Sunday, December 19, 2010

Justice League America #39 (June, 1990)

The Martian Manhunter's back was to the reader as he brushed aside his cape, gunslinger style. "Get away from her, Despero. Right now." The menace turned gleefully away from the wounded Gypsy, who was hysterically relieved at the intervention. "Come to watch Gypsy die, have you, Martian?"

"There'll be no more deaths today... except perhaps-- yours."

"You killed me once, J'Onzz! You will not do it again! But I intend to pay you-- and your damnable League-- back for what was done to me! For I am Despero-- and I am hate itself! Despero's colossal form pounced like a jungle cat, only to lose fangs at the taste of the Alien Atlas' fist. "You are a tiresome-- and dangerous-- lunatic-- and I had my fill of you years ago!"

Despero retaliated with a blow so fierce, it sent J'Onn face first into the dirt. Seeing spots, J'Onzz was hoisted back up by his collar while Despero close-talked a rundown of his list of grievances: how the League cost him his reign over Kalanor, how the Detroit era team disintegrated him, and how "I will have no satisfaction till I have destroyed you, Gypsy, Vibe, and all your pathetic teammates!" Manhunter tried to explain that Ivo had pretty much already dealt out those deaths, but he was to busy being tossed a quarter mile and bouncing off a few houses. "Damn. I forgot how powerful he is! The others must be on their way... but I can't wait. Gypsy means more to me than almost anyone in the world... that maniac's brought enough pain down on her head-- and I won't see her hurt any more!"

A tad late for that, as Despero had gripped Gypsy's frail arm in his thick clawed hand. "...Now, little one, I think I'll snap your neck as I did your father's! Or perhaps I'll shatter your body as I did your mother's. But they both died quickly-- and I want your death to be slow... and horrible." Despero was surprised when J'Onn came back so soon. "I had a wife once. She was beautiful. Delicate. Like Gypsy. And she was taken from me far too young. I won't see that happen again."

"It's going to happen now, Martian-- and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Your memories of Mars are deep, bright and clear, J'Onzz-- like an ocean-- I think I'll drown you in them." J'Onn, now depicted in his "natural" form, was psychically returned to "Mars: in the final days... the days of plague and lunacy." The Martian city was plagued and dealt with intermittent untended fires. Atop a dome, a vision of Despero held J'Onzz's wife by the throat. Despero confirmed the daughter was already dead. "Bloated, difigured... consumed by disease." Despero had brought them back in the subjective reality of J'Onn's mind so that he could torture them and make the Martian watch.

However, J'Onn was suddenly transported to a second illusion, in which he embraced the love of his life yet again. "But how can this be? How can-- Of course: Mayavana! The Sacred Treasure! The Great Gift. The power to reach into another's consciousness-- and create a reality more powerful than that which we take to be reality! But the strain on the mind and soul, the effort to use the Mayavana, is so tremendous that it can be employed only once in a lifetime. And my beloved wife has used it now-- so that our love may seem far more real... than Despero's twisted hatred. It is an illusion I must put aside..."

J'Onn J'Onzz again faced Despero during H'ronmeer's plague, and tried to explain the internal destruction hate causes and the transformative power of love. Despero snickered at the "lovely sentiments" as he obliterated J'Onn's wife with a blast from his third eye. J'Onn screamed in pain, then collapsed into a drooling, shuddering lump in the real world. "Enjoy the memories, Martian? Good. But I'm not finished yet. I want to play with you a while longer. But I'm done playing with you, Gypsy. Still, I hope you take some comfort in knowing that your death will be as utterly meaningless as your worthless life."

Before Despero could blast Gypsy, his head was contained in a green energy field, redirecting the energy projection back into Despero's face. Fallen and struggling to stand, Despero demanded to know the responsible party "WHO DARES?!?!" Green Lantern Guy Gardner mocked the destroyer, then sent him flying with another ring projection. Guy then proceeded to begin hitting on the clearly underage Gypsy, as she crawled to a tree to help herself up, nearly hysterical from the horrors of the evening. After a moment of collecting herself, she remembered J'Onn's predicament, and asked Guy to help him. "Looks okay t'me. I mean, he's a pretty sickly shade o' green-- but he always looks like that!" J'Onn strained against his mental trauma to speak coherently, explaining Despero's crimes of the evening and the desperate need to halt his rampage. "You ain't foolin', either J.J.? This dude really wiped you out? ...Yeah, he wasn't messin' around, was he? I mean, wreckin' a train is one thing-- killin' the kid's mom 'n' dad... Man, that's low." Guy swore he'd get payback, but Gypsy shouted, "I don't care about revenge-- I just want him stopped!" As Gardner flew off, Gypst still couldn't believe this guy was in the League. "Believe me-- I didn't recruit him."

