The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 184 | Once more, with feeling: On Millar and Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy #1

Leaving Proof 184 | Once more, with feeling: On Millar and Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy #1
Published on Thursday, May 9, 2013 by
Jupiter’s Legacy has Mark Millar and Frank Quitely playing with familiar toys, but the potential is there for the title to rise above the typical superhero deconstruction story.

jupiterslegacyprev_009The last time writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quitely worked together on a superhero comic back in 2001, the former ended up eventually quitting DC/Wildstorm’s The Authority and working from that point on almost exclusively with creator-owned titles and books published by main DC Comics rival Marvel Comics. Millar’s predecessor on the book, fellow Brit and Fleetway Publications alum Warren Ellis, had established The Authority as an especially provocative take on traditional superheroics and so it stayed with Millar: If readers thought that the Scotsman would stop pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in a “mainstream” superhero comic book during his turn on the title, a scene in Millar’s first issue, The Authority #14, where it is vaguely suggested that The Authority’s Superman-analogue Apollo is sexually assaulted by The Americans‘ baby-killing serial rapist Captain America-analogue Commander should have quickly disabused them of that notion. What followed next, of course, is common comics fandom knowledge: Then-president of DC Comics Paul Levitz and Millar got into a spat over the level of violence and sexual references in the mature readers-rated title—the latter even had Apollo marry his long-time partner (and The Authority Batman pastiche) Midnighter in the first same-sex superhero marriage portrayed in a comic book published by either DC or Marvel, although whether or not this contributed to the discord isn’t a matter of reliable record—that spilled over into the public Internet space, although they would eventually settle their differences amicably in 2005. Millar pulled up his stakes in late 2001/early 2002 and decamped for Marvel Comics, where he became instrumental in the development of Ultimate X-MenUltimates, the Civil War crossover, the Marvel-branded, creator-owned comics imprint Icon, and a host of other, high-profile projects including live-action and animated feature films featuring Marvel and Icon characters.

jupiterslegacyprev_001Despite their acrimonious split, DC Comics still wound up publishing Superman: Red Son—an alternative-history take on the Man of Steel that portrayed how the DC superhero world would have been had the Kryptonian’s rocket landed in the Soviet Union instead of the American Midwest—a miniseries Millar finished writing before he left for Marvel and creator-owned comics publishing. In that Eisner-nominated Elseworlds release, Millar used with a remarkable degree of success a tool commonly used in literary deconstruction, taking Superman out of the character’s traditional setting and reframing his narrative, to zero in on the core elements that make him as universally appealing a superhero as there ever has been in comics. And while Millar has had breakthrough success after breakthrough success with his work at Marvel, it does seem that he still needs to scratch that DC superhero itch. A lot of his most popular creator-owned projects of the past decade feature stories and characters that could have been featured in Elseworlds-style DC books: Superior plays with the duality embodied by the Captain Marvel/Billy Batson relationship, Nemesis reads very much like an unhinged Joker tale, and of course, Wanted (the Top Cow Productions/Millarworld miniseries, not the misbegotten film it spawned) is quite the transparent saga set in a world where pastiches of DC’s supervillains have successfully rid the world of superheroes.

Jupiter’s Legacy, which debuted last month at the #3 estimated sales spot (105,000 in estimated unit sales) just behind DC’s Batman #19 (132, 140) and Marvel’s Thanos Rising #1 (114, 714), sees Millar reuniting with The Authority artist Frank Quitely and at this early juncture in the series, it seems the title will be of a piece with his previous DC-inspired creator-owned work. The book’s premise is summarized on Image’s website thusly:

The world’s greatest heroes have grown old and their legacy is a poisonous one to the children who will never live up to their remarkable parents.

Millar has tackled the superhero generation gap before, perhaps most notably in his portrayal of the man-out-of-time Captain America in Ultimates and Ultimates 2, but there are a number of clues and hints in the series’ first issue that informs us that the shadow of DC hangs over the book, at least in this early going. The origin of Jupiter’s Legacy‘s Golden Age superheroes in Depression-era America and their being motivated by the popular political and economic concerns of the day is a clear parallel with Superman’s origins: Before Superman was known as a crusader fighting against extraterrestrial threats and interdimensional imps, the character was, as Grant Morrison once described him, “a socialist superhero” whose battles against corrupt government officials and racketeering businessmen reflected the lingering popular distrust of politicians and big business in the post-Great Depression period.

jupiterslegacyprev_012With the introduction of characters who appear to be stand-ins for Superman and Batman, Millar is also clearly setting up the kind of philosophical opposition that defines the current Superman-Batman contrast, the superhero-as-a-volunteer-and-adjunct-to-law-enforcement versus the superhero-as-a-vigilante-who-takes-the-law-into-his-own-hands. Millar has trod this ground before with Marvel’s superheroes in Civil War, but I’d always felt that the politics and philosophies espoused by the opposing sides of that interminable event to be ridiculously reductive and hackneyed, with certain protagonists acting somewhat out-of-character in the service of progressing a plot that ultimately wasn’t all that interesting. Will Jupiter’s Legacy provide a more nuanced and character-driven grounding for its superheroes’ social and political motivations? It’s too early to tell at this point, but I’ve yet to see any reason why it shouldn’t.

There’s obviously more going on in Jupiter’s Legacy than just a riff on DC’s most recognizable characters, a reinterpretation of Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, or an update of Millar’s own Civil War. The issue of the younger generation having to live up to the examples and myths of their predecessors is a central theme in the book, and it will also be interesting to see how Millar will expound on how superheroes will grapple with global threats such as economic uncertainty and political instability that can’t be simply solved with punching and blasting. Jupiter’s Legacy had an entertaining debut, and holds promise both in terms of story and the technical art (I haven’t been this impressed with Quitely’s work in quite a while). Here’s hoping that the rest of the series lives up to it.

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