Jupiter’s Circle (Volumes 1 & 2) by Mark Millar, F
Jupiter’s Circle (Volumes 1 & 2) by Mark Millar, a prequel to Jupiter’s Legacy, is an excellent retelling and critique of the golden age of superheroes. There’s plenty of action, but it is sidelined for the primary purpose of telling the private lives of the heroes. Their trials and tribulations behind the scenes are what make this comic so good. We see what the public in the comic does not, and what we see is often not a pretty sight. And by making certain characters similar to Superman and Batman, Millar gives us insight into our own famous comic book superheroes.
In Volume 1, the six-issue story arc is broken up into three smaller stories of two issues each. The first deals with a closeted superhero in Hollywood. He juggles three different lives: His secret identity as a famous and revered surgeon, his life as a superhero, and his sexual life that he must hide even from his teammates. When Edgar J. Hoover steps into the story and gets some candid photographs, our superhero’s closeted life becomes a tool of manipulation in the hands of the head of the F.B.I. In the second story, a superhero in mid-life crisis falls in love with a nineteen-year-old cape chaser even though he has a wife and three kids. He tries to get her a membership on the superhero team, even though she doesn’t have any superpowers. An angry son and a forgiving wife make for an unsettling resolution that is a comment on immature youth versus the wisdom and endurance of the mature. In the third story, Skyfox, our Batman-like character, drinks too much and has his every whim indulged by the Alfred-like butler. When he falls in love, it seems as if he will finally settle down and have his hard edges softened; however, a fellow superhero with whom he has conflicts attempts to steal her away. While the first two stories are wrapped up with satisfying closure, this third story ends on a cliffhanger to get the reader to pick up Volume 2.
In Volume 2 of Jupiter’s Circle, we do not get the continuation of the story right away. Instead, we get to see the life of the Utopian, the superman-figure, as told by his wife. Theirs seems to be the perfect life, with dates in Paris one night and on the moon the next, but there are some thoughts that she does not express to either the Utopian or to the readers. In issue two we find out what happened to our Batman-figure, Skyfox, who, when we see him again, is growing a beard and in a conversation with Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs (and doing drugs). He considers what part, if any, he should play in the race riots, and our team of superheroes is being questioned by the press about the role they will play in the riots, too. So, all the separate plots and characters of the previous volume come together in Volume 2. To me, this volume really gets interesting as Skyfox becomes a “villain” in the public’s mind because he fights the police during the L. A. riots, gets involved with protests, and tries to force the government to remove the troops from Vietnam. He is a villain because he is considered a traitor, a radical anti-American super-villain.
I liked Volume 1, a lot, but Volume 2 has even more depth. The Utopian not only faces off against a Lex Luthor-type villain who is bothered by what he represents; he has to talk with Ayn Rand at a dinner party, and she sees him as her ideal man in ways that seem to bother the well-read Utopian. Skyfox kidnaps the vice president for political purposes (and kindly keeps him drunk the whole time!). There’s plenty of action, of course, and we get superhero tropes galore, but it’s an intelligent book written by Mark Millar at his best. The book is not simply all violence and cynicism. The art is not as spectacular as that by Frank Quitely in Jupiter’s Legacy, but it’s solid, and it certainly does not detract from the story at all. Jupiter’s Circle is well-written, and a wonderful prequel to read after Jupiter’s Legacy, excelling that story in writing if not in terms of the art. I can’t recommend enough this intelligent superhero story.