Today, Ryan and Drew are discussing Jupiter’s Legacy 5, originally released January 14th, 2015.
Ryan: When George Lucas was writing a little thing called Star Wars, he visited one Dr. Joseph Campbell for mentorship and guidance. Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, developed a monomythical model on the Hero’s Journey taken from many of history’s prototypical protagonists. With this in mind, Lucas crafted perhaps the most iconic modern heroes in Luke Skywalker. In Jupiter’s Legacy, Mark Millar continues to ask big questions about what it means to be a hero.
The universe of this series features a world populated by superheroes with nobody left to fight; almost all of the big, bad villains were deposed by the first wave of heroes, led by the Utopian, leaving the current generation of capes listless and playing at celebrity. The Multiverity: The Just by Morrison and Ben Oliver shares this conceit of the spoiled and selfish progeny of Earth’s greatest heroes, but Millar moves past this within two issues to get to the bigger picture: what is a hero without a villain? Millar already showed us what a world looks like without heroes in Wanted, and how even a great hero’s nature can be changed by their nurture in Superman: Red Son. Millar delights in shaking the good versus evil formula and letting us see how the pieces fall.
It is only by the end of issue 4 and 5 that the main plot begins. I admire Millar’s patience in setting up this universe, revealing exposition and characterization in chunks, all leading up to the fratricidal and oedipal mutiny which serves as the catalyst for our current situation. Now that the former heroes are villains and in control of the entirety of the United States government — and doing a pretty crummy job of it — responsibility falls to those not kowtowing to the powers that be. Chloe Sampson is introduced to us in issue 1 as the Utopian’s nightmare of a daughter, inheriting his powers but none of his code of ethics as she parties, dates “bad boys”, and overdoses on drugs. The “bad boy” she starts dating, Hutch, also happens to be the son of the last generation’s greatest supervillains. When the two discover that they are pregnant and that Chloe is targeted for death, they escape to Australia to hide and raise their child.
The two previously spoiled revelers assume new identities while raising their precocious, powered child, and do a hell of a lot of growing up along the way. Issue 5 begins here, when a ruthless detective armed with both deductive reasoning and the ability to control molecules is deployed to sniff out the reported surge in heroic deeds in the Sydney area. The perpetrator for these acts is none other than young Jason, metaphorically drunk on the wine of his grandfather’s legacy:
After baiting Jason out with an engineered crisis, what ensues is an awesome battle, as government shock troops and Jason’s parents join the fray. All respect goes to Frank Quitely, who illustrates the hell out of this book. Quitely has toned down the odd proportions that dominated his characters in New X-men, and now it is difficult to find someone who draws posture and gore any better than him:
His use of lines, kind of squiggly and grotesque even when drawing more placid scenes, is some of the most iconic in the industry right now, and this title uses his skills to their fullest extent.
Jupiter’s Legacy serves as Millar’s newest deconstruction of the superhero genre, and sets out to reify the familiar concept that a hero is not defined by their powers. Drew, what did you think of the path leading up to issue #5, and do you think Millar and Quitely can serve up something original on this well-trodden path?
Drew: Oh, absolutely. In many ways, I would say the narrative of a generation growing listless in the wake of their parent’s success is perhaps a defining one of our times. I would say this is certainly true of the world at large (at least in the US), where Baby Boomers seem to have “perfected” middle class life to the exclusion of future generations. That’s obviously a little reductive, but it’s hard to deny how familiar the story of Chloe’s spoiled adolescence is. More specifically, though, I think this narrative also applies to comics.
These ideas may be forefront in my mind in the wake of Marvel’s recent Secret Wars announcements — as Marvel struggles to find fresh ideas from the universe that was more or less set in motion over 50 years ago — but it’s a clear theme Millar’s career, as well. He found some success in the old guard continuity of DC and Marvel, but when he moved to the relative blank slate of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, his work took on a whole new depth. His knack for world-building and subverting comic tropes blossomed, setting him on the trajectory we find him on here. Sure, deconstruction has been fashionable in comics for about 30 years now, but it’s only because construction would be even more redundant — what is really left to build?
In that way, it’s appropriate (if a tad self-aggrandizing) that Jupiter’s Legacy should be about the unexpected heroism of the children that didn’t quite seem to fit in the world as defined by their immaculate parents. Of course, it’s important to note that the spectre of Uncle Walter (the old guard our heroes are chafing against) isn’t quite the same as dear old Dad, making the message here less about reformation than it is about conservation by way of reform. This issue is full of moments of characters reaching back to claim the Utopian’s legacy as their own — Chloe proudly affirms that she’s her parents’ daughter, and Jason refers to his grandfather in the passage Ryan excepted, as well as when he’s on his way to the moon.
It’s the reference to the clumsy alter ego that gave me particular pause here — riffing on Superman is an obvious choice for any superhero story with an eye towards deconstruction, but I think Millar’s aims are a bit more specific than simple recognition. Could he be reaching back to the origins of Superman — origins that can certainly feel lost in modern interpretations of the character — in hopes of reclaiming them? I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that this series is drawn by Quitely, who drew perhaps the definitive modern re-interpretation of Superman, which was itself eschewing modern updates of the character. That’s not to diminish Quitely’s contributions — his sense of storytelling and distinctive ligne claire style are impeccable — but it can be hard not to think of All-Star Superman when looking at this series.
Taken together, these elements suggest an opinion that, perhaps even in the name of preservation, DC and Marvel have perverted their own characters. (It may be important to note that Walter’s only appearance in this issue finds him rationalizing an unmitigated disaster.) Moreover, it suggests that Millar and Quitely might be able to stay truer to the spirit of those characters. It’s obviously not quite so simple — while Walter has employed the likes of former supervillain Barnabas Wolfe, our heroes’ plan relies on calling on whatever other villains they can find. Chloe points to the unlikely odds as the sign that they’re on the side of the righteous, but that justification could just as easily be inverted.
Oh man, I could write about this all day (and may still, if you’ll indulge me in the comments), but I think my big takeaway from this issue is how effective Millar and Quitely are at building complexities out of the simple building blocks of superheroes that are somehow completely different from the complexities that abound in the Big Two. They’ve used the same inputs to create new outputs, which is kind of the point of episodic storytelling in the first place. That this series is so strictly serialized may be a subject for a different time (or MOAR COMMENT FODDER), but for now, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
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