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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 66

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we take a look at JLDetroit versus Despero, courtesy of Gerry Conway and Luke McDonnell…

Enjoy!

Discussing the fight between Justice League America and Despero yesterday made me think of the less-heralded earlier fight between Despero and the Justice League (during their Detroit days) that was also a good story.

The storyline began in Justice League of America #251, by Gerry Conway and Luke McDonnell (inked by Bill Wray), with Despero speeding through space in a spaceship and crashing into the Justice League satellite. Dismayed that the League was not there, Despero then JUMPS DOWN TO EARTH!

Pretty badass, huh?

When he lands on Earth, he rips the information of where the Justice League is right from the brain of some guy he encounters…

Also badass.

At this point in the Justice League of America, Batman had just recently re-joined the team, being the first of the really famous earlier Leaguers to re-join the team, and Conway sort of uses this arc to spotlight how awesome Batman is.

Batman is training the younger heroes hard (like Vibe and Vixen), and Vibe is chafing under Batman’s strict discipline.

Batman takes Vixen out for dinner to talk about how he can better communicate with people when Despero shows up. Check out the impressive “springing into action” sequence by McDonnell…

So Despero takes them hostage and is throttling the rest of the League. This is when Batman finally figures out Despero’s weakness…

In the last issue of the arc, #254, the book opens with an extremely cool shot of Batman ready to face off against Despero…

Batman’s goal is to distract Despero long enough for Vixen to rally the rest of the League (who were all unconscious) to destroy the fire that Despero was drawing his power from.

They do so, and the new League gets one of their most significant victories at that point in time (granted, six issues later half of the new Leaguers would be dead and the book would be canceled, but hey, take your victories when you can get them!).

It’s interesting seeing Conway write his version of the Justice League Bat-God that Grant Morrison did so well a decade later in JLA.

28 Comments

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 7, 2010 at 6:51 am

I remember Luke McDonnell doing a pretty good chunk of Suicide Squad.

Whatever happened to him?

I didn’t know Vixen knew Bruce Wayne was Batman, so when you wrote that sentence and before I saw the panel, I thought Batman taking Vixen out to dinner would be them both in costume at a McDonald’s or something. That would have rocked!

The JL:Detroit really picked up at the end, didn’t it?

Peter Woodhouse

March 7, 2010 at 8:46 am

The page where Despero rips the info from the guy… hey, widescreen comics!
Conway’s run on Batman was underrated. Pre-Crisis 80s Batman/Detective, with Conway and Moench writing; and Newton, Colan etc on art; Aparo on covers – always worth a look!

Great pick. That looks really cool. I should read these. I love Conway and McDonnell and Vixen and Batman. (Vibe, not so much though…)

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

March 7, 2010 at 10:28 am

Because this reinvented Despero was the most seriously-portrayed villain in the DeMatteis/Giffen era, I always misremember this story as the point at which DeMatteis took over for Conway at the end of the original volume of JLofA. While a lot of Conway’s Detroit-period JLofA stories came off as a poor effort at imitating the then-popular Claremont/.Wolfman style of team books — stereotypically multicultural cast, issues devoted to solo character spotlights, and an emphasis on underdog protagonists — he really stepped up his game for this arc.

It says something that this version of Despero has “stuck” for so long that it’s the default setting for the chracter, as opposed to Gardner Fox’s entirely cerebral, mastermind version. Of course, Conway also contributed another significant villain reinvention nearly a decade earlier with his revamp of Doctor Destiny. Again, Conway took a cerebral, rather generic Fox-era antagonist — a typical mad scientist, where the old-model Despero was a typically Technicolor sort of soft sci-fi alien — and made him both more powerful and crazier. Conway’s skull-faced lunatic informed the version that Neil Gaiman used to such great effect in the first storyline in Sandman, much as Conway’s revamp of Despero was used to great effect as the “s**t just got serious” antagonist in the JLI era.

So this was the story that turned the fin 90 degrees? Hmm.

[...] A Year of Cool Comics – Day 66 | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic … [...]

