JUPITER’S LEGACY 1
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Frank Quitely
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
Twitter truly is the reporter’s friend in crafting the most concise inverted pyramids. It’s also a wonderful way to harness that final visceral reaction an instant after finishing a book.
Like 1985, Millar once again peels back the first layer of our reality’s onion to expose the pungent truth underneath. Except this time, righteousness and belief in a shiny tomorrow don’t prevail. No, JUPITER’S LEGACY is a mirror darkly reflecting the truths we all feel, but blissfully choose to ignore. We are exhausted in imagination, spirit and morality…and we kind of like it that way. JUPITER’S LEGACY forces us to face the truths of America’s decline from the Greatest Generation to today’s Generation Inert.
We start in the early 1930’s, when America was a nation on the brink of collapse. As bread lines and shanty towns replace the decadent fervor of the roaring twenties, a young industrialist by the name of Sheldon Sampson, who lost everything in the stock market crash, follows a dream…actually a prophecy, to find a lost island that will change the world.
We’ve seen alternate takes on the birth of heroes before, especially Superman. But where Millar zigs against other’s zags is that humanity is the catalyst for the dawn of heroes instead of some damn dirty aliens (Hey, get off my keyboard Lex).
It’s in these initial scenes we see a maturation of Quitely’s style. We’ve been waiting awhile for his return, and I’ll tell you now the wait was worth it. As Sheldon traverses the streets of our fallen nation, Quitely paints the urchin experience in vivid detail and splendor. The traditional Quitely complaint of “ugly” is here, but it’s no longer the character’s faces, it’s now an authenticity of the time period’s scene scape.
Back to the plot, Sheldon dreams of an island that will somehow save the world. So he, his love Grace, his brother Walter, and a reluctant yet blinded by Sheldon’s belief ship crew set sail for tomorrow to become the most powerful heroes the world has ever known.
Before we see what happened to Sheldon and the crew, we are whisked forward to 70 years to meet their children. They gather at a star studded gala event at a club with music that’s too loud, paparazzi who are too hungry, and Superheroes who are anything but.
This isn’t the KINGDOM COME portrayal of superhero evolution; they were bloodthirsty yet still were looking to “save the day” even if it crossed all lines of morality. JUPITER’S LEGACY is far more grounded in reality. Sheldon and all of the original heroes’ progeny are worried about their Q and Klout scores versus saving or changing the world. They imbibe copious amounts of drugs, bitch incessantly that the world offers nothing, and focus more on how their visages appear on Instagram versus elevating humanity to new heights of greatness. If this isn’t an indictment of our celebrity culture I don’t know what is. I could take any of the Golden Age’s kids and instantly transpose them with a bunch of fat-ass alliterated K sisters who are famous because their Daddy helped release a criminal versus having any real merit of their own.
About half-way through the book, one of the next generation laments, “There is just no one cool to fight anymore.” If that isn’t the perfect embodiment of our current propensity to passively protest 140 characters at a time from the safety of our homes I don’t what is. Despite infinite resources at the progenies’ and our disposal, we create excuses versus something tangibly fantastic. Meanwhile the original heroes are out actually fighting whether it’s glorious or not, just as my Grandmother riddled with Alzheimer’s disease still tried to make a difference in the world through volunteering until her body literally crumpled.
It’s during this fight that the original heroes realize they are the last of their kind – only one of their children comes to help them as another cowers off in the distance and tries to pretend he was fighting all along. This is the breaking point for Sheldon, the Superman of the group. In a moment of AUTHORITY level arrogance, Sheldon decides that perhaps it’s time this original team decides to fix their children and all of humanity in the process. This is also the point of schism between the team. Sheldon’s brother, Walter, is OK with letting time pass and if sloth is the direction of choice so be it. The kids were born into this world, they didn’t volunteer for it.
It all ends as most catalysts for change begin…death. Well, I think death. One of the kids decides to imbibe one too many lines of designer drugs and takes a nosedive through a glass coffee table akin to the Draino drinking moment in “Heathers.”
The cynical will attribute the underlying message of this book to a middle-aged curmudgeon state of mind that happens each generation. I disagree; I think this societal malaise on American soil is unique to this time period. Never before have we felt such a collective state of helplessness, which is truly bred in large part from our own cowardice in losing the spoils of consumerism. This isn’t just a theory, it’s an idea that has slipped into the zeitgeist and grown daily. I have a graphic novel coming out soon called AVERAGE JOE. While greatly different in plot and tonality, an underlying thread is this degradation of ambition from the Great Generation to its predecessors. Millar and I are far from the only two who feel this way and with that I can’t believe this many authors independently create work so on theme without it carrying a collective truth.
And with that comes my obligatory critique of JUPITER’S LEGACY. As Sheldon and Walter squabble, I had to question with all of their wonderful powers, now is only the first time they think they should do something? Basically, I felt almost too much of the book is close to our own reality. I have to believe if humans were truly imbued with super powers two generations ago, Obama would not be in the White House today, the world economy would not be collapsing, and our advances in space and science would be light years ahead of our reality. Again, my graphic novel is different. In AVERAGE JOE all of humanity gets some form of Superman’s powers, where in JUPITER’S LEGACY it’s only the team and their children. Also, each have powers that range from super punches to Professor X level reality warping instead of my constraints of the basic five power set. However, even if it was only a small number of people gifted with powers, I believe the butterfly effect would have been greater and it’s shockwaves felt much sooner than in 2013.
This is a nit though, that is easily overlooked given the rest of the book’s splendor. I already mentioned Quitely’s maturation of style, leaving the wrinkles on the clothes instead of every face in the book. Millar has also matured. He has crafted a tale where the characterization is as original as the plot. Where there is more message than sensationalism and shock value. Where the book haunts you for hours after reading it, instead of merely stroking your fanboy boner during the initial read. I pray from the depths of my soul JUPITER’S LEGACY is more than a mini-series. There is so much to explore here, so much character depth to uncover, so much societal reflection to take place, I don’t want to see one moment of it rushed because of page count.