Wednesday, December 20, 2006


OK, here we go. This comic book is basically One Big Fight, and that is never a bad thing. But it combines the conventions of the One Big Fight model with the Rampaging Monster model - with memorable results. Yes, this comic book is One Big Fight with a Rampaging Monster.

The storyline in Justice League America #38-40 was the apex of the legendary Giffen -DeMatteis era that ruled the late-Eighties. Drawn by Adam Hughes, this three-parter was the last truly gripping storyline for me – before this we had Booster and Beetle Goin’ Coconuts and after this we get General Glory, or General Boring as I like to call him. Ho! Zinger! Where do I get this stuff? I kill me.

Maybe that was what made these three issues work so well: after several lightweight sitcom issues, Despero shows up and just starts killing people.
One of the JLA’s oldest and deadliest adversaries, Despero is an intergalactic supervillain who is powerful in that uniquely DC Comics way – meaning he can do anything. Despero flies, he shoots beams from his third eye, he’s super strong and tough, he flies, he’s telepathic, he can teleport shit, and he can hit you with the Despero Mindfuck. That’s really what it’s called, he copyrighted it and everything. The point is that Despero is a pink-skinned, three-eyed, fin-headed, naked alien bad-ass.

So Despero comes back intending to avenge himself upon the League for some prior indignity, it doesn’t matter what, so he starts with Gypsy, the young chameleon illusionist girl with the bangle earrings that used to be on the League during the derided/beloved “Justice League Detroit” era. Despero kills Gypsy’s parents and then comes after her, but J’onn J’onnz intercedes… and it is on like the Viet Cong baby.

J’onn is also one of those godlike DC characters with a million powers (super strength, invisibility, shape-changing, flight, turbo donkey kick, heat vision, etc) so he puts up a good fight, but Despero is so powerful that the entire League pretty much has to dogpile on him to put him down. The Martian Manhunter ends up on the receiving end of the aforementioned Despero Mindfuck and he hits the floor, drooling.

The pink bastard turns to Gypsy and is about to fry her when –

Guy Gardner arrives to save the day. He launches Despero into another area code with his power ring and then, oblivious to the gravity of the situation, proceeds to hit on Gypsy, who has just lost both her parents. He says, “…you’re a little on the young side… but who am I to put age limits on love, right?” It takes him another full page to grasp the gravity of the situation, and he flies off to find Despero.
Despero finds him first.

Guy Gardner and Despero battle in Manhattan as JLA reinforcements arrive in their Quinjet, or whatever they call it: Blue Beetle, Mister Miracle, Fire, and Ice. Not a lot of heavy hitters.
Despero finally tires of Guy and lays the DMF on his ass:

The villain takes out Fire and Ice, then snags Blue Beetle by the neck and starts to squeeze...
...but Mister Miracle saves the day, strafing Despero with the JLA Quinjet's guns. This irritates Despero, who unleashes his DPF (Despero Planefuck), destroying the jet and Mister Miracle. Spoiler? Don't worry, it's a robot Mister Miracle - the real one got kidnapped by space bad guys, I think. Why telepathic J'onn J'onnz never figured that out I can't understand. Oh. Right. The plane BLOWS UP!!!

"Scott!" I believe that line is the intellectual property of the X-Men, Beetle. I love the panel of Beetle er, bugging out. That Adam Hughes, he has skills. These three issues in particular are really effectively staged and well-crafted and are basically just rad.
In issue 40, Despero destroys the Justice League, yet loses. It's great, J'onn wins by giving Despero his heart's desire. Are these issues collected? I'm not sure, but they're definitely worth checking out. Justice League America #38-40, the last great Giffen/DeMatteis storyline on the book with art by Adam Hughes, featuring the pink menace of Despero. What more can you ask from a comic book?


The Tensor said...

So, what, you're writing about comic books now?

Anonymous said...

DMF - Dave mind fuck! I loved the Bond stuff but it's great to have you back on the comics. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

What I liked about this particular Despero arc was the build-up in the preceeding issues. In one, you see Despero form atop a NASA satellite, look directly into the camera and say...