JLDetroit was far better than it is usually remembered as being. But it suffered from some rather unfortunate editorial decisions (or lack of same).

I felt quite disappointed when it was substituted for the (vastly over-rated) Maxwell Lord version. It didn’t help that Bat-God mode was upped to the max, or that Maguire was such an inferior penciler when compared to Luke McDonnell. But the premise itself was so disappointing to begin with!

[...] A Year of Cool Comics – Day 66 | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic … [...]

It didn’t help that Bat-God mode was upped to the max, or that Maguire was such an inferior penciler when compared to Luke McDonnell. But the premise itself was so disappointing to begin with!

!ERROR! !DOES NOT COMPUTE!

was surprised when Vixen revealed that she knew bruce was batman and that she figured out bruce wayne is just a front for batman is the true persona. not to mention batman proved that he is a step ahead by having vixen go get the other detroit members while he distracts despero. too bad dc does not finish putting that into trade

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

March 7, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Where do people get the idea Batman is in “Batgod” mode in the Giffen/DeMatteis era? Granted, he’s the serious one on the team along with J’onn, but Giffen and DeMattes make it fairly clear that he’s just as juvenile and ineffective as the likes of Beetle and Booster. He’s just humorless about it, to the point that he fails to listen when Mr. Miracle or Black Canary use plain common sense.

J’onn and Dr. Fate, on the other hand, are both effective and serious. The JLI era is more of a love letter to them than to Batman, who’s portrayed as an adolescent’s idea of a grown-up. The JLI Batman doesn’t even figure out the mysteries most of the time, for pete’s sake!

Come to think of it, you are correct, Omar. Although not so much so as of issue #1 of that series, which (I must concede) was somewhat experimental and did not have the roles quite well defined yet (as is to be expected).

Then again, I take issue with your claim that J’onn was portrayed much better. Other than some guest stars such as Hawkman, Aquaman and _arguably_ Hal Jordan, portraying people out of character was sort of the whole point of JL/JLI. To this day I can’t stand what they did to Booster Gold, for instance.

LouReedRichards

March 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Damn! Bill Reed beat me to it.

I’ll take Maguire over McDonnell any day. Luke is competent and all that, it’s just never been my cup of tea.

To this day I can’t stand what they did to Booster Gold, for instance.

Made him interesting?

Giffen and DeMatteis weren’t writing superheroes out of character; they were giving them character, and having them interact like real people.

Made him interesting?

Giffen and DeMatteis weren’t writing superheroes out of character; they were giving them character, and having them interact like real people.

I have to agree with Luis, it did write everyone out of character. That isn’t to say it wasn’t good, it was, it just wrote them out of character. It also made permanent punchlines out of the characters who stayed with it the longest.

JLI depends on what arc you’re reading, in my mind, in order to see whether people were out of character. The serious arcs were where I think we got better glimpses as to what made these characters heroes. In general, though:

I think the strongest facet of JLI was that, if you think about it, the world doesn’t need saving every 2 seconds. The fact that we got to see what a the life of a super team would probably be if one really existed is what was brilliant about it, IMO (If nothing was happening, of course the people involved are going to get on each other’s nerves and make jokes…it only makes sense). We got a lot of serious arcs across two series (the grey man, Millenium, and Invasion were all early storylines followed by what I felt was a strong “Blue Beetle going insane” storyline and the Despero story, which was probably the best of the run; JLE saw the Bialyan conflict expanded on, the extremists, and an awesome Starro story). I get the humor was occasionally stretched (Kooey Kooey or Mr. Nebula [though I liked the concept], for example) , but when done well (the moving day issues in either book, the recruitment drives, the Guy and Ice dates, JLAnt) the book really worked to develop characters.

I always saw Bats and J’onn as the parents of the team, though, and I think that was the intent (keep in mind Bats was only part-time as well and phased out mostly by the mid-thirties with some cameos here and there). I don’t see him as the God-Batman like Morrison wrote him…more often, I saw him as a guy trying to keep the rest of the team functioning.

