Voiced by Keith David
A native of the planet Kalanor, the man who would become known across the galaxy as Despero the Conqueror was shunned almost immediately from birth due to a genetic mutation—a third eye that rested upon his forehead. As a result, Despero was forced to grow up in a community that feared and hated him; a situation that took a toll upon his psyche, as a hatred for his tormentors began to fester within his subconscious. Eventually banished from his village, he wandered the desert wastelands of his world until, one day, he came into contact with the Py’tar—the very soul of his planet. Seeking to reassert its influence upon Kalanor, the Py’tar chose Despero to be its herald; charging him to deliver a message of hope to his people. Enveloping him within its flames, the Py’tar fused its essence into Despero—making him a conduit for its awesome power—but even the Py’tar could not have predicted what was to come, as the transformation triggered Despero’s latent telepathic abilities which, now amplified by the Py’tar’s energies, enabled him to take absolute control of its essence. With the Py’tar now at his command, Despero recalled the anguish dealt to him by the people he was charged with serving, and began to think of ways to punish them for those transgressions.
Returning from the desert under the guise of a holy man, Despero used his mental manipulation and his silver tongue to convert the population of his homeworld, prophesizing a future where Kalanor would become a paradise. With the people under his sway, Despero imposed a militant theocracy upon his people—keeping them in constant fear—and turned his attention to the heavens. Seeking to expand his base of power, he infused his soldiers with the power of the Py’tar and sent them into space with the mission of “converting” the people of other worlds, an action that brought him to the attention of policing organizations such as the Green Lantern Corps and the Justice League. Joining forces, the League and the Corps allied themselves with the local resistance and succeeded in freeing the Py’tar from Despero’s influence. No longer subverted by the mad tyrant’s hatred, the Py’tar reasserted its power upon Kalanor and succeeded in showing its former prophet the error of his ways before reclaiming Despero’s essence into itself.
Cartoon Network on Despero: "An alien despot with a hypnotic third eye, Despero is a master telepath with the ability to project realistic illusions and entrance virtually anyone. He has controlled entire planets with his mental domination (courtesy of Cartoon Network press materials)."
Feel the power of my rage! Feel the power of my hate!
Despero (to Green Lantern) in Hearts and Minds
Making his debut with the release of Justice League of America #1 (1961), Despero has the distinction of being the Justice League’s first adversary, and has gone through virtually as many transformations as the League itself. Initially conceived as a physically weak, mind-controlling tyrant with a perchance for playing chess for the fates of his enemies, he was later redesigned to be a physical powerhouse fueled by his burning, all-consuming hatred of the Justice League. Choosing to pay homage to both incarnations of this classic character, the creative team struck a balance between the two extremes—combining the mental powers and the throne of Kalanor with the hatred and the more physically imposing body type to create an amalgam possessing the most memorable traits of both. Reaching a stable equilibrium, the creative team then added their own touches to the character, such as a shift in skin tone (from pinkish-purple to straight purple) and an eloquent, poetic slant to his speech pattern. Taking into account the presence of veteran voice actor Keith David as the voice of Despero, it could be argued that these changes were meant to be a tribute to David’s famed prior role as Goliath, a character from the Disney animated series Gargoyles.
In addition to the cosmetic changes made to the character, Despero’s station was also retooled, as the creative team sought to differentiate him from the League’s other mind-controlling villains (the Key, Kanjar Ro) and world conquerors (Darkseid, Mongul). By reimagining him as a [false] religious leader, this version of Despero stands as a unique figure in the Justice Leagues Rogues Gallery but, at the same time, draws influences from similar DC villains such as Kobra and Brother Blood. This change also contributes to the character by bringing new meaning to the third eye on his forehead, as many Eastern religions and esoteric faiths believe the third eye (also known as the ajna center, brow chakra, or mind center) to be an energy center of the body; one that is an avenue to inner wisdom. Associated with the color indigo (another reason for the shift in Despero’s skin tone?) and whose main function includes intuition and ESP (extra-sensory perception), this is one of seven chakras located on the human body; each one a center of energy and a step towards personal enlightenment (for more information, see here and here).
(Also, the Py’tar—the instrument responsible for Despero’s physical transformation in the comics—takes on esoteric connotations here, as it is conceived as the planet’s life force. This concept has roots in a theory called the Gaia Philosophy [or, in purely scientific terms, the Gaia Hypothesis], which postulates that the Earth is a living entity; this theory has roots in many religions and has been embraced by spiritualists and environmentalists in recent decades. Taking this theory to its logical ends, one could assume that, as a living, sentient organism; it would have life energies, or a soul, as well. For more information, see here.)
Of course, all spiritual and New Age undertones had to take a back seat to the primary force that drives this character: his hatred. Although a constant facet of the character since his revision in 1986, Hearts and Minds is the first attempt by anyone to give an explanation for his rage; the revelation that he was feared and hated because he was a mutant is an elegant one, and is certainly valid, considering it is a recurring theme in Marvel Comics’ X-Men titles. In addition, his raw hatred sets him apart from the Justice League’s other dictatorial figures as, unlike Darkseid (who makes them suffer but is ultimately indifferent to them as people) and Mongul (who shows them general contempt, but couldn’t care either way about them), Despero genuinely hates his subjects, as they were responsible for his suffering as a boy. In this context, Despero is portrayed as more of a sadist than the aforementioned villains—he wants them to suffer, often in the cruelest ways possible. For example, when Despero received word that his conversion forces failed to “convert” the resistance movement, he could have easily just killed the lieutenant who led the failed campaign, as Darkseid would have done. However, Despero chose to make his soldier suffer, and ordered him to march into the desert, without food or supplies, for a period of “cleansing” that, as we later learn, would have no end, as he would not be recalled by his master (Despero’s next words to his vizier: “Tell Lieutenant Franzi’s forces that he will not be back.”). By sending him to his death with a false hope of forgiveness suspended before him, Despero is revealed to possess a level of brutality on par with the lord of Apokolips himself.
All things considered, Despero stands as a tragic figure in the League’s Rogues Gallery—much in the tradition of similar characters such as Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, or Kalibak—for, had circumstances been different, Despero could have indeed been a great hero and an inspiration for his people—even Despero himself recognizes this, seconds before he was claimed by the Py’tar. However, due to the frailties of his “human” emotions—emotions such as hatred, fear, sorrow, paranoia, and vengeance—what could have been love for his people curdled into blinding, intense hated of them and all others. In the end, Despero’s quest to subjugate the galaxies was a futile attempt to make others suffer and to ensure that he would not be hurt again.
Images courtesy of Toon Zone, DC Comics, Heroic Images!, and the Gargoyles Screen Shot Archive. Goliath courtesy of Buena Vista Television and the Walt Disney Company.
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