"Tell them...I'm coming."

Ice Cold!

Anonymous said...

back to comics!

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

Good series. I could swear I saw them in a collection. Don't quote me on that, though.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they have been collected, actually, but I'm not certain.

I can say this for sure: this era of Justice League has never been reprinted properly... much like Suicide Squad, another great chunk of 80s DC excellence.

There's no justice in this world.

Anonymous said...

Nope, not collected. Only the first 12 isseus of the Giffen/DeMattias run of the Justice League was ever collected (into two volumes on cheap paper).

SallyP said...

I have these issues, and you are right...they are fantastic. Hughes drew Ice and Fire so well, and he did a pretty good Guy Gardner too.

Gosh, I miss these characters!

Anonymous said...

So I'm the only one who thought the way that J'onn defeated Despero at the end was a huge cop-out? Not enough of one to ruin my enjoyment of the arc, but enough to taint it a li'l.

Tony said...

J'onn's defeat of Despero pretty much obviates one of the major premises of Infinite Crisis, too.

But no question -- this arc is totally Airwolf!

Anonymous said...

This may be a dumb question but, where was Booster Gold during all of this?

West said...

re: "J'onn's defeat of Despero pretty much obviates one of the major premises of Infinite Crisis, too."

How so?

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for some comics content. I can hardly believe I'm typing this but you were starting to make me dislike James Bond. I should get my head examined.

Anonymous said...

Man, remember when Adam Hughes actually drew comics? That was nice. My favorite Giffen/DeMatteis JLA story was definitely the Kooey Kooey Kooey "Club JLI" gag. Ooooh, that was great. And the issue right after that, with the Galactus as interior designer Vs. G'Nort. The Scarlet Skier!

Speaking of General Glory for a mo', I think that storyline, that dull, dull storyline, revealed to me Giffen and DeMatteis' secret desire to write the Avengers. I mean they'd been piling up the Marvel analogues since issue #3, and here we go with a story that's basically Captain America joins the JLA.

Anonymous said...

Nick-Booster Gold had quit the League shortly before this storyline. Max Lord had given Booster and Beetle clean-up detail at the embassy due to their shenanigans in the "KooeyKooeyKooey" affair. Booster didn't like being treated with so little dignity, so he left and made a new super-team called the Conglomerate, led by Max's ex-wife Clare. Where is Clare now, anyway? What does she think of her ex-hubby going nuts and getting killed by Wonder Woman on worldwide TV? Shhh, Clare, don't show your, too, Maya, Lionheart, L-RON, Catherine Colbert...If Didio catches wind of your existence, who knows what horrible fate he'll dream up for you! Look what's happened to Beetle, Booster, Captain Atom, Rocket Red, Sue Dibny, Dr. Light II, and Ray II! Best to lay low and wait until a new editor comes on board.

This was an excellent storyline, very well-done, but the ending WAS a bit of a expect the League to have this huge throwdown, and they are only saved by a never-before-mentioned-and-ever-mentioned-again one-time power of the Martian Manhunter. Pretty anticlimactic. The funeral issue, number 40, was very good, though. Giffen and DeMatteis were too all-over-the-map...they made good silly stories and good serious stories, but they flipped back and forth between the two extremes too abruptly...I would have preferred to see a blending of the two. I still love the JLI, though.

I still can't believe Beetle didn't at least TRY to blast Despero with his compressed-air wouldn't have done him any good, but come on, where's your fighting spirit, man?

This storyline led to Max "beefing up" the League and going on a membership drive. They asked Starman (Will Payton) who is a good choice if you're looking for some power in your ranks, but he turned them down. Then they asked El Diablo and Hawk and Dove. Um, excuse me, I thought you were looking for some heavy hitters? What, Starman, Hawk and Dove, and Diablo all had ongoing series at the time? Oh, never mind.

