2009 Michael Netzer "December of Despero" Pin-Up

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I must confess my disappointment in "December of Despero." After years of too little attention being paid to one of the few truly great and broadly recognized Martian Manhunter villains, the plan was to have his every appearance through 1990 written up for this blog. He was going to finally get his Vile Menagerie listing, an index of his own, and more. Instead, the holiday crunch, side projects, and my own inertia led to a spate of pin-ups, custom toys, and outright filler. As I've said before, this is hardly the last December Despero will claim as his own, and he'll be making waves well before then. Still, I wanted his first to be something special.

Thankfully, this final week has given the month some validation. Although I never get much in the way of comments for them, I'm happy to have gotten around to more fake Manhunter from Mars comic synopses, all offering stories from a parallel universe pitting our hero against the three-eyed despot. I've never featured so many in such a short span, as Manhunter from Mars Annual #2 will close out our week. It was planned for tonight, but a last minute submission I feel really puts the first "December of Despero" over the wall of winners had to take precedence.

Mike Nasser is probably the second most important artist to draw J'onn J'onzz after his co-creator, Joe Certa. It was Nasser who restored the beetle-brow from the character's earliest appearances, revived his belt symbol,  designed his 1970s logo and offered a dynamic new art style that exposed the character's potential for greatness to then-modern readers. Sadly, Nasser's run was much too brief, and saw him illustrate only a couple of new villains, N'or Cott and R’es Eda. In recent years though Nasser, now known as Michael Netzer, has done real solid by Martian Manhunter fandom. He drew the beloved Idol-Head of Diabolu banner in 2007, then followed that up with a campaign to save Martian Manhunter from Final Crisis with his Take Me... but don't kill J'Onn campaign in 2008. This was supported by pin-ups pairing Manhunter with the Atom (Ryan Choi), Aquaman and the Atom (Ray Palmer).

Netzer's kept a lower profile in 2009, presumably to afford him the opportunity to work on his upcoming 150 page original graphic novel, Wave. Still, he found time to contribute the above pin-up of Despero, which I hope you enjoy as much as I do. A Happy New Year's Eve to all you Idol-Heads out there, and especially to Mr. Netzer, whose New Online Portal demands your attention.


Manhunter from Mars #175 (February, 1979)

On Mars II, J'onn J'onzz was visited by a clearly distressed Saranna. She had lost contact with her father Jasonar, who had left her on Kalanor to take on Despero as his full responsibility and laboratory assistant. The pair had been working together in isolation on a distant satellite, though Saranna and Manhunter could reach it through her dimensional traveler. Since Kalanorian authorities had long since washed their hands of Despero and his benefactor, J'onn J'onzz was Saranna's best hope for protection and investigative aid. The Manhunter from Mars agreed, and the pair were off.

Aboard the satellite, they found Jasonar's body lying on an interior floor. He had been battered, but his exact cause of death wasn't readily apparent. Saranna cursed the mutant freak who had committed this heinous act. J'onzz began to check the satellite's logs, and discovered Despero had fled the scene in a spaceship altered by Jasonar and J'onzz to include Martian technology. The Manhunter could follow Despero's trail of ionized anti-matter, his ship's fuel source. J'onzz also loaded Jasonar's body and personal log into the dimensional traveler, for study on the way to Despero's present location, the nearby planet Sirkus.

From the logs, J'onzz learned that Despero had actually blossomed as Jasonar's sole associate in his studies. Much of the former despot's aggressive tendencies had subsided, and he showed a seemingly genuine appreciation for their work. Still, Jasonar wouldn't dare risk Saranna's life in Despero's presence again, and regularly subjected himself to a recreation of the radiation from the dimensional traveler that immunized a person against Despero's mental powers. Saranna shook her head in disgust at Despero's taking advantage of Jasonar's altruistic gullibility, knowing full well the monster had been plotting her father's demise the whole time.

