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Almost Hidden – Justice League America vs. Despero!

Even with this large amount of comic books that have been collected in trade paperbacks, there are still a number of great comic books that have never been reprinted (I’d say roughly 60% of them are DC Comics from the 1980s through the mid-1990s). So every day this month I will spotlight a different cool comic book that is only available as a back issue. Here is an archive of the comic books featured so far.

I want you folks to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com with your suggestions for comics that I should feature this month. I’d like to see what you all would like to see get more attention.

After featuring the other two major battle storylines from the Justice League International years (the two JLE ones), I figure it is only proper to also spotlight the storyline from Justice League America where the league faces off against Despero! The issues were courtesy of Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Adam Hughes and Joe Rubinstein.


It’s rare to see a story this good written basically as a response to incessant criticism, but that’s basically the background behind the great three-issue story arc of Justice League America #38-40, where the classic Justice League villain Despero comes back to Earth to gain his revenge on the League.

You see, at the time, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League run, while popular (and really quite excellent), got a lot of flack for being too much of a humor title.

So, naturally, they responded with an extremely dark action tale.

Amusingly enough, the story opens with an extended joke – a spoof of the magazine Spy…

But then it quickly cuts into the chilling return of Despero…

Whoever came up with the idea of the UN flag being a cape for Despero deserves applause – it’s a beautiful visual (by the way, I should quickly note that the legendary Joe Rubinstein inked Adam Hughes during this arc).

Despero is tracking down the members of the Justice League that he last fought (the team affectionately – and sometimes not so affectionately – known as “Justice League Detroit”), including Gypsy, who we had last seen reunited with her parents…

Pretty darn brutal, huh?

As Despero tracks Gypsy, he forces her out of hiding…

which leads to this great cliffhanger…

What follows is perhaps the most brutal superhero fight that ever appeared in the pages of Justice League International, and Adam Hughes really outdoes himself on the action.

Mister Miracle, at the time, was really a robot (we the reader knew that, but the Justice League did not), so this sacrifice was a bit of a wink to the readers, but it still affected the members of the cast…

Striking work, huh?

The battle ended in perhaps a less than awesome fashion (okay, definitely in less than awesome fashion, as J’onn introduces a power we didn’t know he had and uses it to stop Despero in pretty much the exact same fashion that Mongul is stopped in “For the Man Who Has Everything?”), but it leads to a brilliant funeral sequence for Mister Miracle (who everyone believes is dead, including Miracle’s wife), including a brilliant moment between Guy Gardner and Ice…

What a tremendous little arc this was. This would make such a good trade. Or how about a DC Comics Presents collection?


This is one of my favorite parts of JLI, which is maybe my favorite DC comic of all time.

But it should be collected before too long. The last JLI collection came out in May, and it ran up to issue #35. Unless they shift focus to JLE for the next one (which they might, and which wouldn’t be a bad decision – the Extremist Vector storyline in #15-19 was that series’ peak), this should be in the next JLI hardcover.

I’d assume the JL/JLI/JLA/JLE collections will get there sooner rather than later. Volume 6 had JLA #33-35 and JLE #7-11, so we’re close to both this and the Extremist Vector.

Agree that the ending is a pretty thorough copout, but it all still strikes a great cord.
One of the all time best DC series ever.

This story. Oh man.

I remember being in awe of Adam Hughes on this arc. I was already a reader when he came on, and it already had great art, but when Hughes came on it was the best art I had ever seen on the book (I missed the Kevin Maguire years). Unfortunately his run was all too brief. My only minor complaint was Joe Rubinstein. I never really cared for his style all that much. It wasn’t bad, just wasn’t for me. I’d have loved to see Hughes’s pencils with someone else’s inks.

Good pick Brian.

The Crazed Spruce

August 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm

This story was definitely jarring when it first came out, but it was pretty damn effective.

I loved that scene with Guy and Ice, too. It was the first time you see that Guy’s not just a meathead with a power ring, and it didn’t take a bop on the head to bring it out of him.

I loved this, and I love it still. The bit at the very beginning with the smarmy reporter going through their trash to find stuff and write the article was hilarious. And since it shows Ice writing (in norse runes) to her father, it also proves that Winick’s unfortunate retcon of her origin is ridiculous.

