Book Club / Some New and Shocking 21st Century Twist

Jupiters LegacyJupiter’s Legacy
Written by Mark Millar 
Art by Frank Quitely

 

 

 

I remember reading an interview about a thousand years ago where Mark Millar was talking about his idea for a Superman movie. Only of course he didn’t want to make one movie. He wanted to make a trilogy. That encompassed the entire life of the Man of Steel. I think he said something along the lines of how he wanted to make the “Godfather of superhero movies” (although I think everyone always says that they want to make the Godfather of superhero movies” when they want to make a superhero movie. No one ever wants to make “the Goodfellas of superhero movies” which I actually think would be a lot more interesting. But that’s a different story…).

The one bit that always stuck in my head was how he apparently wanted it to end millions of years in the future with Superman sitting in space watching the death of The Sun and feeling his powers slowly die alongside it. That sounded like it would have been cool. 

In a sense Jupiter’s Legacy is kinda the mutant baby of that Superman movie trilogy idea in that if you tilt your head to the side and squint a little you could probably see it as a kind of Godfather kinda thing. It starts in the early years of the 20th Century at the same point as superhero comics first appeared and the way that Depression Era America rubs up against pulpy thrills like mysterious islands and alien technology feels kinda cool. Like a knife full of jam dolloped on top of a thick spread of peanut butter. And you know there’s a whole thing about families and living up to expectations etc (the clue’s in the title obviously). 

But then – I don’t know. Instead of getting more and more epic like it promises the whole thing kinda collapses into… cheap TV (sorry. I mean – cheap Netflix). That is to say – instead of getting larger and more expansive it collapses into something a lot more intimate and smaller scale. Instead of being about superheroes – it ends up being about one family (oh wait – maybe that is the Godfather thing after all?). 

Credit where it’s due: one of the fascinating things about the comic is how it keeps resetting itself as it goes along. To the point where I think you could make a pretty good case that every issue basically feels like it’s based on a whole different premise. It’s a comic about the beginning of a superhero dynasty. No wait. It’s a comic about the end of a superhero dynasty. No wait. It’s a comic about an evil family member. No wait. It’s a comic about a bad guy trying to be a good guy. No wait. It’s a comic about superhero fugitives. No wait. No wait. It’s a superhero heist story. No wait. It’s a comic about getting Batman out of retirement. No wait. It’s about lots of punching. No wait. It’s about cool explosions. 

Also – damn it – has anyone written a Phd about Mark Millar’s political allegiances? Because it’s so hard to tell with this guy. Sometimes I think he’s basically a right wing nutjob. And then other times I swear to god he’s like the most left-wing writer currently working. There’s just these little moments where it’s like you can feel the author going “hell yeah our system doesn’t work and Capitalism is killing everyone and we really do need to find a solution but powerful interests want to keep everything just how it is” (but whoops maybe I’m just projecting?).

And as for Frank Quitely. Well quite frankly what is there to say that hasn’t been said before? The dude knows how to draw. And his ability to capture moments of movement in such a way that four panels can give you enough information to construct a whole fight scene in your head is basically nothing short of totally miraculous. I did have a friend who last year pointed out to me that a big part of Frank Quitely’s genius is that he always chooses the moment of “maximum extension.” That is – the split second of the scene where the human body in question reaches the point where everything is pulled or stretched to its highest point.   

Oh yeah – and props also for probably one of the top ten single greatest panels of all time too. 

But hey – what did you think?

 

 

 

 

A few jumbled thoughts:

re: Mark Millar’s political allegiances: at the risk of sounding like a jerk, I question how politically aware he is/was at all. Reading about the background to the series gives this quotation from a 2013 article:

“As someone who grew up with an American flag in my bedroom, I watched from across the Atlantic in the past few years to see something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: poverty in the States. It actually touches my life because a lot of my friends who are comic book fans or freelancers will tell me stories I could never have imagined happening in my lifetime, like how their local gas station is closing down because no one in town has the money to run a car anymore.”

He would’ve been around 44 at the time, and for someone with a professed admiration for the United States who’d been alive for four decades to imply that American poverty is some new and shocking 21st century twist in the country’s history is weirdly naive.

You could say that lack of political awareness comes through somewhat in the story, e.g. iirc Walter/Brandon’s policy/platform is akin to the Kier Starmer playbook of ‘changing the things that need changing’, though I get that nobody wants to read a comic book about the details of federal social and economic policy. 

The quotation goes on to say: “This story is my love letter to America. That idea of democracy and everyone having an equal say is such a fundamentally decent one and something we should cherish…”

With that as context, is Millar really just saying: “Democracy (as upheld by Utopian and Lady Liberty) is wonderful but somewhere along the way things went off track. But the authoritarian alternative (by way of Walter/Brandon) is bad, and the only solution is to try again with our trusty old democracy (via Jason/New Utopian (Newtopian?))” ? 

(Also, the ego needed to package all of his creations into something called ‘Millarworld’ to flog for $$$ doesn’t strike me as the lefty-est of characteristics.)

