EDITORIAL: Darkseid’s Not the Justice League’s Greatest Villain… DESPERO Is, DAMMIT!
See why Despero's the supervillain whose bloodlust is strongest.
Hey Newsarama fans! If you visited that esteemed comic book and sci-fi entertainment site last week, you may have come across Albert Ching’s countdown, “The 10 Greatest Justice League Villains of ALL TIME!”
It was well-written and featured some nice, quick little descriptions of some of the League’s biggest baddies, but I hate to break it to you… it was WRONG! It was SO WRONG!
Well, sort of. See, it included some accurate selections, like the Crime Syndicate, Starro, and the White Martians… but the numbers were off. Darkseid ranked No. 1, which actually isn’t bad, when you think about it, but when I saw that Despero, the giant fin-headed alien from Kalanor who was the big bad in two of the Justice League’s best storylines, was ranked ninth (ninth!) out of the top 10, I knew something was wrong.
And I have to say something about it… dammit!
Darkseid definitely deserves being somewhere near the top, maybe at the top, which is where Ching put him, but if Darkseid’s at the top, Despero should be tied with him there, or just be like, number zero or something. Or…. errr… whatever.
Now let me explain.
You see, Darkseid is most definitely an A-level supervillain who’s capable of giving the Justice League all kinds of trouble (and he most certainly has in the past), but I don’t know, isn’t he more like a DC Universe villain than he is a League-specific one? He’s plagued the New Gods and the multiverse in general tons of times, right along with the Justice League, so the dude’s kind of spread himself thin.
And I know what some of you may be thinking. Dr. Doom’s bothered other superheroes besides the Fantastic Four, and he’s their greatest enemy, and Magneto’s the X-Men’s most pernicious foe even though he’s bothered others, too. So why can’t Darkseid be the Justice League’s No. 1 and the DC Universe’s too?
It’s complicated. Darkseid was created as a New Gods villain first, and then, over the years, he kind of just wound up fighting the Justice League in later stories. But see, Magneto? Stan Lee created him specifically as an X-Men villain, and then, he just wound up fighting other superheroes here and there. Same with Dr. Doom, who was created as a Fantastic Four villain who wound up fighting other superheroes as well. Sure, they branched out, but they were always, at their core, the main antagonists of their respective teams.
But Darkseid isn’t that kind of supervillain for the Justice League. Editorially, he was born and raised to terrorize the New Gods. He just “graduated,” so to speak, to the greater DC Universe and the Justice League due to sheer awesomeness. But see, the League’s not his “home town,” if you get my drift. He just wound up crossing paths with them.
Does that mean he can’t be the Justice League’s greatest villain? No, not necessarily. He can still be called their own personal Magneto or Dr. Doom, since he’s capable of giving the Leaguers all kinds of hell. But if you’re going to give him the No. 1 spot, you’d better be giving some other supervillains the 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 spots, then, because there’ve been other guys who’ve done the team some major damage or just left an indelible mark on League history because of great writing, regardless of how large-in-scope their nefarious plans were.
Guys like Despero.
Yup. Despero. The supervillain filled with a psychotic, all-consuming hatred for the Justice League who’s opposed them in two of the most awesomely written League storylines of all time. (Yes, I said it. Of all time.)
But first, a little backstory.
Despero debuted in Justice League of America #1 in 1960 as their first adversary in their own title. They had to beat him in a game of cosmic chess to save themselves (weird-sounding, I know, but the whole beat-me-at-chess-and-you-won’t-die thing got way more impressive decades later in Justice League America #62 in the early 1990’s. Trust me.)
In his first appearance, Despero was interesting but not too special compared to other supervillains. Yes, he was a tyrant from another planet with mental powers and cosmic weapons, but really, how many supervillains in the 1960’s were tyrants from outer space with nifty gadgets and a power or two? Like, all of them? The most interesting thing Despero had going for him back then was his look and motif. He was a thin man with reddish-pink skin, a ribbed fin on his head, and a third eye. He certainly got points for presentation.
