When I started reading Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s latest superhero saga, “Jupiter’s Legacy,” I couldn’t help but groan at the concept of another story about fallen heroes in a world gone wrong. “Watchmen,” “Dark Knight Returns,” and “Marshal Law” were all published almost 30 years ago, and honestly, not much else has skewered superheroes quite as effectively as those books. Sure, we’ve had Mark Waid’s great combo of “Irredeemable”/”Incorruptible,” Garth Ennis’ “The Boys,” Millar’s own “Kick-Ass” and “Superman: Red Son,” Grant Morrison’s everything, plus countless indie and creator-owned books from a multitude of creators. But there’s only one “Watchmen.” Is this the best these two influential creators can do, I asked myself? Superheroes who aren’t as super as they seem/used to be? But then something happened that made my cynicism taper and my judging judgement machine cool down…”Jupiter’s Legacy” #1 turned out to be really, really good.
The story starts in 1932. With the effects of the Great Depression in full-swing, a band of adventurers seek a mystical island that Sheldon Sampson, one of the aforementioned adventurers, learned about in a dream. On this island (and Sampson’s dream) hang the hope of a better future for the United States. One free from bread lines, homelessness, and corruption. Sampson recounts via narration:
We didn’t care about money or politics. Our desire was to serve our country and our infinite idealism inspired the best in everyone who came near us.
And, though not in this particular issue, we can assume that this island bestows powers upon the crew of idealistic Americans, leading to the beginning of a superhero revolution. But can that superheroic idealism withstand the decades of the erosion of the American dream? Sampson (who becomes The Utopian) and his “Justice League”-esque band of heroes came up with a plan to ensure that the super-powered will always remain as a symbol of hope and a literal example of that American dream, despite how much corrupt politicians and financial institutions attempt to erode it. Their solution: have children. Sampson says:
Superheroes were the summit of American aspiration and so our children grew up to remind makind of everything we could ever hope to be.
Or did they? Cut to 2013 when we meet those very children. These second generation heroes are hardly heroes at all. We meet the bitter, privileged, womanizing Brandon Sampson, ranting about his empty, vacant-eyed, Paris Hiltony sister’s willingness to take any endorsement deal offered to her. There’s a hollowness amongst these two. The world was handed to them and they did nothing with it. At the core of the story is the cyclical nature of the American economy. Our island-powered heroes, who are still in action 80 years later — I guess the island slows down the aging process — are still struggling with the inherent corruption of the American financial system, while battling world destroying super villains and they’re differing opinions on the political process. Through several pages of — pretty on the nose — dialogue, Millar lays out the central problem of the story; disappointment. Some of our superheroes are disappointed in the political system and demand change. Some of the heroes are disappointed in their lazy, bratty children. The super-children are disappointed with…everything. But despite my initial misgivings, I’m not remotely disappointed with the work on display here. Millar’s pacing is tight, Quitely’s art is as stunning as ever, and Peter Doherty’s colors perfectly hit the mark. Though I do wish the speech balloons were more integrated into the art, as their brightness distracts from Quitely’s work.
Like its characters, “Jupiter’s Legacy” #1 shows the promise of something great, I just hope it uses that promise to its advantage, and doesn’t rest on its laurels, as so many other superhero stories have done in the past.
“Jupiter’s Legacy” #1 is out on Wednesday, April 24 from Image Comics.