Sure, for most of his appearances Batman in JLI was more serious than properly competent… but still, he was the one that decided to bet that a whole floor of Maxwell Lord’s building would have no one inside and turned out to be right.

I take issue with the statement that Booster Gold had no character before joining the JL. That is patently untrue. The original Booster Gold series had a very clear direction and definitely gave Booster a character, and an interesting, unusual one at that, one that in some ways opened the way for the concept of the Thunderbolts. He was a conflicted man in search of redemption _and_ of fame and fortune at the same time. But above all, he was a man who took himself quite seriously, and a far cry from the crown that he became halfway through his first JL appearance.

Nor was he the only one. Captain Atom, J’onn, Batman himself, and even Blue Beetle were far more serious characters than one would guess by their JLI appearances. There is a reason why Animal Man and Wonder Woman made such limited participations at JLE.

Lui Dantas

I felt quite disappointed when it was substituted for the (vastly over-rated) Maxwell Lord version. It didn’t help that Bat-God mode was upped to the max, or that Maguire was such an inferior penciler when compared to Luke McDonnell. But the premise itself was so disappointing to begin with!

Maguire was a little shaky early on, but he was still miles above Luke McDonnell. That final shot of Batman up the top is abysmal.

And as far as I’m aware, Batgod was invented by Grant Morrison in his JLA run.

I never really get the “out of character” complaints about JLI. You’ve never seen a bunch of serious, intelligent guys turn into idiots when they get together with their friends?

Mike Loughlin

March 8, 2010 at 6:54 am

Batman stepped aside as leader because he could see it wasn’t working. That was a rare moment of maturity in both JLI and Batman’s character. Morrison’s Batman, much as I liked him, would not step aside and let another person lead. He allowed certain characters to do certain jobs (as when he had Superman announce the Martians’ weakness to the world), but he wouldn’t listen to or obey anyone.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

March 8, 2010 at 8:37 am

Batman stepped aside as leader because he could see it wasn’t working.

And then he quit the team twice in rapid succession because they wouldn’t do what he said right away. He stepped away from leadership and then got annoyed that he wasn’t being treated like team leader.

Batman was kind of an immature jerk in a lot of JLI.

Actually, the Batgod was invented by Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns, although the Denny O’Neil early 1970s version of Batman had some hints of that as well.

Grant Morrison got the ball rolling and went of it to what, to me, were quite ridiculous lenghts (come on, Superman scaring freaking White Martians with the name of Batman? Not under MY suspention of disbelief, sorry). That is probably why I tend to confuse that version of Batman with that of the JLI: both are silly above all else.

The Batman in TDKR wasn’t close to being Batgod. He was very fallible and survived by pure luck a couple of times within the book.

The one thing that came close was his fight against Superman and that was with the help of Olver Queen with synthetic kryptonite arrows and against a Superman who wasn’t really trying.

The whole point of Batgod is the ridiculous lengths it’s stretched to. Anything less would be lacking the “god” part.

I actually like Luke McDonell’s art and think that he is underrated.

randypan the goat boy

May 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I have just recently purchased the justice league international trades and then subsequently “traded” them back. I dont know if it was the 80′s that made that book good, or if it was a lack of a epic JLA that we recieved in 1996. But whatever the reason the bloom was off the rose. I happen to like the fact that Batman better than holds his own in the magnificent 7 version of the league based on his detective skills and overall batmanlyness. It only makes sense to have the most human of the league be the one they all defer to. I like the thought that there were “gods ” walking the earth during grants run on JLA with Batman being the one they were all afraid of[ with good reason]. There was just something about giffens jli that i hated and it took several years of distance to figure it out.. If you want a good for instance take the way both teams handled a run in with Darkseid. Giffens team might as well had scooby doo unmask darkseid at the end of the story”AND I WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT IF IT WASNT FOR YOU KIDS AND THAT DOG”. In Rock of ages the JLA was getting slaughtered in a suicide run. I look at Giffens JLI and Morrisons JLA and compare the 2 to Superfriends and Justice League Unlimited…same concept…waaay different approaches

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