Friday, January 11, 2013

Third Animated Incarnation of Despero Debuts This Weekend

Once again, thanks to Anj for the heads up on a news item involving an Alien Atlas adversary!

The classic Justice League of America villain Despero made his animated debut in a 2003 two-part second season episode of their Cartoon Network series, "Hearts and Minds." Unlike a lot of fans, I'm not especially fond of Justice League, which took a lot of unnecessary liberties with continuity without good cause. For instance the first animated Despero was a Green Lantern villain who drew the attention of a mere quartet of Leaguers (mostly in the second half) after killing a group of corpsmen investigating his tyrannical cult on Kalinor. In the original comics, Despero was a deformed mutant telepath who enslaved relatively human citizens on his planet. Late in the Bronze Age, that origin was revised so that Kalinorians all looked like Despero, and only his third eye set him apart. However, this was back when Despero was a little guy with a scalloped fin running from ear to ear. He became a muscular physical menace through exposure to the Flame of Py'tar, which turned his fin into more of a mohawk and gave him incredible transmutation abilities for a short time.

The cartoon mingled elements of the Silver and Bronze Age Desperos, but seemingly only the least compelling ones, rendering him a most homogenic villain in the context of the series. Kalinor is pretty much Apokolips, complete with Py'tar flame pits, while armaments of the planet recalled Warworld. The deadly conflict with the Green Lanterns more resembled Peter Tomasi's use of Mongul in recent years than anything Despero ever got up to. The religious worship of Despero as "the beginning" and "the end" was very Darkseid. Even the usually praiseworthy vocal talents of Keith David were subdued. All of the religious babble rang false for the character. This superficial representation of Despero was unmemorable, which explains why it never returned in the series, and even the screenwriter had only one more outing on the series. It's really too bad, as the design used for Despero in the cartoon was sound. I also liked that J'Onn J'Onzz was the one ultimately responsible for Despero's downfall, in spite of it involving new age silliness.

Despero's second animated incarnation arrived in 2009, with a first season episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold entitled "The Eyes of Despero!" Kevin Michael Richardson's performance was ironically reminiscent of Keith David's more vital voice acting roles, and Despero's deliciously over the top dialogue courtesy of famed scripter J.M. DeMatteis made it work this time. Curiously, Despero was once again treated as a Green Lantern Corps foe, but his scary displays of power were much closer to the Kalinorian creep we know and love. Despero's savagery and scale was on a par with Post-Crisis appearances, but visually, his fanned fin was closer to the old school stories. Even his singling out of Batman recalled Despero's battle with the Detroit era League after his rebirth. I liked the weird wrinkle of Despero having additional eyes inside his palms, and like most B:BATB episodes, it was simply way more fun to watch than the seriousness of Justice League.

This weekend, Despero returns to animation in his third series incarnation on the Young Justice episode "Cornered." Once again, he appears to be a remix rather than a straight adaptation. Despero travels through space with a cute robot companion, not unlike the dynamic between Lord Manga Khan and L-Ron, the latter of whom mingled its consciousness with Despero's in the comics. For instance, Despero was never technically a member of the Justice League Task Force, but rather L-Ron while he inhabited Despero's body. Anyway, Despero is in pursuit of gladiatorial conquest on Earth, recalling Draaga from the Post-Crisis Warworld.

The more alien and feral Despero resembles the version usually found in his Justice League International glory days. It's cute that a Martian Manhunter statue comes into play, and that Miss Martian appears key in addressing this threat. Even the inclusion of Captain Marvel feels like leftover business from the funny League. It's an interesting look for Despero, though it's a bit sad that so much quality design work goes to waste because every character but Captain Marvel is stuck with black as their primary costume color. Still, it suits Despero to be so versatile in interpretation, even if I do wish they'd get him a little more on model at some point in animation. I suppose we'll see...


LissBirds said...

I find the best way to enjoy some of the cartoons is just to completely forget continuity altogether. I kind of think of each cartoon existing in its own universe, which doesn't interact with any of the comics or other cartoons. For example, I don't think Young Justice makes reference to any storylines from JLU. And the GL cartoon is out there on its own, and so was Batman: Brave and the Bold. Plus I have a terrible memory for continuity anyway, so that helps. I get where you're coming from, though. There are some things that don't make any sense or don't need to be there or just plain bug me. Having J'onn be M'gann's uncle in Young Justice really bugged me, for example.

Oh, and noseless Despero is the scariest Despero. But the dark purple and pink fins....that's too pretty to be scary.

Diabolu Frank said...

I like the cartoons drawing inspiration from comic book continuity, but I don't want them to jibe with one another. I love that Batman: The Brave and the Bold was a completely different beast from the Timmverse; juvenile comedy that somehow still seemed more true to the source material than any other DC cartoon. I will say though that Doom kind of links Justice League Unlimited to Young Justice by combining Timm continuity with YJ design aesthetic.

No nose is too fishy. Looks like Despero is trying to find and eat Nemo.

Anonymous said...

"juvenile comedy that somehow still seemed more true to the source material than any other DC cartoon"

Sorry pal, but that "juvenile comedy" is the reason why Batman The Brave and the Bold will be looked back upon as fondly as Joel Schumacher's second Batman movie while Bruce Timm's continuity will be looked back upon as fondly as Christopher Nolan's second Batman movie.

Furball of Leatherforever

Diabolu Frank said...

Yeah, no. Evoking Schumacher, especially when the analogy is this plainly hyperbolic, is the geek equivalent of breaking Godwin's law. The Tim Burton films have aged rather poorly, and I assure you that the reverence for Christopher Nolan will inevitably come under intense fire. I find open disdain for Batman: The Brave and the Bold merely tells me that the beholder lacks a sense of humor about their super-heroes, or worse, has rigidly defined parameters for what the genre should be. There's no Sophie's Choice either/or here. It's okay to enjoy both on their own terms.