On Sirkus, the Manhunter was pleased to find he had super powers near those he enjoyed on Earth, and that the Sirkian Governor Kwim was perfectly willing to offer any aid in tracking down the bandit gone to ground on her world. It wasn't long before Despero was found, although Saranna was shocked to discover his powerful third eye, the presumed murder weapon, was still rendered inactive. In fact, Despero was only lightly armed, and the Alien Atlas made short work of his offensive.

Saranna cursed at the hideous Despero for his lethal duplicity, to which Despero hurtfully protested that it was in fact Jasonar who had tried to kill him! Despero had only defended himself, and knocked Jasonar unconscious. Panicked, Despero took the rifle Jasonar had attempted to slay him with, and fled to the nearest inhabited world. Saranna slapped Despero, and demanded he stop lying.

The Sleuth from Outer Space took Saranna by the wrist, and mournfully explained Despero likely spoke the truth. J'onzz's inspection of Jasonar's body had uncovered cancerous growths throughout, most probably caused by his constant exposure to radiation. A further review of Jasonar's logs revealed that he knew he was terminally ill, with at best days to live. Although he felt Despero was sincerely improving as a sympathetic being, after being fooled so often before, he felt he couldn't risk allowing Despero to live on without his guidance.

Unbowed, Saranna continued to curse Despero for robbing her of time she should have spent with her father in his final years. Again, J'onzz interjected. Although it's true Jasonar felt safer with Saranna far from harm's way, the Manhunter had observed her consistent pattern of suspicious, judgmental and generally prejudiced attitude toward Despero. While her bias was understandable, Jasonar surely recognized there was no hope of redeeming Despero so long as Saranna was present to reenforce Despero's toxic self image. Fully breaking down at this observation, Saranna damned Manhunter and his cruel Martian logic.

The Manhunter extended his hand to Despero, in hopes the former tyrant would be willing to continue ascending the path of righteousness. Despero swatted it away, spitting out his assertion that any hope the universe had of quelling his burning hatred had been left to die on that satellite lab. However, the Sirkians were touched by all this, and insisted Despero be left in their hands for further rehabilitation.

The Manhunter agreed, with apprehension, and left the world with Saranna in the dimensional traveler. The Sirkians began discussing a course of treatment for Despero, and dismissed the barbaric practice of surgically disabling his third eye. His back to his would-be saviors, Despero allowed himself a small, nefarious grin...

Tony Isabella left the DC editorial staff midway through 1977, though stories he edited saw print throughout the year. Jack Harris took over all of Isabella's duties, and also edited his freelance writing on Black Lightning. After that title's last issue saw print late in '78, Harris moved its stunning artist, Trevor Von Eeden, to Manhunter from Mars. Although Harris had used a few Isabella scripts on the title in the past, the writer had left DC Comics some months prior, and the book struggled to find anything resembling a permanent creative team. Worse, just as Von Eeden was preparing for the assignment, the book shifted editorship to Ross Andru. Barely staving off cancellation during the infamous "DC Implosion," Andru had marching orders to burn off some inventory material as a cost-cutting measure before commissioning any new material. Von Eeden was left looking for fill-in work until his first issues shipped in the spring of '79.

In the meantime, this Martin "Marty" Pasko and Dick Dillin tale from the file drawer was extremely well received by readers, becoming an instant classic. It was made additionally poignant when Dillin himself passed on a year later. It was Dillin, after all, who drew many of the Martian Manhunter's guest appearances in the 60s and 70s that helped keep the character and his somewhat isolated solo series in the public consciousness. Dillin was also only the second artist to draw Despero, Jasonar, and Saranna (preceded of course by Mike Sekowsky.) While Dillin never again returned to the title, popular demand brought Pasko back for a number of stories. By the time Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn finally became the "regular" writing team in their first ongoing assignment, Len Wein had been handed the editorial reins, and would shuffle them off in less than a year. At least Von Eeden stuck around through #200...


