Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Jupiter's Legacy - Book One (comics)

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Frank Quitely
Collects: Jupiter's Legacy #1-5

Any of the three people who've read my blog for a long time know I'm not a fan of Mark Millar. I've had less than kind things to say about some of his comics in the past and I believe I've referred to him as a huckster. I started avoiding anything with his name over five years ago, in part because I got tired of his shock and schlock routine. Everything is crude, crass and disgusting to the point where it became a chore to read. It's like an ultraviolent version of Jerry Springer in comic form.

So, what brought me here? Well, Mark Millar comics sell big. As such, the guy attracts top level artists to whatever project he's working on. This time, he roped in Frank Quitely, which feels weird, given Quitely has worked primarily with Grant Morrison throughout his career. So it's the double surprise of seeing Quitely working away from a Morrison script for the first time in a decade and with a man Morrison once jokingly* said he wanted to run over with his car.

As expected, Mark Millar hucked it up going into this one, calling it his "Star Wars" and going so far as to say it's Lord of the Rings meeting a superhero crossover. Let it never be said that the dude doesn't know how to hustle his work. It's all overblown promotion, of course. The world is not nearly as intricately thought out as the latter and lacks both the scope and rollicking adventure of the former

But what it is happens to be pretty freaking good.

In 1932, in the wake of the stock market crash, Sheldon Sampson sets off with family and friends in search of an island he saw in a dream. They return with superpowers, ushering in a golden age of heroism. Cut to 2013, where they've all grown old and their children have taken their place. For the next generation, it's not exactly about heroics; it's all brand deals and putting your name out there, to the great shame of their fore-bearers. Sheldon - The Utopian - is struggling to uphold what he believes are the ideals of America in a world where it seems increasingly old fashioned and out of touch, even as the heroes around him actively resent him for keeping them from using their powers to "right" the world. His daughter is a drug addled mess, his son resents him for not being there enough and his brother is tired of playing by his rules.

Then the brother has had enough and whispers in the sons ear; if Sheldon were gone, everything would be better, they could make everything better.

As is clear from the general description, Jupiter's Legacy is a story about generational conflict and ego on both sides. It kind of brings Kingdom Come - the well regarded Mark Waid and Alex Ross Elseworlds miniseries - to mind, but without the overbearing biblical references or the immediate weight granted to an alternate universe of heroes millions around the world love. Grant Morrison even tackled similar themes before. The Golden Age of heroes is well and truly over, with the parents having done everything there is to do. As such, their children are left adrift, losing themselves to vices and cynicism that creep into their veins and take root in their lives. Much like real life, the young and the old have different ideas on how the world should be run and see each other as naive or out of touch. It's a fairly compelling conflict of ideals and to Millars credit, when the match meets gasoline, the impact is felt.

Part of what seems to set it apart is that Millar really reigns in his worst tendencies, to the stories benefit. I think this might actually be the first project I've read of his not involving a corporately owned superhero that didn't heavily rely on cursing. It's used sparingly, usually by regular people, and as such it feels a bit more natural. The ultraviolence and disgusting nonsense is at a low, too. The worst bit of it is the death of Sheldons wife, where we get a panel of her gored by numerous blades, but even that doesn't feel gratuitous. It works as an appropriately horrifying image without going too far, getting the point across without, like, showing her intestines or something.

But there's also a sense of hope and respect that feels absent in prior work. Things went off the rails somewhere in the past, but you really do get the feeling that, despite the problems of the modern day, even the villains of the piece stand for something. As much as the son may resent his father, Brandon still does what he does largely because he feels he can make things better and, despite his disillusionment, does want to help the world. He's distressed late in the book when things did not go near as well as he was promised by his uncle and in his frustration he's lashing out. It was all supposed to be so simple, right?

Then there's the daughter, Chloe, and her son. She's the more misguided of the two, losing herself to drugs and alcohol, but very clearly pulls herself together when things go bad, going into hiding with her child and the father. She tells the boy of her fathers adventures and her son, inspired and inheriting his grandfathers sense of both justice and inner heroism, covertly takes to saving people, despite the danger of discovery. By the end, the family comes together to save each other and their secret is blown, but whatever, right? They've hid long enough. The odds might be stacked against them, but when did the odds ever matter to superheroes?

All the more frustrating, then, to realize the guy could have been writing stuff like this all along. But hey, at least we got there. I'm into the book and ready for volume two, which promises to be where the push back against the new regime begins.

That said, there are some issues worth talking about.

Given that we're working with a new world and universe, we're obviously dealing with all new characters. So that leaves a lot in the way of set-up. Millar does a fine job of giving everyone differing viewpoints and personalities, but not every personal relationship is given the time it required. Chloe ends up looking like she'll be the hero of Jupiters Legacy, or at least one of the heroes, but she actually doesn't get nearly enough interaction with her parents before things go sour. We see plenty of the antagonism between Sheldon and his son, Brendan, but not so with Sheldon and Chloe. We get an idea what their relationship and thoughts are on each other through how they speak of each other, but they aren't even on panel together once, much less directly interacting. It's not much better with the mother, as they barely have a few sentences together before Chloe is attacked. It's a glaring oversight, and one reason I feel like this first volume could have used an extra issue slid in before the big plot point showed up.

The protagonists are also a little cavalier with loss of life at the end of the book, but it's in defense of their son, so you can at least sort of fudge the lines. Momma Bear and Papa Wolf aren't exactly new tropes. Still, I hope it's not the standard in the second half, as Chloes parents are old school heroes and wouldn't have approved.

Such a large time skip between issues three and four probably wasn't necessary either. Chloe has changed a great deal in the intervening years. It would have been nice to see some of that. Like I said, it could have used another issue. Half an issue showing moments from the nine years in succession all the way to where we end up would have done a lot for the book.

Frank Quitelys art is the same top notch work we usually get from him. As always, his style shows a lot of variety in body type, stature, body language and facials. The occasionally over-detailed eyes always get me. It's a thing in a fair number of Quitely projects that even good looking people will look just the slightest bit ugly without looking grotesque or unappealing to the eye. For example, Chloe has no eyebrows, making her look downright weird, but it also works, because she looks unique. Either you like Frank Quitelys art or you don't, but for my money, it's always great.

It's a good start and I'm invested in it enough not just to finish, but to check out the prequels, Jupiter's Circle, that Millar put out in the gaps after Legacy ran into its inevitable delays. We'll see where it goes, but for now, Jupiter's Legacy is a winner.

My Opinion: Read It

* I assume jokingly, but for all I know, he could have been serious. It's not exactly a big secret that Grant Morrison does not like Mark Millar anymore. The bad blood is known.

1 comment:

  1. I stopped keeping up with Millar after reading Nemesis, which was vile. Interesting that he's up to possibly tasteful things again, and with Quitely no less. (I wonder how Morrison feels about it...?)

    It looks like the sequel series, Jupiter's Legacy 2, had four issues come out last year and that issue five is coming out in a few weeks. I'm surprised that Millar went ahead with a sequel (much less actually finished it) even though the movie based on the first one hasn't come out yet. Maybe he really is turning over a new leaf.