Jupiter's Legacy #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Frank Quitely and Peter Doherty
Lettering by Peter Doherty
Published by Image Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
In Jupiter's Legacy, Mark Millar and Frank Quitely return to the politically-tinged superhuman action that characterized their previous collaboration, a run on the first volume of Wildstorm's The Authority. That book's reputation and the intervening decade-plus of high-profile successes for both men, however, is still no preparation for how effective and absorbing a comic they've delivered here. Sharing some thematic concerns with fellow Image book Nowhere Men, Jupiter's Legacy is a smart, subdued look at the failures of individuals of great promise, and how those failures can do as much or more to shape the world than their successes.
This debut issue brings readers to two moments in time – shortly before the emergence of superheroes in 1932, and the present-day world that results. The central characters are the Sampson family, an extended clan whose first generation are the Earth's greatest costumed champions, and whose children are dissolute celebrities unable or unwilling to live up to the expectations of their parents and the public.
Millar seems less concerned here with starting a propulsive plot or defining characters than with establishing a tone and mood – one of a nation in decline, and the fall of the masked men and women that represent her. He draws significant parallels between the two eras depicted, in terms of ongoing economic and social currents. The struggles that drove the Sampsons to seek out their mysterious powers have not vanished in the intervening 80 years, but grown even more insidious, indomitable and far-reaching. There's not much here to distinguish the characters as individuals yet, but what Millar does succeed in conveying is the tremendous impotence that they all feel, despite their enormous personal power, in creating any sort of lasting improvement or change.
The atmosphere, then, in spite of the spandex, drugs, and super-groupies, is one of melancholy, a note I don't recall ever seeing struck in quite this way in the context of superhero fiction. This is not to say, of course, that the book is 22 pages of navel-gazing by rich people with superpowers. Millar's trademark black humor and full-throttle action are both on display, particularly in a sequence where the Sampsons deal with a recurring foe in disturbing fashion. What I am seeing, though, is a maturity and thematic sophistication that has not been apparent in other recent work. While his delivery of these ideas might come through at-times heavy-handed dialogue, I'm intrigued enough to forgive those missteps.
Quitely's art, meanwhile, is much of a piece with the story Millar builds here. He curbs his normal stylization in favor of a more defined, gritty look, which dovetails nicely with the crumbling moral universe of the Sampsons. Rather than the exagerrated widescreen action of The Authority, the scale of the visuals is more limited, confining characters and readers alike into close quarters. The focus here is on human figures and talking heads, and Quitely struggles at times with nuances of expression, but the overall seaminess comes across nicely. Doherty's subdued color palette is a huge part of this, reinforcing again just how drained and static the Sampsons' America has become.
The seeds of ongoing conflict are planted in the differing opinions of the Sampsons over how to best deploy themselves – altruism, authoritarianism, or hedonism – and there's at least one clear inciting event, but the narrative is not the important part of Jupiter's Legacy #1. What Millar and Quitely do here, and do so well, is show us a world where superheroes exist, yet nothing is better, then invite us to consider what that says about the way we have chosen to abdicate responsibility in favor of comfort. I wish more creators were willing to push the boundaries of the genre in such a compelling way.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!