Martian Manhunter vs. Despero, Pt. 1

When you consider the sheer number of supervillains running around on Earth (Batman and Superman alone have about 230 each if you count the one-timers), it’s only a matter of time before the baddies have to come from space.  Only so many chemical vats drip into prison cells and gives murderers lava arms or whatever.  Despero’s created to be one of those pesky extraterrestrials who invades our planet to mess with the do-gooders.  Specifically Martian Manhunter.  Something about them both being aliens.  Plus, like Martian Manhunter, Despero’s also a scary monstrous being who wears very little clothing:

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Over the next two articles, we’re going to see a few of their clashes throughout the 50+ years of combat.  To save time, here are all the articles I’m using in the order I’m using them:

  • Justice League of America #38, volume 2, written by James Robinson and drawn by Mark Bagley
  • Justice League of America #1, volume 1, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky
  • Justice League of America #178, volume 1, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin
  • Justice League of America #253, volume 1, written by Conway and drawn by Luke McDonnell
  • JLA #116-118, written by Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg and drawn by Chris Batista
  • Justice League America #39-40, written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Adam Hughes & Jose Marzan Jr.
  • Justice League #19-20, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Ivan Reis, Zadder Cannon, Gene Ha, Andres Guinaldo, & Joe Prado

Despero’s first appearance also marks the first issue of the Justice League series (the team appeared before then in the The Brave and the Bold series).  You’d think the first issue would feature an world-destroying threat that can only be solved by the combined team’s power of friendship, but the stakes remained far lower.  As in Despero played the Flash in action figure chess.

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Note one of the very few times Despero’s wearing clothes.  As the years passed, so did his muscle growth and thus he started wearing just a cape.  Not even underwear.  Just a cape.  But we have a few issues before we get to that (unfortunate) reveal — though for all the complaints about women’s costumes being too sexy, how about some male Despero skin for you?  Especially if you like evil red aliens.

Despero, besides possessing super strength on par with Superman (which puts him a few pegs above Martian Manhunter), also gets a genius intellect and a third eye capable of mind control, illusions, telepathy, and all that jazz.  His rivalry with the Martian superhero begins a few issues down the road — I’m jumping around for the sake of storytelling.  Mainly, early Despero really loved playing action figure chess.

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Soon their relationship evolves (devolves?) into punching each other into unconsciousness, but nothing like a little sporting game to get revenge.  I understand that our featured supervillain doesn’t exactly make readers grip their chairs in suspense.  DC understood that as well, so in 1986 (in a story that’s very ’80s), Despero gets a power/ego upgrade.  We’re down to half clothing and I’ve included the best part of any supervillain reign of terror — the gloating monologue.

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I don’t think it’s an accident that Batman’s in a Jesus pose.  Despero becomes a real threat, and not just because summon he can dragon statues.  To clear up any misgivings though, Despero’s not a god.  Not even close, because he’s eventually taken out by Vibe — the former breakdancer who holds the honor of being the first Justice League member killed in action.  That guy had a soul patch.

But let’s get to the meat of today’s first half.  Back when Zatanna mindwiped all the supervillains, things became hunky-dory until the bad guys all showed up one day with their memories returned and a justifiable chip on their shoulders.  Who could possibly possess the power to reverse the effect of such a powerful magic spell?  Hint: his name is in the title of the article.

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There’s the nude Despero we know and love.  More importantly, this’ll firmly establish Despero as a major part of Martian Manhunter’s rogue gallery.  We go back about twenty years on Wednesday (see the middle panel on the bottom row of the first page below for a preview), but I figured we could all enjoy some modern day naked punching before all that.

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We know Martian Manhunter doesn’t end this fight with a crushed skull and a giggling Despero.  But with the Justice League busy dealing with other immediate threats and Martian Manhunter unable to contact any of them, who’ll come to his rescue?  Hopefully someone of immense strength.  Someone who inspires fear in the heart of evil.  Someone whose strength is only matched by his immeasurable willpower.  Martian Manhunter needs a hero, gosh darn it.

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We joke about Aquaman’s silliness.  You don’t have to convince me otherwise, I already know he’s a badass.  Truthfully, Aquaman can totally be useful, especially in a construction site filled with sharp rods.  Still, Martian Manhunter can’t take on this massive nude threat alone, so time to combine his powers with a tidal wave and a shark-tamer.

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Right?  That’s a lot of primary colors battling it out.  Though the two eventually lose the fight, they at least win my heart.  Next time we get a lot more beatdowns and open threats.  Aliens really don’t like each other.

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