Tales of superheroes and their impact on fictional worlds have become common in the comics landscape since the revelation of Watchmen and the works derived from the familiar pairing of great powers and the “real” world. While the universes of Marvel and DC continue to feature world-shattering event crossovers devoted to character driven explorations of relationships between heroes, villains, and alternative universes—including the world of the Authority—they have also examined the societal effects of veritable deities on their institutions and governments. On the other hand, Astro City has brought the regular perspectives of normal citizens into the conversation between powers and responsibilities. This has all become accustomed territory for superhero fiction. Pulling off a successful coup in this environment requires a degree of talent, aplomb, and a devotion to the idea that super-powered individuals can still tell us more about ourselves. Luckily, Mark Millar and Frank Quitely are more than adequately equipped to supply readers with a slick, compelling foray into a world where the children of gods are not quite so ready to live up to the accomplishments of their parents.
Jupiter’s Legacy begins in the early 1930s with a journey aboard a chartered ship to a lost island, the details of which were imparted to patriotic industrialist Sheldon Sampson in a dream. Bankrupt after the stock market crash, Sampson assembled a group of like-minded individuals with the promise of grand adventure and the possibility to restore the United States to its former glory. Gifted with tremendous superhuman powers by the aliens trapped on the island, the group vows to use their new abilities to guide America to new heights of prosperity.
As decades pass, Sampson’s heroes age, start families, and eventually grow weary of maintaining the status quo, with the notable exception of Sheldon. His children, Brandon and Chloe, become uninterested in fighting the good fight, deciding instead to use their celebrity status for personal gain. Meanwhile, Sheldon’s brother Walter has grown impatient with him and desires to instigate a new world order. Appealing to Brandon’s great resentment towards his father, plots are hatched, the powers come out, and the world is irrevocably changed.
What is striking about Jupiter’s Legacy is the marvelous quality of the work. Mark Millar is in high form with the scripts and the humor is delightfully black. The characters are clearly motivated, and even minor players are granted moments of unbridled glory—one tuxedo-clad reformed villain turned enforcer is particularly satisfying. While Frank Quitely’s art can be a love-it or hate-it proposition, there is no denying that he possesses a certain flair for the dramatic when it comes to interpreting action. Quitely certainly does not disappoint here; between floating oil tankers, nuclear-device laden asteroids, and costumed giants, the imagery is jaw-dropping.
Jupiter’s Legacy is not without some flaws. While the structure of individual issues is top-notch, major changes develop as a result of the break-neck pacing of events from issue to issue. The first volume is only five issues long, but it seems to deserve twelve or more. Millar is currently writing a companion piece: Jupiter’s Circle. He plans to include at least five to seven more issues in the series, so perhaps readers may be rewarded in time. As it stands, this series should definitely appeal to those who value alternative superhero comics, and they would have to look hard to do better.
Jupiter’s Legacy, vol. 1
by Mark Millar
Art by Frank Quitely
Image Comics, 2015