Manhunter from Mars #125 (February 1973)

Reed Crandall had left Manhunter from Mars to work on Warren Publishing's black and white horror and war magazines, before leaving the field altogether in 1974. Writer Len Brown had himself exited for greener pastures. John Giunta had done a bit of work on the title, but passed on in 1970. By 1971, in a declining industry, editor Mike Sekowsky took on the extra workload of writing and drawing the bi-monthly adventures of J'onn J'onzz. This proved a smart move, as Sekowsky was relieved of his editorial duties at DC later that year, but the incoming Murray Boltinoff allowed him to continue on as a freelancer. With sales less than stellar, Sekowsky had planned to dump the Alien Atlas from the series, just as he'd ditched the "John Jones" portion of the title. He would instead shift the backdrop to the year 2070, and feature the bounty hunter Starker in the Manhunter role. Boltinoff was skeptical of the move, and insisted J'onn J'onzz remain in the title, leaving the three Starker stories Sekowsky had prepared to be printed in the anthology series Showcase. There would be yet another Manhunter before 1973 was out, this one a 1940s revival by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonsion, featured in Detective Comics.

Anyhow, our concern here is with J'onn J'onzz, who under Sekowsky became a more rough and tumble character, not unlike his own Starker. However, long time fans constantly wrote in requesting the Manhunter from Mars face off against established super-villains. Sekowsky probably figured he could use the good will, and brought back a baddie he'd designed for the very first issue of Justice League of America, Despero.

The exiled survivors of Mars had been breaking their backs for months, trying to make a go of it on their newly adopted world, Vonn. The planet was far from hospitable, which left time for frustrated idleness. Some youths spotted a flash in the sky. Science (and now agricultural) leader J'onn J'onzz was alerted, as the elders recognized the flash as a spaceship making entry into the atmosphere. J'onzz and a security force followed the ship to its landing, where out stepped Jasonar, an other dimensional scientist from the world Kalanor. Jasonar explained that he and his daughter Saranna had been performing experiments on a space station in this solar system. Along with them was Despero, a mutant with psychic powers who had repeatedly battled the Justice League of America. Jasonar steadfastly believed that rehabilitation was possible, but after Despero's second attempted to conquer Kalanor, its populace refused to allow the villain to remain on their world. It fell to Jasonar to guide Despero to redemption, as he and his daughter surgically removed Despero's third eye, the source of his power, and insured it did not regenerate from his skull.

Unbeknownst to the pair, Despero had used his own scientific genius to maintain his severed eye in a small secreted fish tank, until it had developed sufficiently to be reattached. Despero attacked Saranna, leaving her in a sealed time release air lock, and extorting Jasonar's assistance in his surgery. Once it proved a success, Despero exited the station in a spacecraft with Saranna in tow, forcing Jasonar's continued silence about Despero's recovery to Kalanorian authorities. Jasonar discovered in the nick of time that he'd been left on a space station set to self destruct. Jasonar escaped in a spare starcraft, but with limited fuel and few resources, compliments of Despero. He was relieved that providence had led him to Vonn, and a former ally in J'onn J'onzz.

Shame then, that the Martian authorites demanded Jasonar's immediate departure. Life on Vonn was only just bearable, and they lacked more than the most basic sustenance. This left them too lethargic to power their only defensive weaponry, the robo-chargers they had inherited from their former masters, the Thythen. The Martian Council was unwilling to risk the safety of their people for the benefit of any one man, no matter his straits. Further, they would not bring down the wrath of his pursuer by offering any aid whatsoever. J'onn J'onzz reluctantly agreed with their decision, and saw Jasonar's ship off. Imagine the Martians' surprise, when J'onzz didn't return.

