Best Shots Advance Reviews: JUPITER'S LEGACY 2 #1, CRYPTOCRACY #1

Dark Horse June 2016 cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! This week the Best Shots crew has a pair of reviews for two creator owned titles hitting the stands this Wednesday. We'll kick things off with a look at Jupiter' Legacy 2 #1.

Credit: Frank Quitely (Image Comics)

Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Frank Quitely and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Peter Doherty
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“Chloe Simpson just got her shit together, Walter. What comes next is everything you’ve been afraid of.”

Mark Millar and Frank Quitely launch the second installment of their twilight of the gods this week in Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #1, and despite the carnage and superhero deconstruction that characterized much of this book’s first arc, this issue feels about as optimistic as we’ve ever seen these creators. In true Millar fashion, this first chapter is a touch decompressed as he introduces his various new players, but he and Quietly’s stylish action sequences will provide more than enough hook to keep readers interested.

The biggest critique I can give Jupiter’s Legacy 2 is the same critique I’d give the first volume — namely that while this series does come out on a serialized basis, the level of decompression will make this a much stronger read as a collection. But Jupiter’s Legacy has always been a strange beast in terms of its structure, given that the first three issues introduced a golden age of superheroes toppled by a family coup, only to switch gears to a story about a family of metahumans trying to live life under the radar of a ruthless regime. With this new first issue, former superhero screw-up Chloe Simpson, her shady husband Hutch, and their powerful son Jason are doing something a little bit different — they’re bringing the gang back together.

Of course, when that gang is Hutch’s network of down-and-out supervillains, things might go a little differently than you’re expecting.

But even with the (alleged) villains on display here, this intro actually feels like a welcome reprieve from the occasionally oppressive, sometimes gratuitously bleak opening issues of the original Jupiter’s Legacy series. Reading more like a montage from one of the Ocean’s Eleven films, as Chloe, Hutch, and Jason go about recruiting and/or jailbreaking their various associates, Jupiter’s Legacy 2 has a real degree of fun that might go overlooked based on its darker premise. (In many ways, the runaway family dynamic here feels like a great companion piece to Millar’s characters over in Empress.) But while the original Jupiter’s Legacy opened on an optimistic note, with a group of exemplars uniting to form an iconic super-team, this sequel becomes a smart inversion of the trope — while these are mostly ex-villains on the run, they’re coming together for a brighter purpose, and while we don’t know a ton about them yet, it’s hard not to root for the bad guys.

Yet this wouldn’t be a Mark Millar book without copious amounts of action, which makes for an exciting if admittedly short reading experience. Quitely portrays Hutch as almost a redneck superhero with his sleeveless shirts, dangling necklace and unkempt hair, but he acquits himself as well as any action blockbuster star as he steals a cop’s energy rifle and uses it to blast his way out of a prisoner transport. Chloe, meanwhile, has a wonderful sense of weight to her movement, skidding to a stop in front of two prospective recruits as she says, “You think I can’t outrace a subatomic particle?” Given Chloe’s almost throwaway role as the family disappointment in the first arc of the series, Millar has given his heroine a really wonderful evolution as a mother and budding superhero. But given that Millar doesn’t spend a lot of time fleshing out his other supervillains, Quitely does a great job with all the heavy lifting — meeting burnouts like the Wood King attending a flower shop or a trash collector named Automaton (or watching a guy named Jack Frost chill out in a Speedo in Antarctica) make for some great moments.

If you’re looking for something deeper than superhero fisticuffs, admittedly Jupiter’s Legacy 2 might not be the series for you — but it’s to Millar and Quietly’s credit that they care less about the sanctity of superhero concepts and instead uses their physical iconography to deliver a fun action blockbuster. Like many of Millar’s other works, this is a book that’s defined by its production values more than its sense of resonance — although the idea of all-powerful families bickering and squabbling and betraying one another has gone back as far as, well, the Roman gods this book is named after — but if you’ve kept up with the first volume of this series and are willing to be patient as this second installment unfolds, you’ll find a lot to like about Jupiter’s Legacy 2.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Cryptocracy #1
Written by Van Jensen
Art by Pete Woods
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Cryptocracy #1 has a lot of work to do over the span of its lengthy 27 pages. Van Jensen's newest comic about the secret cabals behind the curtain of our world that pull the strings of nations, institutions, and even individual people creates a world of massive scope by virtue of the premise alone. As with any first issue, the need to establish the world and introduce characters winds up taking precedent. Jensen does some impressive work with the former, but as a result of spending so much time world building, the character work comes up a little short.

