advantage of a guy who won a “JLA Member For a Day” contest to give him access to the JLA’s lunar moon base, the Watchtower.
Prometheus uses the Retro identity to gain the trust of the newly-expanded JLA and begins to strategically take out members of the team – he gives Steel’s suit a virus, Martian Manhunter a shape destabilizer, Green Lantern a neural chafe, etc. And then, for the coup de grace, he takes out Batman one on one. The explanation for that one is in the image above.
Grant Morrison immediately established Prometheus as a force to be reckoned with in his first fight with the League (in JLA 16, at left), thanks largely to that beating he gave Batman. Since Morrison had gone out of his way in JLA to make Batman into a nearly unbeatable character, you knew they meant business with this premiering villain. Everything fell apart for Prometheus in the next issue, though, as he wasn’t prepared for Catwoman also sneaking her way onto the JLA Watchtower (disguised as Daily Planet gossip columnist Cat Grant). As Prometheus is threatening to kill everyone at the Watchtower, Catwoman’s self preservation instincts kicked in, and she nails Prometheus with her whip in a rather uncomfortable place, hastening his retreat.
Just about two years later, Prometheus would come back to the pages with JLA as a member of Lex Luthor’s Injustice League, trying to take advantage of the League while they battled Maggedon to stave off the end of the world. Prometheus didn’t fare anywhere near as well this time around. While trying to replace his damaged helmet by grabbing the original, taken as a trophy by the JLA, he gets beat by Batman, who programmed the skills and neural abilities of Professor Stephen Hawking into the helmet, leaving Prometheus an invalid.
After that, Prometheus fell into obscurity in the DC Comics universe for a few years, until the character showed up in the pages of Batman: Gotham Knights. I hated this version of the character, who was written as much less of a threat and eventually turned into a glorified lackey for Batman villain Hush. It was revealed later that this was an imposter, a ward of Prometheus taking over the mantle after the original was taken down. When the original returned, killing the imposter for basically being incompetent, he doesn’t fare much better.
Yeah, Oliver Queen killed Prometheus in a story that’s probably best forgotten about, Justice League: Cry For Justice. The whole miniseries was like a fever dream of bad writing and terrible characterization that was causing people to turn on DC Comics in the 2000s.
I thought Prometheus had the potential to be a great foil for any number of heroes after his first appearances in Morrison’s JLA, but he went basically unused for close to four years before the company turned him into a joke. Even when they attempted to rehabilitate him, it ended in one of the worst Justice League stories of all time. Such wasted potential.
Prometheus apparently appeared in the Midnighter series during its New 52 run over the last five years, but I’ll admit to not having read it. Prometheus had so much potential when Morrison created him, and I can’t believe how poorly the character was treated after Morrison left JLA. If anyone deserves a “Rebirth” in the new era of DC Comics, I would say it’s Prometheus.
For now, though, we have a character named Prometheus appearing on the CW’s Arrow, presumably as the big bad of the season. Instead of being an anti-Batman, the TV Prometheus seems to be an anti-Arrow, which makes sense, but the Arrow show runners have made it clear that their Prometheus is not meant to be the comic book character. The big question is who this Prometheus is meant to be. They’ve already teased it being former Det. Quentin Lance, the father of Laurel and Sara Lance, but I’m guessing that’s just a red herring. Will Prometheus suffer the same ignominious fate as his comic book namesake? I trust that the Arrow show runners will end up treating the character with a little bit more respect, but I’m guessing Oliver still kills him in the end.
Some collected editions available at Comixology:
JLA Vol. 2 – The origin story, plus JLA 16-17 are included in this deluxe JLA edition.
JLA Vol. 4 – Prometheus’ second go-round with the JLA, against the backdrop of Morrison’s World War III story.
Justice League: Cry For Justice – In the “so bad it must be read” category for sure.