Despero had picked up the trail of Jasonar's craft, and forced it to land almost as soon as it had risen. Setting down roughly in the desert, the Martian Marvel made his way to cover before Despero could follow. On Vonn, J'onzz was a bit stronger than a human, and could engage in limited flight, but had no other super-powers. Although Despero wasn't fully recovered from his surgery, he could still easily track J'onzz through the desert, and offer up a series of stinging bolts of energy from his third eye. Despero demanded to know Jasonar's whereabouts, but at a distance, could not force the Manhunter to reveal the location through his telepathy. Still, keeping his confidence was a struggle for J'onzz.  Using his wits, the Manhunter managed to lead Despero on a false trail, then doubled back to free Saranna. Unfortunately, Despero had her under his mental thrall since his surgery, and had forced her to set the space station's self destruct. Further, she had been armed, and fired a paralyzing ray at the Alien Atlas. Finally in Despero's clutches, the Manhunter was powerless against the villain's mental prowess in close quarters. Through cold sweat, J'onn J'onzz revealed that he had left Jasonar behind at the Martian camp, in order that he may construct a weapon from parts of a robo-charger.

Just then, a shot rang out from the distance, striking Despero square on the brow. With little time to lose, Jasonar had followed J'onzz's plan to the letter, sneaking off to construct an energy rifle while the Martians were unsettled by their leader's unannounced departure. A penitent Saranna tended to J'onzz's injuries, as the unconscious Despero was dragged back to his stolen spaceship, and the party lifted off.

The Manhunter from Mars expressed his disappointment in his people, who had used the "greater good" as an excuse for cowardice. It was increasingly apparent that Vonn could never sustain the Martian survivors, no matter how hard they tried to till its soil. J'onzz wondered which they were more afraid of-- confronting a villain like Despero, or the uncertainty of continuing their quest for a new home planet. Jasonar offered Kalinor to J'onn J'onzz alone, but the Martian Manhunter could never abandon his people in their time of need, as they were willing to do to Jasonar and Saranna. Pleased that J'onzz had refused his tempting offer, Jasonar instead committed his keen mind to helping the Martians, whether in finding a way to bring Vonn to life, or to continue their exodus amongst the stars...



Alter Ego: Saranna
Occupation: Scientist
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Jasonar (father)
Group Affiliation: None known.
Base of Operations: Kalanor
First Appearance: Justice League of America #1 (October/November 1960)
Height: Approx. 5' 4"
Build: Average
Weight: Approximately
Eyes: Gray
Hair: Pale Green

Saranna and her father Jasonar fled their alien home world after it came under the control of the mutant Despero. Hoping to find asylum on Earth, the pair worked for several days to perfect an anti-weapon against Despero's super-energy arsenal within an abandoned farmhouse. While testing the device, the pair inadvertently disabled the automobile of police scientist Barry Allen as he was driving past their shelter. Secretly the Flash, Allen donned his costume to investigate. Saranna was initially frightened of the super-hero when the Flash discovered them, believing him to be one of Despero's hunters, but her father assured her the Flash's thoughts were altruistic. While Jasonar explained their circumstances, Saranna was struck by a teleportation ray directed by Despero, and whisked away. Back on Kalanor, Despero read Saranna's mind, and used its information to launch a preemptive psychic assault against Flash's friends in the Justice League of America. Through the efforts of her father, the Justice League of America, and their associate Snapper Carr, Despero was eventually captured and Saranna freed.

Later, Saranna joined her father in further scientific study, as well as overseeing the rehabilitation of Despero, which included the surgical removal of his third eye. However, Despero recovered his powers in secret, faked his own death, and escaped supervision. Saranna and Jasonar were unaware that Despero had instead made his way to Earth, where he again battled and was defeated by the Justice League.

Jasonar can communicate through telepathy.

Distinguishing Features:
Green hair. Pointed ears. Inhumanly high arched eyebrows.

Articulate. Distrustful.

Weapons and Vehicles:
Saranna used her scientific knowledge to work on the construction of the anti-weapon, and presumably was familiar with the dimensional traveler craft, but was not shown operating either.

