Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 by Mark MillarJupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 by Mark Millar (author), Frank Quitely (artist), & Peter Doherty (colorer)

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsJupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 collects the first five books in Image Comics storyline co-created by Mark Millar (writer) and Frank Quitely (art), and colored by Peter Doherty. The basic storyline and themes will be familiar to anyone who has read comics in the past decade or so, or has seen some of the more deconstructive movies such as Watchmen, KickAss (written by Millar), Runaways, or even The Incredibles. But as is often the case with genre, it’s what you do with the usual tropes and themes that determines the quality of a work, and so far I’ve found Jupiter’s Legacy to be an entertaining take on the familiar, though it has its issues.

The book opens in 1932 with a group of characters trying to convince a ship’s captain to take them into well-charted seas to find a mysterious island one of them has been dreaming of. When asked what he’s hoping to discover, the dreamer, Sheldon Sampson, tells the captain:

I’m still not sure. All I know is the country I love is on her knees right now and everything I believe in is coming apart at the seams … the answer to everything lies on that island. As wild as it sounds, it’s been calling me there, burning like a beacon, telling me where to find it.

As had happened with his brother Walter and a group of old college friends (including Grace, his eventual wife), his passion and fervor convinces the captain and the section ends with them sighting the island and Sheldon explaining that he and his friends had returned from the island…

wrapped in costumes that raised the spirits of anyone who saw them. The papers called us superheroes and we helped America through the Great Depression, the Second World War … anything that was thrown at us …  We had children to carry on our work and inspire our great nation to even more remarkable heights … to remind mankind of everything we could ever hope to be.

33The text jumps forward in time from that point to 2013, to a raucous nightclub where said children are busy doing drugs, having casual sex with groupies, and discussing their endorsement contracts and how to “raise their profile” and get “viral.” Meanwhile, their parents are off in Vermont fighting Blackstar, a supervillain who killed off an entire alien race and took out half of Missouri last time he escaped. He’s put down by Utopian (Sheldon as a Superman-ish superhero), Grace, Walter, and a few others, but afterward Sheldon and Walter (who has psychic powers) get into an argument over the proper role of the superheroes, with Walter pushing for them to get more involved in running things, since the politicians have made such a hash of it:

America’s collapsing, the Euro-zone’s bleeding to death, the global economy’s hanging by a thread, and we’re still out there wrestling like children.” But Utopian overrides him and imperiously tells them their job is to “obey the gentleman this country elected … ride it out and leave politics to politicians.

Thus the twin themes are presented. One is the generational gap between the original superheroes and their children, and the other is between Walter and Sheldon over just how much the superheroes should be doing. The generation issue is complicated when Sheldon and Grace’s daughter Chloe learns she is pregnant by Hutch, the son of a supervillain. And their hard-partying son “drunk-drives” (via telekinesis) a container ship, in an attempt to “do good,” which is heading near certain disaster — averted only by the last-minute appearance of Utopian, prompting a father-son argument over abandonment and disappointment. This in turn moves the other theme forward, as Walter takes advantage of the argument to convince Brandon to work with him against Utopian. Eventually, the story will take another jump forward a decade or so, and we’ll see the repercussions of these events, as well as a third generation of super-powered individuals, ones growing up in a wholly different world.

So we’re given a host of questions to ponder: how do superheroes fit into a “real” world background, what is their proper role in a society, what happens when there is disagreement on that proper role, what happens when kids have to live up to such stellar standards, do you do once there are almost no supervillains left but only societal issues of poverty, despair, etc.

As mentioned, many of these ideas have been explored in the past, and I can’t say Jupiter’s Legacy handles them with all the depth (Watchmen) or humor (The Incredibles) as earlier texts. But the storylines and characters are entertaining and at times thoughtful enough. The book certainly doesn’t feel “stale” by any stretch, though I would argue that up to now at least, it’s been mostly predictable in terms of what happens when, even if it entertains even as if falls into some easy-to-see-coming events.

While I like the two big jumps in time, first many decades after the arrival on the island (what happened there is a regular flashback subplot through Volume 1) and then a little more than a decade after the attempted coup on Utopian, I do wish the story had slowed down and spent a bit more time with these characters. The plot against Utopian and its eventual result, the interactions between parents and children all would have had greater impact had we known them for a while, had been inside their heads and skins a while. But those interrelations are nicely complex and feel very “real” in terms of how families work (or not). Spending more time with the characters would also have allowed a fuller complexity to form so it’s not quite so easy to tag them with one-line descriptions, such as well-intentioned but jealous/envious brother or rebellious teen acting out.

I also would have liked to have explored the economics/politics more fully. The world in which these players move doesn’t have a feeling of full presence, at least not yet — we hear about economic disruption via a few lines of dialogue or some background images, but as with the characters, more time showing this to us would make the urgency a bit more vividly felt. The dialogue itself runs a spectrum, I’d say. Utopian’s, for instance, is pretty broad, and I think to purposeful intent, but it’s a fine line to walk and sometimes Millar nails it and sometimes not.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsArtwork is sharp, vivid, and clean — really a pleasure to look at, and is smoothly integrated into the text, becoming a seamless, integral part of the reading experience, which is what one hopes for. The style and palette nicely shift dependent upon the scene — cosmic-level battle between superheroes and supervillain, domestic scene between parent and child in a home, etc. And as one expects, the visuals convey at least as much information as the text, as one extended example shows.

In this relatively small scene, Walter is addressing the President’s Cabinet, trying to convince them to implement his 600-page “blue skies approach to the very relationship between our economy and taxation,” when Utopian barges in to stop him. The four panels on that page do a great job of conveying the relationship between the two brothers so that one could sense without any dialogue or any of what comes before what that relationship is like. In the first panel, we see Walter in close-up as he addresses the Cabinet, his hands before him in an almost pleading fashion, and the panel almost equally split between his figure and an ornate room decoration.

The next panel shows Utopian entering the corridor outside the room. It’s from the perspective of looking over his shoulder down the sweeping corridor, with his figure fully dominating the perspective, as well as the four smaller human figures in the corridor, one of whom is saluting (a submissive act). The palette is almost fully white, save the dots of color from the four people, while Utopia’s bright red cape is striking in its contrast and saturation. In the next panel, Utopian stands in the double-doorway, straight as an arrow, chest out, framed by the two doors, his hands on the doorknobs in a stilled moment of action, having thrust them open and now holding them that way. He is at one end of the long conference table and at the other end is his brother, against a dull grey-beige backdrop and again, with that distracting room ornament in the frame with him. As opposed to Utopian’s classic hero pose, Walter stands with a knee bent, one foot forward, his hands still clasped in front of him. Meanwhile, every head at the table is turned in the same direction — toward Utopian.

The last two panels share the same horizontal space. The first is a close up of Utopian with his snow-white beard and hair and square jaw taking up three-quarters of the space and only a neutral color taking up the rest of the panel. The second is a pull-back view of his brother Walter, now leaning on the table, bent over, his own white beard almost merging into the other objects/people/colors. In front of him are three Cabinet officers, but their heads are turned fully away from him, looking obviously at his brother.

As noted above, the story takes a big jump again in time as we see what ensues as a result of the plot against Utopian — the world has changed, the story’s tone shifts as does the color palette, and an entirely new younger character, Chloe and Hutch’s child, is introduced as the catalyst that will spark the next transformation. Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1, despite its familiar themes, has done enough in terms of plot, character, and artwork that I’ll be checking out Volume 2 when it arrives. Recommended.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.