Fire, Ice, Blue Beetle and the Mr. Miracle robot were en route in a jet when they spotted Despero flying through the air, followed by Guy Gardner. "Miracle" stated "I was under the impression that the Martian Manhunter could handle anything," but the robot was defective, so I don't think that's a reliable testimonial.

Despero landed in the Long Island Sound, where he waited underwater until he saw Guy distracted by his teammate's craft, then attacked. The pair flew into midtown Manhattan, "smack in the middle of Rockefeller Center!" The JLI was unaware Mr. Miracle had left an automaton to replace himself while on a world tour, but despite its glitches, Blue Beetle was happy to let "Miracle" pilot their aircraft while he finally got to see some action outside. However, no sooner had Beetle and Ice grappled to the ground than Ice was knocked unconscious by debris from the brawl.

Despero teased Guy: "I must thank you, Green Lantern. I have found this sparring most... amusing. If you are an example of what the Justice League has become-- then my task will be even easier than I imagined." Fire then joined the attack, letting loose some green flames in retaliation for Despero's having harmed her dearest friend. Guy was also emotionally attached to Ice. "That's it, Maggot-- YOU'RE DEAD!" Despero took a laser beam to the belly, then retailated with a devastating third eye blast. "I think I've had more than enough of you." Guy was laid out.

Fire managed to do damage to Despero through her flames, and the destroyer had difficulty engaging her as a being of pure flame. However, Bea's "bravado cannot mask the terror I feel in your mind. The terror I now turn against you." With a shriek, Bea reverted to her human form and fell from the sky. She was caught by Blue Beetle, who complained about how he was getting out of shape, before being seized by the neck. "Interesting. Though you are physically the weakest link, your mind is second in strength only to the Martian's... I shall enjoy breaking you." Before that could happen, "Mr. Miracle" began strafing the ground near Despero with fire from his jet, until the destroyer blew it out of the sky. Believing the real Mister Miracle to be dead, Beetle called out his real name. "This... Scott has gone straight to hell. But take heart-- you'll be joining him there-- just as soon as I rip your limbs off, one by one-- and grind your bones to dust."

The Martian Manhunter held Gypsy in his arms as he observed that local authorities seemed to have complications from the train wreck under control. "I wish I could offer you words of solace, child-- but for a tragedy of this magnitude... there are none. What I can offer is my friendship... and all the love in my heart. I won't desert you child: that I swear." Of Despero, he said, "He is evil. Insanity. Pure hate given form. And we are the focus of that hate. Despero has only one purpose, one driving need: He simply will not rest until he's fulfilled it. Which means I have only one option open to me if I hope to stop him... I must help him fulfill his purpose. I must help him destroy the Justice League."

"Blow Up" by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Adam Hughes and Joe Rubinstein.

Number of times Despero used the word "hate" this issue: 3, although Martian Manhunter uses it in reference to Despero's feelings another six times.

As I previously discussed in detail here, this was another pivotal story for the Martian Manhunter, even if he was only in part of the issue. The closeness of his relationship with former Leaguers, especially Gypsy, was established last issue. This issue set-up the now orphaned Gypsy becoming J'Onn's surrogate daughter, despite that unfortunate line relating the kid more to his wife. This story was also important for offering the majority of JLI readers who chose not to follow his 1988 solo mini-series a glimpse of the plague that took Mars, a concept that finally stuck with the character in fans' minds, and remains to the present. This
was also the first JLI story since the initial Gray Man arc where there was real tension over whether everyone would make it through the end of the tale, and the defeat-by-numbers technique Despero employed is awfully similar to Doomsday's course toward the Death of Superman a few years later. A watershed moment for the book, and especially for the Alien Atlas.


LissBirds said...

"this was another pivotal story for the Martian Manhunter, even if he was only in part of the issue." One thing I really appreciate this series for is the ability to get some depth out of each character despite it being an ensemble story. I have yet to find another series that does it so well. Only "Lost" comes to mind.

I can't remember an issue of JLI (except that annual) where J'onn was the focus (or any other single character. Guy and Tora come close) and yet this is the version of him that fans find most beloved.

mathematicscore said...

Good call on the Doomsday connection. Since this wasn't stretched out over a billion issues and has actual backstory, I find this far more pleasing.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

you picked some good clip art on this posting Frank. i really like the way MM is drawn on that top panel. i like the over the top dynamic splash page kinda stuff too but sometimes it's nice just to see a character in a more realistic kind of pose.

Diabolu Frank said...

I agree with everyone, for once. Great characterization, excellent pacing, awesome villain with high intimidation factor: all good. I've always dug that Martian Manhunter pose, as well as the extra-long/billowy cavalier/fireman boots.