Quote: "We come from a dimensional world called Kalanor! There a three-eyed tyrant called Despero-- has seized control and made slaves of our people!"

Created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky


2006 Despero New York Comic Con Sketch by Chris Batista

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Him and his gf were very nice even though I was pretty much hounding him all day Sunday for a sketch... I eventually asked for either Zatanna or Despero due to his recent run on JLA: Crisis of Conscience arc. He said he had already done way too many Zatanna's throughout that show.
-Steve Lee


1999 Despero Convention Sketch by Franchesco!

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Oh, hey lookie-- art by Franchesco!

Ah, December... Whatever pleasure I've taken from this chore of a month has been mine by right. Unlike The March of Mongul, I haven't grown disenchanted with Despero through weeks of contemptuous familiarity. Truth to tell, I feel awful that the murderous despot has gotten such a raw deal, especially by comparison. Despero is truly an unimpeachable Martian Manhunter foe well deserving of a lengthy spotlight, and into our third year, he doesn't even have a Vile Menagerie page. All my grand plans lie in dust, but I swear, 2010 will see another December of Despero. As for January, well, that door remains open as well...


2009 Dave Grote Jr. Despero Headshot

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Here's a perfect example of why artists rarely want to draw the Silver/Bronze Age Despero-- all those scales! One day, George PĂ©rez will draw this guy battling Aquaman and Captain America, but until then, weep for Dave Grote Junior's attention to detail.


2005 Justice League "Heart and Minds" Despero Custom Figure

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Sad to say, not only haven't I seen the 2003 (Season 2, 9th & 10th) episodes of the animated Justice League series that featured Despero, but I only just learned tonight that he also starred in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold earlier this year. So after you check out Victor Kraven's custom Despero page, which has a second image and explains how he made it, try the clips from B:TB&TB out. They feature a script by blog favorite J.M. DeMatteis. For the record, I'm down with both redesigns...


2005 Justice League "Heart and Minds" Despero Custom Figure

Click For More

Sad to say, not only haven't I seen the 2003 (Season 2, 9th & 10th) episodes of the animated Justice League series that featured Despero, but I only just learned tonight that he also starred in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold earlier this year. So after you check out Victor Kraven's custom Despero page, which has a second image and explains how he made it, try the clips from B:TB&TB out. They feature a script by blog favorite J.M. DeMatteis. For the record, I'm down with both redesigns...


Despero's jetboat

During his assault on the capitol city of the planet Sirkus, Despero navigated the waters of the world with a jet-powered airboat. Though Despero commanded a force of Eel-Creatures and his own considerable powers from the jetboat, the craft itself seemed to be unarmed.

First Appearance: Justice League of America #133 (8/76)



Alter Ego: Jasonar
Occupation: Scientist, Revolutionary
Marital Status: Unknown
Known Relatives: Saranna (daughter)
Group Affiliation: None
Base of Operations: Kalanor
First Appearance: Justice League of America #1 (October/November 1960)
Height: Approx. 5'0"
Build: Paunchy
Eyes: Gray
Hair: Pale Green

After the three-eyed tyrant Despero took control of their home world and enslaved their people, Jasonar and his daughter Saranna fled from Kalanor in a dimensional traveler. Arriving on Earth, the pair worked for several days out of an abandoned farmhouse to complete Jasonar's anti-weapon against Despero's energy-based arsenal. While testing the device, the pair inadvertently disabled the automobile of police scientist Barry Allen as he was driving past their shelter. As the speeding super-hero the Flash, Allen discovered the aliens, and learned of their plight. The Flash signaled his teammates in the Justice League of America for help, and while they waited for a response, Jasonar explained how his devices worked.

Suddenly, Saranna was struck by a teleportation beam, but Jasonar and Flash were immune due to a blue glowing radiation given off by the dimensional traveler. The Flash raced to secure Jasonar, his anti-weapon, and the dimensional traveler in a hidden cave. The men agreed to periodically expose themselves to the traveler's radiation to protect themselves against Despero. While the Flash was confronted by Despero at the Justice League's headquarters, Jasonar remained in hiding to concentrate on his anti-weapon.