Orion and Lightray ended up joining to honor the memory of Scott Free. But in the tradition of Dr. Fate, Captain Marvel, Huntress, Wonder Woman, Tasmanian Devil, Animal Man, Black Canary, and Dr. Light II, they stuck around for less than 10 issues.

Anonymous said...

Aw, I was hoping you'd trash Grell's Licence to Kill movie tie-in to ease us back into the comics.

That, or maybe Permission to Die.


Anonymous said...

I remember this was one of my very first Justice League comics when I was rather young and it was also the first comic where I felt some panic over a characters death (even though I had no idea who he was) and relly wanted the next issue, which I didn't get until years later.

Anonymous said...

The DMF: DC's answer to Thanos's Time-Mind-Sync-Warp?

That whole run is great, despite its peaks and valleys of quality, although I was kind of disappointed with "Breakdowns."

Anonymous said...

The Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League run is faaaaan-tastic.

People remember the "Bwah-hah-hah!" humor - and that was a big part of the book. But there also was some serious storytelling going on, too, and the Despero storyline is Exhibit A.

The only beef (and it's a minor one) I have with this era is that there was too much turnover in membership. But that's a small quibble - the Giffen/DeMatteis issues were the high point of the Justice League, as far as I'm concerned.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

The end of JLA #38, the setup issue, was one of the great F&*$ YEAH! moments of the era.

I don't recall fully, but I think it was the last few pages of the issue, which was probably funny up until then.

We see Gypsy with her suburban family, enjoying her regular life. Things are keen for several pages. Then Despero shows up and starts murdering everyone. He murders them a lot. Gypsy runs. Despero chases her and prepares to eviscerate her, just as he did with her parents. A voice stops him.

The last page is a splash of J'onn J'onzz, the calmest, most loving and compassionate Leaguer, telling Despero in an angry but calm voice that he's going to kill him.

The pacing was perfect, the tone set brilliantly, the horror of the villain's activity made all too clear...and then for J'onn J'onzz, J'onn freakin' J'onzz to openly state his plan to kill somebody to protect the person he cares for most in the world? Oh hell yes.

Or, more accurately, F&$# YEAH!

It was the emotional high point of the Giffen/DeMattis years, I sez.

Anonymous said...

look at this cover: it's perfect! the face of the last martian, the strong monster triceps , the ONU flag as an cape. perfect. really.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that cover kicked ass. How could you not buy that issue, knowing how powerful J'onn is but seeing him get manhandled (Martianhandled?) like that?

And Despero was so supremely badass that not one person who saw him felt the urge to say, "Dude, you look like a giant poorly-circumcised penis." That, I submit, is badass.

(I mean, the guy's fucking pink. Not lightish red, either--pink.)

Steve V said...

Gyspy looks weird happy in the first panel

K.Fox, Jr. said...

hmm.... interesting. tensor, he's been writing about comics. i hope that was a joke. he was just doing a jb week. speaking of jb, here's what the book actually says (i recently re-borrowed it form the library.):

"Three measures of Gordons, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.
Shake it very well until it's ice cold, then add a thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur."

Anonymous said...

'Gypsy looks weird happy in the first panel'

That's because I'm happy to see J'onn. Diablo was about to make me as dead as my parents but J'onn showed up and saved me.......after the Diablo-mindfuck that is...

Edward Liu said...

gypsy says: 'Gypsy looks weird happy in the first panel'

That's because I'm happy to see J'onn.

Yeah, and plus I heard the bitch owed you five dollars and been ducking you for weeks.

Sean Roper said...

This entire run needs to recieve the Showcase treatment. Just get the bugger out there in one big color-challenged bathroom reader.

Radio Free Daniel said...

Interestingly enough, i picked this uo out of my own long box to read the day before Despero showed up again to kick Martian Manhunters ass at the beginning of Infinite Crisis. I love synchronicity!


Anonymous said...

Oh sweet christmas, you're writing about comics again! It's a festivus miracle!

Johnny Bacardi said...