Moving on… I’m not sure how I feel about the pace of the story. Partly I feel it’s too fast-paced and short to properly fill out all of the characters and their backstories — but because so many characters are so one-dimensional and/or experience no character growth from start to end I don’t think extra issues would make much difference. Walter and Brandon both needed more meat to their personalities than ‘harassed and resentful younger brother in older brother’s shadow’ and ‘entitled, insecure rich kid’ to make me interested in them. On the opposite end there’s Jason, whose unrelenting altruism apparently leaves no room for actual human flaws.

The pacing is especially jarring if reading Jupiter’s Legacy in its ‘new’ ordering, i.e. what used to be the ‘Jupiter’s Circle’ prequel is now ‘Jupiter’s Legacy vol 1 & 2’, and ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ is vol 3 & 4. Vol 1 & 2 dive into the backstories of the superheroes of Utopian’s generation. The two volumes are entirely devoted to them, with most characters getting, say, 1.5 to 2 issues worth of dedicated character exploration interspersed with group interaction. Going from the relatively conservative and pondering pace of vol 1 & 2 to the frenzy of the Chloe/Brandon generation in vol 3 & 4 actually left me wondering if I’d missed a volume somewhere or got the reading order wrong. 

However, I think it would’ve been hard to keep up with Jupiter’s Legacy without reading Jupiter’s Circle first, since there’s a lot of context that comes from the latter — so whichever way you read the series, either you get whiplash from the change of pace between the two ‘halves’ or you miss a lot of backstory. Ultimately I enjoyed vol 1 & 2/Jupiter’s Circle more than 3 & 4/Legacy because it takes more time with the characters. 

And I expect this opinion won’t go down well, but I liked the best of the art in 1&2/Circle better. Unlike 3&4/Legacy, it doesn’t have a completely consistent art team, so it suffers from inconsistencies at times. But at its best it has a crisp, bright style with a hint of retro colours and textures, which works nicely for a midcentury superhero jaunt. Vol 3&4 wins for consistency and I didn’t think the art was bad*, it just didn’t grab me as much. 

The version I read had some of Frank Quitely’s uncoloured art at the end, which was really stunning — more than the same coloured-in versions in the book. So maybe it’s just that the colouring and lack of shadows/inks in 3&4 didn’t please me as much as 1&2, or maybe I was just too fatigued with the whole experience to consider the art more objectively while reading the story.

*Aside from Chloe’s character design, because it made me irrationally angry that she doesn’t seem to have any eyebrows 

Ha. Well. Ok. That 2013 quote from Mark Millar is very interesting. On the one hand you could say that he’s being incredibly naive (“There’s poor people in America now? Well – I never!”) but then the second part where he mentions local gas stations closing down because no one has the money to run a car anymore is a little more… disquieting? 

In terms of what’s actually in the book – the bit that kinda sticks in my mind is when Walter and Sheldon have their little showdown at The Cabinet Office. 

“The System isn’t failing. It’s just a low-point in the cycle. I refuse to even countenance this idea.”

“Why? Because you’re so wedded to the old way of thinking? You can’t get your head around a Post-Capitalist Ideology?” 

Of course at this point we don’t know that Walter is actually the bad guy. And yeah ok I’ll fully admit that I’m a soft touch. But I do have to give Millar points for the use of the phrase “Post-Capitalist Ideology” and having a character point out that oh I don’t know – maybe our system doesn’t work? Also I think it’s notable here that Sheldon is the one who comes across as being stubborn and out of touch. And like maybe I’m just speaking from my own perspective here – but my sympathies lie with Walter here. If there are superhero geniuses then fixing our society seems like better work than beating up bad guys – no?

I think it’s worth pointing out here that in western comics and films there is a tradition of giving the bad guys a point of view that… (how to say this?) almost makes sense? Superheroes after all are the protectors of the status quo and keeping the world exactly as it. Which means that the supervillains often get to be the radicals. And yeah sometimes they’re just doing bad stuff because they want money or power or whatever (YAWN). But other times there is a philosophy of sorts that isn’t completely wrong but more just – misguided (I’m thinking particularly of the movie versions of Thanos and Erik Killmonger). 

And crucially (as far as I can tell?) Jupiter’s Legacy never really makes Walter wrong. His main point – that there’s something wrong with the system – is never really challenged. It’s more that – he’s not as smart as he thinks he is / he just needs a bit more time / he’s too in love with his own ego etc. 

Also yeah – there’s stuff in other Millar comics that makes me feel like he’s got a politically subversive side that only pops out occasionally. I don’t know how many people have read Space Bandits? I don’t want to spoil things but – it does contain a few critiques that left me grinning at the audacity. And yeah ok – he’s got Millarworld and he’s making bank and all the rest of it. But erm given the choice between consuming products that reinforce the status quo and tell me everything is fine versus consuming products that tells me that a system where mindlessly consuming products is in fact a big part of the problem – I definitely prefer the stuff that opens my eyes a little more. And well also – who else in comics is really talking about this kind of stuff?

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