After Despero cheated in a game of supposed chance and dispatched the Justice League to other dimensional worlds, he used his sonoscillator to crisscross Earth and locate Jasonar. At that moment, in his cave hideout, Jasonar perfected his energy-absorber. However, Despero captured Jasonar before the anti-weapon could be used against him, and stated his intention to instead direct the energy-absorber toward conquering Earth. Through the intervention of Snapper Carr, a young associate of the Justice League, the anti-weapon was employed against the dimensional tyrant that was its original target.

Defeated, Despero returned as Jasonar's captive to Kalinor, where the scientist surgically removed the third eye from which the despot derived his powers. Jasonar enrolled Despero in a rehabilitation program, and believing him to be reformed, saw Despero assigned to a scientific research laboratory. Unbeknownst to Jasonar, Despero's third eye regenerated, allowing him to fake his own death and escape Kalinor. Despero was soon recaptured by the Justice League of America, and has not been known to trouble Jasonar or his daughter since.

Jasonar could communicate through telepathy.

Friendly, overly trusting, and idealistic.

Jasonar's anti-weapon could absorb "energy as a sponge does water." The anti-weapon rifle could rob its target of all motion and strength, including living beings.

Jasonar possessed a dimensional traveler craft, which allowed him to visit any dimension he so chose. A blue aura of unknown radiation emitted by the traveler could temporarily render Jasonar and others in its presence immune to Despero's powers and weapons.

Quote: "Now Despero will be as other men on Kalanor, honest and good! He has reformed completely!"

Created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky


Despero's Super-Ship

A large robotic Super-Ship was used by Despero during his war against the planet Sirkus. Its metallic hide could resist super-human blows, though not indefinitely. The robot's groping "hands" could move with force enough to stun the Man of Steel. The dome from which Despero piloted the ship proved ineffectual in fending off a laser beam, however, and was shattered. From there, the Super-Ship was slowly dismantled, before crash-landing into oblivion.

First Appearance: Justice League of America #133 (August 1976).


DesperCameo: Justice League of America #239 (June, 1985)

After the Detroit-era Justice League rescued Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash (Barry Allen) from the U.S.S.R., the representatives of two JLofA incarnations had a pow-wow at the Bunker. Aquaman was forced by Superman to justify his disbanding the original Justice League of America.

...You weren't here. Neither was Green Lantern. During the Earth-Mars War, the League fought at half strength... and it was only through the aid of J'Onn J'Onzz that the Martian attack was eventually turned back...

There was a time when the League stood as a symbol... 'the World's Greatest Heroes,' the press called us, gathered to stand in common cause against injustice. Do you remember how it was back then? The seven of us... the original League...

We faced each threat as a team, together, and the League was our highest priority. In those early days, none of us missed a crisis. We depended on each other, and we were always there.

As time passed, the League grew... adding more and more members to our roll call-- and yes, losing members as well. J'Onn J'Onzz was the first to resign; the Batman, the last. And somewhere along the way, that original sense of purpose and commitment was lost as well. For some of us, the League was no longer our first priority... sometimes, not even our second.

What happened during the Earth-Mars War was only the most recent, most obvious example of a continuing trend. Isn't it obvious? The League was already dead, at least in the original sense. I simply signed the death certificate.


2007 Despero Convention Sketch by Danielle Corsetto

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All day, I'd been planning a substantial post for tonight. It was either going to be the first chapter of "The Hypothetical Woman," or a retrospective of Despero's earliest appearances with extensive commentary. Instead, everything went to heck once I got home, and I just want to throw something at the wall. So, here's a cute sketch by Danielle Corsetto of girls with slingshots webcomic fame. She's also got a great big gallery of comic art here.