And even better? He was the kind of supervillain who sat in chairs and attacked people with a chessboard from outer space, for God’s sake. If that doesn’t say laidback, calculating, Machiavellian, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan-level villainy, then I don’t know what does. C’mon people, he challenged superheroes to games of cosmic chess. That takes brains. In the old days, Despero had the makings of becoming one of those bad guys who sat back with his legs crossed while he quoted Shakespeare, sipped galactic wine and watched superheroes fight for her their lives.
But fast forward to the 1980’s, and Despero got one helluva makeover and started taking some interstellar steroids of something, because homeboy got buffed out and a power upgrade. In an awesome story by Gerry Conway (one of his best during his run on the League, in my opinion) in Justice League of America #251 - #254, Despero returned to Earth with superstrength and the power to change energy into solid matter and back on top of his mental powers. He whooped the League’s collective ass (including Batman’s), and transformed Gotham City into a literal Hell on Earth, replete with demonic monsters and lava.
Along with Despero’s new appearance, the symbolism was pretty blatant. He looked like the Devil, really. He was tall, muscular, and he changed the environment into one of fire and brimstone, more or less. He had been remade into a cosmic Lucifer, and Lucifer, as many of you know, is the prince of darkness, the ultimate embodiment of evil. And Despero had the same sense of fallen pride in that storyline as Lucifer had when he fell from Heaven. Despero was a fallen tyrant from the planet Kalanor who’d conquered a world that had survived a nuclear holocaust, race wars and genocide. Despero had it all. A tragic, larger-than-life origin, godly powers, a majestic presence, and a thirst for revenge on the Justice League for beating him up all those times in the past when he just had that puny Ricardo Montalban body.
Despero became a contender, and he fought the Justice League in a four-issue saga that redefined him as a supervillain the DC Universe, and, more specifically, as a Justice League supervillain. His entire reason for coming to Earth wasn’t necessarily to conquer it or the universe, not initially. It was personal. He came to stomp some Justice League heads. Despero was their bad guy, not anyone else’s, and the only thing he wanted to do was kill them.
Years later, Despero returned once again in a jaw-droppingly excellent storyline by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis in Justice League America #38 - #40, even more buffed out and hateful. He killed Gypsy’s entire family, beat up all the other Justice Leaguers, and then killed them and incinerated the Earth. Or so he thought. The Martian Manhunter had tricked Despero with a sophisticated telepathic illusion into believing it had all happened.
This time, Despero looked like a cross between Lucifer and the Incredible Hulk. He was the Devil as a power lifter, even more massive and physically intimidating than before, and even more single-minded in his wrath. And even more noticeable, the writing allowed Despero to show his viciousness. He killed Gypsy’s parents on-panel before he killed actual Justice Leaguers on-panel. Yes, the killing of the Leaguers was all in Despero’s head, but the readers saw it happen on the page, so every graphic kill was shown in detail as if it really happened.
Despero looked lethal, and he was allowed to show it. Brutally. It was incredibly effective and visceral to watch him kill the stars of the comic book he was appearing in. There weren’t any almost-kills where the superhero escapes at the last minute or is just injured instead of dying. The panels showed us actual murder at Despero’s hands while he screamed like a raving maniac.
Some supervillains are detached and cerebral in their plots, but Despero was passionate in his. Darkseid is often unemotional as he fights superheroes, or he has parademons or other henchmen do his fighting for him. But Despero did most of his fighting himself, and in the storylines I mentioned, he was anything but detached. He relished the fighting, and the possibility of killing the Justice League brought him joy. You believed that killing the Justice League would make him feel better, and it was like his personal well-being depended on causing their deaths.
Despero was a Justice League villain first and foremost, and he proved it. Most of the time he didn’t give a rat’s ass about the greater DC Universe or other superheroes, not when he was at his best. All he wanted was League blood, and he’d do anything to get it.
That’s why I think Despero deserved to be the No. 1 greatest Justice League villain. He didn’t fight them the most often, and most of his deeds didn’t involve the entire universe or anything like that, but when Despero came to town, you just knew some League ass was going to get kicked, and he was so frickin’ emotional about it that you couldn’t help but get drawn into his rage and wonder what he’d do next.
: This article was submitted by a volunteer contributor who has agreed to our code of conduct
. ComicBookMovie.com is protected from liability under "safe harbor" provisions and will disable users who knowingly commit plagiarism, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement. For expeditious removal, contact us HERE