4.24.2013

Jupiter's Legacy #1 [Weekly Reviews]

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Jupiter’s Legacy #1 (Image): Mark Millar and Frank Quitely deliver their much anticipated multi-generational treatise on the industry’s most prevalent genre. To my slight surprise, it’s really good. I have no doubt it’ll be one of the buzz books this year. My hesitation really had everything to do with Millar, but absent are the over-the-top Millar tics I’ve come to loathe, and in their place is a more restrained, more mature, more thoughtful, and less gratuitous examination of human fallibility juxtaposed with super powered beings. Yes, it’s actually more Ellis Planetary than Millar Kick-Ass. While Planetary seemed like Ellis’ love letter to the entire history of the medium, Millar’s self-described epic appears to be something of a contemplative and reflective letter to the superhero paradigm, expressing “everything I’ve ever wanted to say about the genre,” as he recently stated in an interview. It doesn’t really reference familiar visual archetypes or overtly common dialogue tropes, it doesn’t even really touch on them, so much as subtly glance in the general direction of recognizable properties like Superman or Spider-Man. Sheldon Sampson dreams of an island that contains secrets, ruins of an ancient university laying in wait “millions of years” to heal America’s woes post-Crash of ’29. It’s a pulpy opening full of intrigue, winding its way through dimly lit bars and wearily wise ship captains in North Africa. While the script tries a little too hard to make connections to present day social unrest, multiple unfunded wars, austerity measures, “bad loans and reckless bankers,” there’s no denying the mysterious charm of establishing a creation story for the Golden Age, or a modern superhero myth as Grant Morrison would probably say. It struck me that most comparable stories would have started in the present day and offered up this origin in flashback. Jupiter’s Legacy offers a reversal that makes you feel like the search for the island is the main story and everything subsequent is a flawed flash forward. I appreciate those little structural differences. Like the titular Roman Sky God, Sheldon “Utopian” Sampson (notice the eagle sigil), brother Walter, and their generation of heroes rule with might, vanquish ostensible corporeal foes, yet never seem to cure the underlying problems plaguing society. By condensing the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomer era into one group (notice that the math doesn’t add up, Grace is ~100 years old and looks half that, it’s never explicitly stated, but this assumedly resulted from powers attained on the island), it’s left to their modern day children to continue the legacy. This dynamic creates an internal post-modern superhero deconstruction, which I’ve always been a sucker for. The younger entitled generation is knee deep in public adoration and media saturation, some trying to carve out a legacy when there’s nobody cool left to fight, (and 100 heroes roll out when there is), and seem more concerned with the lifestyle (drugs, groupies, and bottle service), with building personal brands amid corporatization and commoditization of their powers, than actually serving the greater good. There’s nice tension there and I also found the tension between brothers Sheldon and Walter very interesting. They’ve grown apart and represent the dichotomies in the political spectrum, conservative and liberal, one based in belief, one rooted in pragmatism. I thought it was telling how Walter humanely separates mind and body as a villain is getting dismantled. He realizes that physical prowess is not the answer to societal problems in an asymmetrical age, unlike his brother. Visually, Jupiter’s Legacy is constructed by Frank Quitely and colorist Pete Doherty, who also handled the recoloring of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s cult classic Flex Mentallo. It’s everything you’d expect to find from Quitely’s anemic style, capturing figures in a quirky but somehow true-to-life style, the early pulp inspired Earth tones, the garish superheroics, and even new feats like the oft-touted VR projection panel. Quitely seems to have a polarizing style that people either love or hate, but you can always count me in the former. By the end, I didn’t feel like the “cliffhanger” hook was very strong, but we’re left with plenty of other interesting questions that will play out. Not only do I expect the inter-generational and fraternal conflicts to come to a crossroads, but Sheldon says “we never talked about what happened in those mountains.” God, I hope by the time these 10 issues wrap we’ll get a glimpse into that. There’s a ripple effect that will emanate from whatever was discovered on that island; the possibilities of both pure storytelling and examining genre conventions are limitless when you consider everything from ancient civilizations, to off-world involvement, to more naturalist powers. I’m also concerned as to how their children have powers; at this point we don’t know if they’re something passed down genetically or if they were granted from an external power source or higher plane of mental enlightenment found in the academic ruins. There are plenty of little clues in the dialogue and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Grade A.

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