Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Silver Age JLA - Despero!

The numberless debut issue of The Justice League of America is the team's fourth adventure and introduces one of their most recognizable foes - the three-eyed Despero. The story "The World of No Return" is by writer Gardner Fox with Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs joining forces for a well crafted Silver Age story. I love how Despero sits reflectively with is hand cupping his chin, it's an great bit of storytelling in an instant by the artist Murphy Anderson.

The story begins when The Flash detects a weird blue light and investigates only to find two aliens - Jasonar and his daughter Saranna. They are from the other-dimensional world of Kalanar and are trying to escape the dictator Despero. But Sardanna is whisked back to Kalanor by Despero and Flash and Jasonar quickly escape to a cave while the radiation of Jasonar's dimensional transporter protects them. Flash then calls the Justice League who assemble but when Flash arrives he discovers that Despero has already put the entire team into a trance with is powerful third eye which he cannot do with Flash because of his temporary radioactive immunity. Instead the three-eyed dictator proposes a weird game in which the League members are the pawns. But the game is rigged and all the team including the ultimately defeated Flash are transported to other dimensional worlds. Wonder Woman and Superman are on a distant planet filled with dinosaurs and eventually defeat the threat despite the surprising discovery of some Kryptonite which Wonder Woman casts into space. The duo head into space to rejoin their teammates. Green Lantern and Aquaman are on the water world of Thanakon which is under attack by a yellow lens which is causing the oceans to heat to deadly temperatures. Aquaman commands octopi to spread their ink on the lens allowing the Lantern to crash it into the sea saving the thankful Thanakonites. Then they leave to rejoin the team. Batman and Martian Manhunter find themselves on a world which is suffering a deadly countdown until a missile explodes into a sun and destroys the planet. Batman goes to stop the missile but only after Manhunter is able to take out a deadly armed tower which is stopping the launch of any such ship. Manhunter is taken aback by a inflamed alien but the sudden breezy appearance of the Flash blows out that threat. The League then is reassembled and makes plans to return to Earth. On Earth Despero has found Jasonar but is stopped by Snapper Carr who tricks Despero into believing he is hypnotized when he is actually immune to radiation. Snapper saps Despero's energy with Jasonar's weapon and holds him while the League appears. Jasonar then takes the tyrant back with him while the League members congratulate Snapper.

The iconic cover of this issue by Murphy Anderson has been homaged (swiped) several times.

Despero is a delightful unapologetic villain. He seems to relish tormenting his victims as his weird game with Flash shows most clearly. He clearly could have already transported the Leaguers the their respective other-dimensional fates but wants to play with the Flash and the League. I suppose he wants to show his superiority over them. Despero gloats but he doesn't cackle and that's a fine distinction in a villain

Despero has appeared again and again over the decades and has undergone some radical changes in his look. They've bulked him up and flipped his wonderously weird fin ninety degrees which to my eye weakens his overall visual impact. I prefer the classic smaller Despero, because his might is all about how he manipulates the minds of his victims not his ability to toss them through the air.

The League comes across in this story as rock solid heroes, capable and able to work together in almost every instance to overcome the myriad threats they encounter. It was refreshing to actually see Superman and Batman working with the team and not being shunted away from the story as they had been in the previous try-outs in The Brave and the Bold. "World of No Return" was one of the very first League stories I ever read, because I was able to come across a copy of its reprinting in Justice League of America #58 in 1967. I've always liked this yarn, right from the start.

More to come when the team takes on magic.

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  1. That one cover design has certainly more than paid for itself, what with the number of times its been reused. You can't keep a good classic down.

    1. I really appreciated the drama in that scene when I took a close look at it for this post. It's instantly recognizable, but it's also quite excellent.

      Rip Off

  2. There was a time when a number one on the cover was considered a detriment to distribution.


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