This and "one punch" were by far the highlights of the Bwah League. Man, I loved this arc, 'cos I love Gypsy and...

Oh. Wait. Gypsy was just here, wasn't she? She may have read this. Heh.

I'll be moving on now...

notintheface said...

The best thing about the first part in issue#37 is how abruptly the tone changed. One moment we're seeing Wally Tortollini trying to sell his JLI scandal sheet that he created based on rummaging through the JLI embassy's garbage, and the next Despero's killing Hank Heywood Jr, and then moving on to Gypsy's parents.

And I loved how they ended that issue, with J'onn pointing to Despero and saying:

"There'll be no more deaths today, Despero! Except,perhaps...YOURS!"

Anonymous said...

A sad world it is, with no one named Dave Campbell in it who writes about comics.
No, only some guy with a similar name who writes about Bondage... or something.

The "real" Dave must never have been born, and the world is the worse for it.

Wait... what's this?
Dave... Dave Campbell...?
Writing... about...comics?


Oh look! I found ZuZu's petals.
Attaboy Clarence!


Yes, I LOVE these issues of JLA!
In fact, the entire run with Hughes' art was the apex of that series (yes, I loved Kevin Maguire too, but c'mon! Adam Hughes was the shizit!)

THIS is one of my 2 favorite issues of the series as well (the funeral for Mr. Miracle being the other).

FEW are the non-Dr. Strange related titles that I plan to hold onto after I (eventually) unload my massive collection upon the world.
FEWER STILL are the DC issues.

THIS is one of those issues!

Excellent choice!

Glad to see Dave's BACK!
(And his lip's bleeding.)

Remember, no man is a failure who love comics!

"Merry Christmas Movie House!
Merry Christmas you old Building and Loan!"


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Dave! I love your blog, you're a great writer.

Anonymous said...

And with that, all hail the return of comics!

Brian Cronin said...

I love you, Dave. You can write about your favorite Smurf episodes, and I would still love you.

Just not the time traveling Smurf episodes.

Then I would hate you.

Sorry, I am fickle like that.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the first bunch of issues collected, there is also the stupidly hard to get hold of "Gospel of Maxwell Lord" but to be honest, you can pick up the entire JLI/E/A run on EBay for a decent price (though you'll have to mix and match some issues).

I have them all including the specials, quarterlies and inflatable G'nort. Well, maybe not that last one but version of the league ever. Meltzer can take a running jump. Bam!

Anonymous said...

Oh no, Scott's plane exploded! How could the world's greatest escape artist possibly have survived?

This sort of strikes me as anothjer example of how incredibly watered down the Fourth World guys got during the 80s and 90s.

Scott Free spent tbe first twenty years of his life on a planet where guys like Despero are a dime a dozen, and he managed not only to survive, but to fight back.

And his plan is to shoot Despero with a big gun, and then get blown up and die.


Anonymous said...

Scott was in space, on tour.

Crappy robot Scott was flying the ship. The League didn't know he'd been replaced.

Anonymous said...

there was a lot of deus ex machina with respect to J'onn in the Giffen/DeMatteis run, specifically the resolution to this story arc.
At one point in the series though, it was explained that J'onn would never invade someone's mind without their permission... shutting off those receptors or something... explaining why he didn't know Scott was a robot.

Of course, in later appearances I believe this is contradicted stating that J'onn is always unconsciously "scanning"

or something

Anonymous said...

I never really thought the resolution of this story was a deus ex machina. To me it seemed more along the lines of "love defeats hate" which is a cool concept that worked because of its novelty.

Anyone can throw Doomsday into the Sun or whatever, but the only recourse J'onn had to deal with Despero was to "give him what he wanted". Essentially he surrendered himself to Despero's mercy and appealled to his (uncouncious) good side, such as it was. It's a great arc for J'onn who goes from "I will fucking bury you" to "here is the greatest gift a Martian can give any living creature". If all else fails, make peace with your mortal enemy.

Once again, humanity could learn a few things from this guy.

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