Thursday, March 6, 2014

Jupiter's Legacy - It's Hard to Live Up to a Legacy

Jupiter's Legacy 4
Written by Mark Millar
Illustrated by Frank Quitely and Peter Doherty
Image Comics

Jupiter's Legacy is an ambitious superhero comic involving two of the biggest names in superhero comics. Mark Millar and Frank Quitely previously worked together on the groundbreaking series "The Authority", and each has been associated with some of the most high-profile and commercially successful superhero comic books of the past dozen years.  So when they get together to work on a project, you take notice. 

The story of Jupiter's Legacy is one of generations, of (you guessed it) legacies, and destiny and inheritance. In the world of Jupiter's Legacy, Sheldon Sampson was a businessman whose family had lost its fortune in the Great Depression, and he was scared for what he saw in America - would it be destroyed by some bad loans and reckless bankers (a cyclical problem, it seems)? Sheldon had a vision in 1932 of a mysterious island which held secrets, and promise. So Sheldon, his brother Walter, and a group of friends set out to find this island.  Not only did they find the it, but they come back with superpowers and became heroes.  It appears that after they returned from this island, they ushered in a golden age of heroism, optimism and prosperity.

However, as the series shifts to the modern day, we see that the children and grandchildren of those great heroes have fallen somewhat far from the tree. These progeny are far more concerned with marketing,  partying, sex and drugs than with trying to make the world a better place. There's also significant tension between Sheldon and his brother Walter. Sheldon warns them to maintain the status quo (fighting villains and saving lives, but leaving politics to the politicians), but Walter is a super genius who thinks they should be more actively involved, and clearly aches to get out from the shadow of his older brother. 

Sheldon (fittingly known as the Utopian) and his wife Grace have two children, Brandon and Chloe, who are typical Millar characters, doing bad things at the drop of a hat. Over the course of the first three issues, Brandon becomes more and more frustrated with his father's disapproval, and his uncle Walter takes advantage of that by convincing Brandon and all of the other heroes that it's time to get rid of Sheldon and Grace and take bigger actions to save humanity. At the end of this, Chloe makes a break for it, and we know that the status quo is going to change significantly.

Issue 4 begins with a flashback featuring a beautiful splash page of the mysterious island (which, as it turns out is not exactly an island), gorgeously rendered with great detail by Quitely. The creators show us more of what happened when Sheldon and his crew got to the island. Sheldon's visions have taken him and his group to someplace pretty remarkable, and there's some nice interaction between Sheldon, Walter, and Sheldon's good friend George, whose life will take a different path. 

From the Island, the story nicely moves ahead to 2022 (as the story on the island was actually a bedtime story being told by Chloe to her son). Eight years have passed in the story, and Chloe, Hutch (a villain, natch) and their son Jason have been laying low, living in Australia. In some amusing scenes reminiscent of The Incredibles, we see that Jason and his family have to work hard to hide his abilities (including his athleticism, strength and intelligence). However, he also has been running off, unbeknownst to them, and engaging in some superheroic activities. 

The story lastly turns to Brandon and his uncle Walter, who are celebrating nine years in power in the White House. However, they may have overestimated their ability to solve all of society's problems, as there seems to be massive poverty and social unrest. Brandon is taking all of this quite personally, and doesn't have his uncle's sense of detachment. As the story ends, Brandon and Walter discuss Chloe, and we see that Chloe and her family may not be safe for too much longer.

This was a strong return for the series, and this has been an entertaining, intriguing series overall. It's clear that Millar is shooting for something more lofty and ambitious here than in some of the other recent stories he's told. Unlike something like Kick-Ass or Nemesis, the violence here is not gratuitous, and the story generally has a more serious, weighty tone, and the thrills are not quite as visceral. 


That's not to say that this is a dark series; on the contrary, there are some real moments of humor and fun, and the emotions between the characters feel genuine. Just as in earlier issues you could feel Brandon's resentment and hatred for his father, in the current issue the love in Chloe's family feels authentic, as it's clear she and Hutch trying to do their best to mitigate a difficult situation.  Millar has something to say in this series; it feels like a commentary on how our society has fallen from the days of the "Greatest Generation". It also feels like a commentary on superhero stories such as The Authority where the superheroes eventually take over the government (or the delusional ideas of someone like Lex Luthor who think they out to be in change of everything). It seems to be turning out just as Sheldon predicted; just because you're telekinetic or really strong or good at complex schemes, doesn't mean you know how to fix the national debt or solve social problems.

The overall tone of the series is strongly felt in Frank Quitely's art. Quitely is a great sequential/visual storyteller. From the lush, weird scenes on the island, to the grim depictions of the present (such as when Brandon screams at a group of protesters, you feel his power) to the dynamic superhero scenes (as when Jason flies to save the day, it's pretty inspiring), he sets a scene and gives you everything you need to understand the emotion and action in the story. In this series, he's using a slightly more realistic, less cartoony style than (by comparison) All-Star Superman, and his line work in this series also has a slightly rougher quality. Similarly, the coloring in this series has been more muted than something like The Authority or All-Star Superman. The world in which this story takes place, while significantly different, is meant to be seen as being several steps closer to our world than the typical comic superhero story.

Chances are you might have strong feelings about Mark Millar one way or another. Regardless of those feelings, if you enjoy interesting, thoughtful takes on superheroes from two masters of the genre, Jupiter's Legacy is definitely worth a look.

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