Jupiter’s Legacy is finished after almost a year of delays. Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, and Peter Doherty have finally given us the final piece of the puzzle. So what is it we have in our hands? It’s a violent deconstructive take on the superhero genre, but it’s hardly the first. Millar explores inheritance, revolution, and the corruption of power. And these are recurring themes for Millar. We’ve seen them over and over again in Superman: Red Son, Old Man Logan, Wanted, and Starlight. So how is Jupiter’s Legacy different? Spoilers ahead!
Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t really have a protagonist. Instead, we follow the Sampson family. Sheldon Sampson, aka The Utopian, led an expedition in 1932 which resulted in a group of people obtaining superpowers. The Utopian is essentially Superman. He’s the patriarch and king of the superheroes. The problem is that his children Brandon and Chloe have no interest in following in his footsteps, and his brother Walter feels like their superpowers could be better used to fix the economic crisis. The world is in turmoil, and The Utopian’s followers are ready to revolt.
Brandon and Chloe are hedonistic. They’re only interested in sex, drugs, and their own celebrity; they don’t care about saving the world. There’s a sense of modern aristocracy with the Sampson family. They’ve inherited amazing wealth with these super powers, but they have no sense of obligation to use the powers responsibly. On the other side of the coin is Walter who feels that The Utopian doesn’t do enough, and that the superheroes have an obligation to proactively improve the world. Walter views the children’s failures as the fault of The Utopian, and he views the world’s economic collapse as the fault of The Utopian’s policies. So Walter takes Brandon under his wing and leads a violent revolution.
The Utopian is a classic superhero. He’s reactionary: a problem comes up and he fixes it. But when you take that to its logical conclusion it becomes troublesome. Superman disguises himself as Clark Kent to be normal, but every second Superman is Clark Kent he is passively allowing people to be harmed. The conflict between The Utopian’s ideology and Walter’s is key to Jupiter’s Legacy. Millar asks where should superheroes draw the line? Is it ever possible to consolidate power into a small population without it inevitably leading to its abuse? Is there even a correct way to use such power?
Now early on Jupiter’s Legacy hits you over the head a bit hard with its politics. Millar isn’t subtle. He plays in that world of tough questions and moral ambiguity; which is fine, that’s what deconstructionist text does. The problems begin when Millar transitions from deconstruction to straight superheroics. The big questions are dropped in favor of a more black and white story. One of my largest complaints is how unambiguously Walter is depicted as the villain. Jupiter’s Legacy may not start off with a protagonist, but Walter’s shaped into an antagonist before long. Not far behind, the final act even establishes Chloe and her new family as the story’s heroes starting a counter-revolution. In many ways, these shifts undermine the earlier groundwork, and that’s disappointing, but for all its problems the story progression still feels natural.
Jupiter’s Legacy actually comes together beautifully when read as a whole. Quitely’s art depicts these heroes as simultaneously majestic and horrific. This is a very dense book, heavy with text, but Quitely integrates elements of the sublime that keep Jupiter’s Legacy consistently engaging. And Millar, amazingly, crafts compelling character arcs following The Utopian’s family. The story doesn’t get overly complex, yet there’s still a considerable amount of depth that I’ve barely even begun to touch on. Jupiter’s Legacy isn’t a revolutionary story, but Millar and Quitely execute something here that feels iconic.