Jupiter’s Legacy opens in the early ‘30s with Sheldon Sampson, a businessman who lost everything in the stock market crash. He leads a group of friends, including his brother Walter and future wife Grace, to a mysterious island he saw in a dream. The group emerges with super powers that Sheldon insists they use to inspire America, to lead them out of the Depression.
Flash forward eight decades and a still-vital Sheldon and Grace are Utopian and Lady Liberty, the world’s most famous superheroes. They and Walter are still active, alongside many younger heroes, including Walter’s shiftless son, Jules. Sheldon and Grace have two young adult children who have inherited their vast powers, but not their ideals. Brandon is a hedonist, spending his time on heavy drinking and casual sex. Chloe is a celebrity party girl.
An overdose clues Chloe into the fact that she’s pregnant by secret boyfriend Hutch, a “bad boy” on the wrong side of the hero/villain divide. Brandon clashes with Sheldon after his drunken antics jeopardize innocents.
Sheldon and Walter disagree over Sheldon’s insistence that the heroes remain removed from politics and government. Walter has devised a radical program he believes could change the world. Walter co-opts Brandon to lead a bloody revolt against Sheldon and Grace. The younger heroes, weary of Walter’s rigid morality, easily go along. Hutch rescues Chloe and the two disappear.
The action shoots forward nearly a decade. Walter and Brandon have led a superhero takeover of the U.S. government, but the state of the world has only gotten worse and the heroes have turned the U.S. into a dangerous police state. Chloe and Hutch hide out in Australia under assumed names. They carefully raise their son Jason, who’s inherited Chloe’s powers and is fascinated by her stories of his grandparents’ adventures.
Without his parents’ knowledge, Jason has secretly been using his powers to help people in danger. He unwittingly creates a pattern that catches the attention of Walter’s operatives. When Jason falls into a trap, Chloe and Hutch emerge from hiding for a public confrontation. The family makes short work of their attackers and finds themselves poised to lead a revolution.
Jupiter’s Legacy is Millar’s latest entry in the “dysfunctional hero” genre. The epic scope of the saga makes it one of the writer’s most ambitious projects since launching his Millarworld imprint a couple years ago. Millar riffs on some of the most iconic archetypes and tropes of the superhero genre to create an absorbing, thoroughly modern series. It ricochets from soft focus Golden Age flashbacks to gritty near-future dystopia with a fluid ease. Millar pulls off a carefully executed narrative hoodwink. Readers initially might believe that Jupiter’s Legacy is merely a story about generational conflict among superheroes in the celebrity age. But the shocking mid-arc twist that propels the action into a darker tale about the abuse of power and the necessity of standing up to such abuse infuses a much greater depth into the plot than might first have been apparent.
Millar populates Jupiter’s Legacy with some fascinating characters. Among the older generation, the fraternal conflict between the dominant Sheldon and the resentful Walter is a literary classic that effectively fuels the plot. Millar doesn’t canonize Sheldon and Grace, even as he presents their idealism as a rare form of selflessness. But Millar also makes clear how Sheldon’s rigidity in all things and, especially, his failings as a parent drive the tragedy that ensues. Walter makes for a fascinating villain, mostly because he views himself as a hero who’s willing to go to extremes to “save” the world. He’s a post-modern Iago, cannily manipulating Brandon’s vanity and resentment to ignite a conflict that serves his own agenda.
Chloe and Hutch may be Millar’s most compelling creations for Jupiter’s Legacy. Chloe initially comes across as a Hilton/Kardashian manqué with powers. She chafes not only at the lengths her parents go to in order to shield their family from harm, but at the very concept that she should use her powers to be a superhero. But when faced with horribly difficult choices, she demonstrates she is truly her parents’ daughter, going to great lengths to protect her son, but also eventually emerging as the true inheritor of their ideals. The Chloe/Hutch relationship is layered and interesting. Millar develops it well beyond the confines of its Romeo and Juliet set-up. Hints to the close ties Hutch’s supervillain father once had to Sheldon add complexity to the scenario, as Hutch emerges as a surprisingly noble figure. Scenes of Chloe and Hutch choreographing Jason’s public clumsiness as a smoke screen for his true nature are an amusing riff on The Incredibles that provide some lighthearted moments to offset the darker drama. And really, can you imagine any writer other than Millar so seamlessly quoting both Shakespeare and Pixar in the same story?
Brandon is the trouble spot in the Jupiter’s Legacy character landscape. While he gets a bit of time in the spotlight, he doesn’t emerge quite as sharply as Chloe does in Book One. In some ways that’s understandable. Chloe has a much more visceral arc that provides a crucible to reveal her character. Brandon doesn’t get much beyond his daddy issues in these initial issues. That might be more a timing and structural issue. Millar has a lot of pieces to move around to set up the primary conflict that will emerge in Book Two. In that regard, Brandon’s issues, which are more inward-looking, would be difficult to explore in this first arc. It’s by no means a fatal flaw, but fans still are left waiting to truly understand the demons that would drive Brandon to betray his parents so totally and brutally.
Millar’s long-time collaborator Frank Quitely is onboard as co-creator and artist. Quitely has a meticulous, detailed style that just looks amazing on the page. He handles fiery action sequences and quieter character scenes with equal grace and impact. There’s a real sense of emotional dynamism in all Quitely’s work that makes him ideal for such a far-ranging project. He is equally effective on the soft focus flashbacks, flashy present action and gritty future sequences. His character work is first rate; he manages to produce genuine expressiveness that increases the impact of the visual presentation. Quitely collaborated closely with Peter Doherty, who handles colors and letters and helped with the overall design of the series. Doherty does some amazing work here. He’s got a firm grasp on the color variety necessary for the different parts of Jupiter’s Legacy and his work is spot on, page by page. His thoughtful work is a seamless complement to Quitely’s. The book is packed with stunning images, dynamic action sequences, jaw-dropping splash pages and compelling character interactions. There are pages and panels you’ll want to stare at for a good while, just to absorb the full impact. Quitely doesn’t work fast, but results this good are worth waiting for.
The Millar/Quitely/Doherty team just delivers throughout Jupiter’s Legacy. It’s a stunning achievement that demonstrates how compelling “superhero comics for grown-ups” can be.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 13, 2015.