The first collaboration in ten years of the writer and artist behind The Authority, Jupiter’s Legacy has been promoted by Mark Millar as the big superhero hit of 2013, and a love letter to America. It’s easy to make comparisons between Jupiter’s Legacy and other post-modern superhero comics such as Watchmen and Millar’s own Kick-Ass; like Watchmen, Jupiter’s Legacy tells the story of Depression-era superheroes who have fought the best of the fights, and led their children into a completely different world, in a career they never asked for. It’s a story we’ve heard before but not for some time, and the present-day setting is completely in the now; like celebrities of today, the superheroes’ children thrive on apathy and stardom.
The story starts out in 1932 with a crew of young and hopeful individuals following a Clark Kent-looking hero and his dream of an island that will save America. Sheldon lost everything in the Wall Street crash but was more upset by the people who were less fortunate than him and driven to breadlines and soup kitchens. The dream of the island so held him that his fiancee left him, and he travelled across the world with a trusted group of colleagues including his brother. The background is done succinctly and the character design by Quitely (All-Star Superman) is exquisite, each character given their own personality, eye shape, even the specific ways they are stood or sat belie elements of their personalities. Sheldon’s brother Walter hangs toward the back while the beautiful, delicate-featured Grace stands firmly behind Sheldon. They find the island of course, just as he saw it, and have never talked about what happened – we aren’t let in on that either yet. All we know is that they returned to the USA with costumes and superpowers and made the world a better place. The faded grey and brown wash fades out and bursts back into the bright lights of 2013, and the resulting children of those original heroes.
Drenched in red, white and blue, Chloe is wearing what might liberally be described as skimpy sportswear, a baby pink ensemble with hot-pants so small her pants show from underneath and heeled boots up to her thighs. The childish nature of her outfit, looking like an overtly-sexualised ideal of youth and beauty, seems like a deliberate comment about the ever-younger celebrities which are exposed and fetishised in contemporary culture. Her brother makes a stark contrast in all black with a carefully unkempt look to match his offensively dismissive attitude as he mocks his sister and abuses the superhero groupies who throw themselves at him. This guy clearly has never wanted for anything, and can get away with whatever he wants; he seems like a real jerk. But he makes a point about how there are no great super-villains to fight any more, that his parents lived in the Golden Age of superheroes and that things are not the same any more.
In Vermont, of course an epic fight is underway. The hill landscape hosts a discussion between two of the younger heroes who are unwilling to get into a scrap with villain with an anti-matter battery in his chest when the fight crashes down right next to them. Sheldon’s outfit is very similar to Superman’s, featuring blue and a red cape, although the distinctive symbol on many of their costumes shows an eagle with a halo, which is as yet unexplained. As all the superheroes crowd in and the villain Blackstar strikes back, Walter uses his mind powers to take Blackstar’s mind away from his body. It’s an incredibly interesting series of images, as Walter claims that he has recreated a holiday from his childhood but the landscape and colour tones of the dream world echo those of the real world in which Blackstar is being battered to death. It’s a tranquil dream, Walter hovering about and sharing cake while Blackstar adjusts to knowledge that he’s being killed and there is nothing he can do about it. It’s difficult to tell if Walter is being kind or sadistic in describing the detail of Blackstar’s death, but the job works, and while the heroes have defeated a dangerous villain, it has been most unheroic and they plunge straight into arguing about their mission and the constant failure of their children to follow in their footsteps.
The responsibility of power is a classic superhero concept, and in this scene Sheldon and Walter argue about what they should be doing to make the world a better place; while Walter feels that the system is broken and they are the ones with the ability to fix it, Sheldon feels that they should serve the elected officials in charge, despite the trouble they have gotten the country in. Walter can see patterns in society he saw in 1929 and is scared for the future, but Sheldon will not give in to his dissent.
At 4am in Los Angeles, a familiar baby-pink bum walks into a glorious living room, complaining that her mother wants her to fight despite being a Buddhist and a vegetarian. Her unsympathetic friends in lurid costumes look like cyberpunk fashionistas play their tiny violins and offer her some space blow to take away her troubles. It’s clear from Chloe’s ranting that she has some serious body and drug issues, even comparing her feet in a negative light to her mother’s. Being brought up by a couple who are so happy they never argue sets a high bar for a girl to grow up to, and Chloe doesn’t think she can do it. It’s sad, and an interesting statement on both celebrity status and the state of modern superhero comics compared to old; the old age of superheroes has gone, taking the last of the villains with them, and their children are left with powers and nothing to fight. Instead they turn their lives to stardom; at least Chloe uses her profile for charity work, even if it is superficial and calculated, as her brother thinks. But what obviously consumes Brandon and Chloe is a jealousy of their parents who did great things with their lives but don’t understand that t the world has changed. It’s not enough to be good at what you do anymore, there is a certain requirement to be sexy and young and interesting.
The comic ends with Chloe collapsing into the living room table, lying spread-eagled among the glass like a broken puppet. Quitely’s artwork, and the subtle colouring by Peter Doherty show this vulnerable girl prone on the floor, helpless and dressed in childish clothes, which can be quite hard to see. The artwork in Jupiter’s Legacy is one of its biggest draws for me; each person comes with a distinct personality that we can see in the way they move and the subtle face-changes they make. This issue has received some negativity, saying that it rehashes old ideas, but while Millar obviously has specific themes he enjoys addressing, he attacks them all in completely individual ways, and while the modern-day superhero element might seem like something from Kick-Ass, there is much less of Millar’s anger and barbed language and seems much more grown-up overall in approach. This could be really interesting; there are some good ideas here, and I definitely want to know more. Hopefully future issues will address what happened on the island, and the huge time period between the original crew getting their superpowers and now. We shall have to keep an eye out.
Originally posted on the Travelling Man blog here!