Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Who's Who Vol.VI: Despero (August, 1985)
By 1985, I'd already been collecting comics for a number of years, though the closest I'd come to a comic shop was booths at flea markets. Most of my purchases were from the Marvel Comics Group, and typically off the newsstand at 7-11. I was and remain a huge fan of reference books like The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (Deluxe Edition, 'natch,) but I only ever saw Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe at bookstores like B.Dalton and Waldenbooks. My first issue was the sixth, and it was a whole different world from the Marvels I adored... a lame, weird, stupid world.
The first page of your average Marvel Handbook would feature a super hero or villain with a slick, modern design. They would be drawn by the creme of the contemporary crop in a style guide approved pose, with the glorious embellishment of Joe Rubenstein to provide a uniform standard of quality. There would be a brick of well organized text to inform you of all the basics of the character. At the bottom would be a spotlight panel taken from a previous comic, or if it was a Handbook of the Dead issue, the character's death blow. Repeat formula for something like 48-64 pages, and put a wide smile on a young geek's face.
My first issue of Who's Who opened to a boring feature on the Daily Planet offices, as drawn by that master of the bland, Curt Swan. Next, six pages of interesting futuristic characters from various sci-fi and fantasy series, all canceled before the end of the decade. Here were pin-up shots, with monochromatic backgrounds that took up too much space for there to be detailed biographical information. Deadman looked okay, but the next page was divided by two villains, a sign of disrespect that Marvel only showed to alien races and the very least distinguished members of super-teams. The Deep Six were ridiculous looking fish-insects, Deimos wore a skirt, the Demolition Team were laughable, the Demon was neutered by Kirby... when Demonia of the Omega Men is a sudden bright spot, your universe is in serious trouble. Right after DeSaad, a.k.a. old pervert in a bathrobe, was the finny idiot you see above. That's right, the pink guy with a third eye, on a page facing Destiny and Detective Chimp. Repeat for 32 pages, and prepare to be mocked by even the least sophisticated audiences. I didn't buy another issue until years later.
Despero was drawn in a rare outing by writer Len Wein, who I don't recall ever producing a script for the Kalanorian ruler. I assume inker Dick Giordano had a hand in making Despero unusually decent, while still a joke on two legs. Note that his gloves, which are normally of identical color to his outfit, are mistaken for blue. R.E. S. P. E. C. T. After a showing like this, I remained almost exclusively a New Teen Titans follower until Byrne took over Superman.
Nearly a quarter century later, and I'm still getting over all those years where I bought almost nothing but DC Comics, obsessing over Post-Crisis minutia. I now run a blog devoted to one of their B-List characters, and will spend a good chunk of a month covering one of my first examples for why I rarely bothered reading DC in my early years. I learned much later that Despero has always been a pretty solid villain, and for a long while there, quite the nemesis to the Martian Manhunter. Far more than Malefic, I see Despero as a mirror reflection of how J'onn J'onzz could have gone very wrong, and certainly more worthy of the spotlight. Don't worry though-- I couldn't fit all my Despero coverage into one month if I tried, so the blog should be pretty evenly split with Martian Manhunter. There's always next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. In truth, I need at least a half month just to keep up with my ever expanding catalog of Despero stuff to cover...