The story jumps between several different locations and events, all loosely connected by Grahame, a member of the Eighth Circle. Oh yeah, there are Nine Circles of power and influence, with Nine being the highest ranking and members of the Eighth Circle are… you know what, just read the very first page of the comic. The title page of Cryptocracy #1 has the fastest, cleanest, and most effective world building that I may have ever seen. It consists of a small diagram illustrating the Nine Circles and providing a brief description of what each Circle entails. It is as concise as it is effective. Without a single line of dialogue, so much of the world is established. The implications that the charts hint at are legitimately frightening, and having the page handy makes for a useful reference as you read through the comic.

Grahame is a member of the Mars Family, one of the Nine Families that rule the world, not to be confused with Nine Circles. The Families are the rulers; the Circles are the structures they follow. If this seems at all confusing, it is a testament to just how well Jensen builds his world. None of this is confusing as you read through. It's all established and easily referenced on literally the first page. He doubles down on exposition, with a lengthy conversation early on that more or less retreads information from the opening diagram. Some people might find that to be too much hand holding, but others may find it necessary in navigating this murky but rich world. Grahame and his cryptid, foul-mouthed companion Jason, a bugbear, are tasked with covering up an incident where an invisible hydra blew up two square miles of Illinois. Jason the Bugbear doesn't really sell the premise, but that's okay. He's comic relief, and this comic has a surprising amount of levity and laughs despite the darker subtexts of power and whether or not anybody has any real personal agency.

There is one particular scene, however, where Jensen not only drops the ball, but also kicks it so far away from the field that nobody can have fun anymore. There is a scene where Grahame, who has been hosting her broadcasts on any Wi-Fi she can pirate, is caught by the owner of the property, who delivers a token threat of rape. I can't stress enough just how little it added to the scene — the sequence works and plays out in the exact same way if the man was instead simply angry that someone was trespassing on his property. The plot and characters gain nothing from implied rape threats. It is just cheap, as the host winds up kneeing her assailant in the grown and escaping before spewing off some genuinely bad dialogue with, "Avail yourself of an ice pack.” Seriously, not even fictional characters talk like this. The only other major misstep comes at the very end of the comic, when a hermit-looking man destroys the entire Jupiter Family. That scene is powerful. What follows is Grahame immediately jumping to the conclusion that somebody is hunting the families. What? He doesn't investigate or come up with any other solution. He determines that the Families are being hunted, because this is a comic book series and we need to establish the overall arc.

Pete Woods' art is impressive in just about every panel. In particular, the way he handles light and depth of focus help to give the comic a truly cinematic quality. The extent to which the art sells the story and the universe in which it inhabits is also noteworthy. As the story blends technology, magic, and cosmic forces, Woods finds ways to not just allow those separate elements to co-exist, but he makes them seem like the same thing from different perspectives. Grahame's plasma weapon, the mysterious figure with seemingly mystical properties that destroys the Jupiter Family, and the odd, invisible hydra that blows up two square miles of Illinois are all given a distinct bright glow that connects them, all of which sells the world that Jensen has created.

Cryptocracy #1 is flawed, but also wildly entertaining. There is an obvious urge to get the plot into a certain narrative place in order for not only the next issue, but also the entire series to take off. While that is sloppy, the places that the plot hints at going, especially with the letter that is included at the end alluding to the Tunguska event, are unique. It's clear that Jensen has a lot of really interesting ideas, and Woods' art matches him in terms of developing and maintaining something original. The series has a lot of potential, and with most of the exposition out of the way, I'm looking forward to learning more about the characters that Jensen has written.

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