But still…the art was beautiful, and it was an excellent story…and proof that this incarnation of the League DID fight the Big Bad Guys, and it wasn’t just “Bwhahaha” all of the time.

Just thinking the possibilities of a book this good coming out again… And then I remember it’s Dan Jurgens writing JLI now.

Met Adams Hughes around this time @ a convention in Dover, DE, I think. After drooling over his sketchbook I asked him if he worried about being type-cast as the “pin-up guy”. HE smirked and said, “Nah, not at all, just as long as they like it, I’m not worried.” Can you believe what a nitwit I was !?!?!

Did I just detect a “Sanford & Son” reference?

This was such an amazing arc.

The character-driven humor that had come before raised the stakes for this story and the Extremist Vector. Our heroes felt less omnipotent as a result of their goofiness. It seemed as though Despero could actually beat them.

Gypsy is actually nifty POV character.

randypan the goatboy

August 19, 2011 at 11:23 pm

This was what was so frustrating about being a fan og Giffen’s Justice League. We would have to sit through months of Bwah-ha-haaaaa to get to a story that was this good. It was like every year they would feed us crap and then give us something that would be just epic.. If im not correct the very next thing was the hitler robot during the general Glory storylineand then of course breakldowns

One of the all-time best arcs of any comic. Proof that compelling, masterful story and art could elevate a book of “B-listers” to epic status. I remember another panel from this, where Adam Hughes drew JJ under a tree, with the shadow of the leaves cast across the back of his cape. Hughes blew me away on that title, but especially this arc. I mean, that early shot of Despero crouching on the floor, extending his arms, his torso expanding as he’s berserking out- the lighting and contrast, the anatomy, perspective, and proportion,- naturalistic and brilliant. J’onn never looked or was written better than right there and then.

yeah Adam Hughes was and still is brilliant. maybe we will still see that All Star Wonder Woman some day.
Gypsy is very underrated as a character too.
The Bwahaha made the tragedy here and later in Breakdowns all the more poignant for me.

I forgot Gypsy was that young when she was supposed to in the JLA. High school? Wow. What, the Teen Titans were all booked up? :) I remember reading somewhere, the JLDetroit being referred to as “Aquaman and the Outsiders”. Looking back, it kind ‘a was, though I thought Batman’s team’s book was just better. Up until JM DeMattais (sorry about my spelling) took it over, the Detroit team was just written poorly. And it was cool that he drew on John’s affection for her in this arc- we knew JJ was going to stop Despero, no matter what. Good stuff. Best story I was reading back then. Still holds up.

I agree that the ending had its share of problems, being both random and derivative, but the fact that J’Onn was willing to sacrifice so much for his adopted home made him one of my favorite characters. Adam Hughes’ art was phenomenal, and still packs a punch. Too bad the series lost its footing after this story, but the first year-plus of the Giffen/ DeMatteis run and this story were fantastic.

Great story from one of the greatest runs of the last quarter century. And as great as the quoted pages seem here, when read embedded in their complete natural context, they are even better. That last page quoted is one of the most moving of the run, with Guy being unable to articulate his grief directly and openly, and Tora understanding anyway. The body language is perfect and after umpteen issues of Tora being repulsed and appalled to various degrees by Guy, capped by the rejection of her turning her back on him in the penultimate panel where he seems to be saying he didn’t care about Scott’s “death”, that final panel where she accepts and embraces him, comforting and being comforted, as they share their grief can bring tears to my eyes. Just beautiful.

Reputation for relentless-comedy-and-nothing-but aside, there was plenty of drama and adventure mixed in throughout this run, the proportions of the ingredients constantly varying, which helped keep it fresh for so long.

I LOVED this arc!! It was great seeing Gypsy again and Adam Hughes is just a legend! Its a shame that back then he could pretty much do a monthly book – now these days all he can manage is a cover or 2. :(

Okay, I just have to say that I didn’t read the full arc, but that page where J’onn shows up in the last panel to save Gypsy resonated with me for decades! That’s what it meant to step in harm’s way!! Thanks for bringing it back!

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