Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

The Kids Are All Might

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 27th, 2013

Jupiter’s Legacy #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Frank Quitely
Colors/Letters: Peter Doherty
Cover artists: Quitely/Bryan Hitch/Dave Johnson/Phil Noto/J. Scott Campbell/Christian Ward
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

While still boasting an over-the-top approach, Jupiter’s Legacy mercifully seems a bit more toned down in its more extreme approach to the super-hero genre than Millar’s other more recent super-hero satire/deconstruction projects, such as Kick-Ass and Nemesis. There’s a lot more subtext to be found here, as Millar isn’t really telling a super-hero story. The intent is clearly of a cultural and socio-political commentary on the state of America in the 21st century. There’s an interesting balance of hope and cynicism to be found here that allows Jupiter’s Legacy to stand apart from other “Millarworld” fare. Mind you, while the themes and ideas are engaging and thought-provoking, what the storytelling boasts in the way of subtext, it lacks in terms of subtlety. But that’s OK… who’s expecting subtlety from a Millar script? Also coming as no surprise is the strength of Frank Quitely’s linework. Though I wish his character designs included a more diverse array of body types, he imbues the cast with powerful presences and intensity.

Following the stock market crash of 1929 that threatened to bring America to her knees, Sheldon Sampson and a group of loyal friends set out to find a mysterious island that couldn’t possibly exist but promised to hold the cure of all of society’s ills. They succeeded, and in the process, became gods walking the earth. Today, their super-heroic legacy is to be passed on to their children, but Sampson’s children and other young superhumans feel smothered by their parents’ reputations and achievements as they wallow in a culture of celebrity and privilege.

Quitely’s art in the opening scene — especially the glimpses of the seemingly magical island — put me in mind of John Cassaday’s stellar work on Warren Ellis’s Planetary. There’s an unmistakably mythic look to the figures and backdrops, and Quitely’s presentation of the island is perhaps most noteworthy for what it doesn’t show than what it does. The island looks like only part of the picture. I felt as though I was looking at a single vertebra from the spine of some behemoth of a creature.

The Planetary riff is also quite strong in the writing for that opening scene as well. The group of explorers, determined to forge ahead toward the unknown, reminded me of it, but the characters and premise also evoke other pop-culture references as Ellis did (albeit in a more indirect way here). The voyage toward an impossible island touches upon King Kong, and Sheldon’s imposing, dashing nature, clad in his exploration togs, brings with it a Doc Savage resonance. Now, Sheldon’s friends’ failure to show any measure of doubt stretches credibility beyond its limit; that no one (other than a skeptical boat captain) expresses any rational sentiment in the face of the completely irrational motive for their adventure is more than a little hard to swallow, but it’s a hurdle worth surpassing to get to the meat of the story.

It’s interesting to compare the designs Quitely’s come up with for the various super-heroes, both the classic Golden Age parents and the 21st century kids. The former boast simple, modest designs, iconic in their appearance, with bright colors. The younger superhumans boast more utilitarian, less striking looks, and the women are scantily clad. Their outfits are designed for titillation rather than inspiration. The one exception among the senior heroes is Walter, the dissatisfied, dissident voice among the original group of adventurers. His 21st century outfit is dark, basic and militaristic in appearance, reflecting the views he’s expressing about eliminating freedoms to ensure security.

I must also acknowledge the strength of the work of colorist Peter Doherty, who enhances Quitely’s line art wonderfully. It’s particularly apparent in the opening scene. The rough, dirty texture he adds to the walls in an overseas watering hole in the 1930s makes for an interesting contrast with the seemingly perfect skin tone of the American adventurers. And I love the haze he adds to the sea voyage, which adds to the tension and mystery of the characters’ quest.

Walter and Sheldon’s conversation in the latter part of the issue is a distorted reflection of the more hopeful and agreeable talk they have in the opening scene. They once shared a vision for a prosperous America, but over the years, they’ve clearly diverged, with the Utopian embracing a life of service to America and hope to achieve his goal while Walter eyes the use of power they’ve been given to force that ideal into reality. It’s a classic liberal/conservative conflict that clearly favors the former perspective and offers a pointed (and again, far from subtle) commentary on the state of America today. But on second thought, given recent events in the gun debate, one could view it in another light — that Walter represents an overbearing state trying to ensure safety through legislation while Sheldon sees the collateral damage of his approach a price worth paying for certain freedoms and principles. Sheldon’s and Walter’s powers also reflect their polarized relationship — one is an unstoppable physical powerhouse and the other a master of the mind.

In many ways, Jupiter’s Legacy carries on similar themes and notions that were expounded in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, in which the heroes of the Golden and Silver ages see their mission and ideals twisted and distorted by the modern generation of so-called “heroes.” Kingdom Come seemed more like a statement about the genre itself and how grim, violent elements led to creators and readers losing sight of what made super-heroes special. Jupiter’s Legacy seems to cast its critical eye more widely. Millar takes aim at a modern culture of celebrity and entitlement. Brandon and Chloe Sampson strike me as standins. They’re Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen and Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber and all those Kardashians; what they offer isn’t so much talent but fodder for a celebrity-driven, 24-hour news cycle. Sheldon’s crew represents the Greatest Generation, whereas their children seem to be the Greediest Generation. 8/10

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2 Responses to “The Kids Are All Might”

  1. Perry Says:

    Don, your home page says this was posted on April 27th, but it didn’t appear when I checked your site a couple of days ago. Any explanation on that? In any case, welcome back! I enjoy reading your thoughtful reviews and commentaries, so I’m glad to see that you haven’t gone out of “business.” Suggestion for a future post, if I may: I know you’re not exactly an industry “insider,” but if you have any thoughts on the current state of DC’s management (using that term loosely), I for one would be curious to read them.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Perry wrote:
    Don, your home page says this was posted on April 27th, but it didn’t appear when I checked your site a couple of days ago. Any explanation on that?

    I’m guessing a cached version of the site loaded instead of the current one.

    In any case, welcome back! I enjoy reading your thoughtful reviews and commentaries, so I’m glad to see that you haven’t gone out of “business.”

    I know my updates have been sporadic as of late, and it’s a combination of a number of factors: settling into a new home, wrangling a toddler, setting up my home office, organizing the collection, procastination and laziness. I’m trying to write about comics more regularly again. If someone wants to guarantee it, a site sponsorship would definitely make it happen. :)

    Suggestion for a future post, if I may: I know you’re not exactly an industry “insider,” but if you have any thoughts on the current state of DC’s management (using that term loosely), I for one would be curious to read them.

    I don’t really have a lot to say about that, as I don’t really know what the state of DC management is. All I’ve see is speculation and rumor, and I don’t feel like piling on.