Jupiter's Legacy #1
Mark Millar has once again teamed up with his fellow Scot Frank Quietly (they previously worked together on DC Comics' The Authority) to bring you the latest "Greatest Superhero Epic". Since this was first announced during the Millarworld panel at Kapow! Comic Con last year, (originally titled Jupiter's Children) I had been eagerly awaiting this release. (I pre-ordered every variant of Issue 1!) This is the title that Millar referred to in an interview with The Spectator - as his "attempt at something like Star Wars".
There are many routes a writer can choose to take when writing superheroes; your character can be born with the power(s), they can seek it out, they can take part in a government or military project, they can be bored revenge-seeking billionaires. These are just a few of the hundreds of ways that superheroes have obtained powers in comic books. Mark Millar, as you would expect, isn't happy with a generic 'alien-crash-landing' or 'radioactive-spider' superhero.
Our protagonist Sheldon Sampson is an Ivy League graduate who has just lost it all because of the 1929 stock market crash. With nothing left to lose in the midst of 'the Great Depression', he gathers a few friends and travels towards an island that was 'calling' him. Little is seen of the journey to this mysterious blank spot on the map, but lead by prophecy, they become the world's greatest superheroes.
The island that gave the heroes their powers is not discussed at all; pointing towards the idea that their powers must have come from a dark or evil force or the possibility that there was a sacrifice in order to become what they now are. Something I can only imagine will be discussed later into the story.
Fast forward 70 years and Sampson's two children - Brandon and Chloe - are front and centre on tabloids, they're in the VIP sections at exclusive nightclubs, taking designer drugs and consuming alcohol as if it holds the secrets of the future. Brandon and Chloe both relentlessly bitch and moan about how little the world has to offer them, and in this it's not hard to see Millar's distaste for our celebrity culture. It's easy to draw parallels with any of the modern day 'stars' on the front page of every magazine, whose only reason for fame is their familial relations.
Whilst his children are running from any responsibility, Sheldon and his ageing team - including his brother, Walter - are out fighting a villain in a way that leads the reader to assume this is what they've been doing for the past 70 years.
Sheldon's superhero name is, The Utopian, which in itself tells you what this guy is like; he's an idealist that is cut from the Captain America -money-and-fame-don't-matter mould. The minute his brother Walter mentions trying to get involved in 'fixing' America and the current economic crisis - the parallel with 1929 is unambiguous - Sheldon puts him right back in his place and reminds him that it's their "…moral responsibility toobey…ride it out and leave politics to the politicians." This clash of ideals we are seeing between Sheldon and Walter wouldn't be out of place in a Superman/Batman crossover. It's the archetypical argument between reason and morality. (During the first six pages Sheldon even looks like Clark Kent, all he needs is a pair of Wayfarers!)
My main gripe with this story; what have they actually been doing? Why 70 years after gaining their powers has this group of superheroes still not 'fixed' the world? Why only now, is one of them raising the point that they are equipped to do something about it? However, as we're not yet privy to the kinds of powers that these heroes hold; we're not really in a position to decide if they actually are equipped to do something. All we know is that many are strong, some can fly and Walter can augment reality in some way. None of these are world-changing powers, but in one issue, how much could they really show? Still, the niggling thought is there; why now?
The backgrounds and layers in the art are wonderful, although Quitely's lines are less than perfect which leads to an almost dirty look. I do get the feeling that if you zoomed in at all, the pictures would completely lose focus and everything would lose perspective, but at face-value it works. The one panel I really dislike it actually the final one, there are three legs all within a few centimetres of each other, and in a way that no two people would stand which makes the scene hard to picture.
During the battle you get one of the best panels I've seen in a comic book, although I do think they've missed a trick by not using a full page for it. Quitely and Doherty start around the edges of the page with the blue lines and gradually working towards the centre of the page, the page becomes more detailed, the colours brighter and the art finished.
Quitely's choices for the 'costumes' of the heroes are smart, if not a little dull. They seem less fantastical than what most Comic Book heroes wear, although this does allow in a way to make them seem more relatable and less fanciful. The 'civilian' clothing of Brandon and Chloe, is all a little dated, which is a shame when coupled with the impressive work Quitely has put in to making these characters features so distinctive.
Doherty's colouring complements the mood perfectly; from the pale browns of 1929, to the illuminated psychically-created experience, the dark and dingy nightclub and the even darker reality where the supers are fighting. Page four really highlight's his work; panel one shows Sheldon leaving his fiancé' in 1929 and is a palette of browns. Panel two is the darkest moment of his life as he leaves everything behind, and is reflected by the dark blacks and blues. We then fast forward to his breakthrough and discovery of the island in panel three and the oil lamp in the centre brightens the whole scene as if the discovery is bringing him out of the darkness.
Most would believe that this is lacking Millar's sensationalist style; personally I think it's a welcome change. As a fan of his work such as Kick-Ass and Nemesis, whilst I can see parallels (i.e normal people become superheroes and most of the characters are brash and insensitive), I can also see a change in Millar's style. The change in style isn't completely a good thing, whilst I'm happy Millar has refrained from the swearing - as it wouldn't fit the style - it almost seems like he's not sure what should go in its place. The dialogue can be quite bland but at the same time, you still find yourself turning the page, eager to know what's happening next. He's exceptionally good at creating and developing stories, and while it is evident here in the setting of the story, the dialogue is lacking his creative spark. I fully expect that this will pick up once Millar settles in to the style.
I think the art from Quitely and Doherty really sets the tone and it all makes for one very interesting take on the superhero story, especially bearing in mind that this is the first of 10+ issues. I think the stage is suitably set to entice people to pick up the next issue.
Words: Mark Millar
Art: Frank Quitely
Colours: Pete Doherty