Review: Jupiter’s Legacy #1

This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog

Jupiter’s Legacy #1

Mark Millar, Frank Quitely

Image Comics

There’s been a huge amount of buzz on various comics forums and twitter in the run up to the first issue of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s creator-owned new series from Image, Jupiter’s Legacy. The first issue hit racks this week – was it worth all that eager anticipation?

I suppose the answer to that is going to vary depending who you talk to – some of my colleagues loved it, where I would give it a more cautious thumbs-up. Which is to say I certainly enjoyed it, but no, I wasn’t blown away by it and to be honest some elements are a bit familiar to regular capes’n’tights readers, with elements of Tom Strong, Kingdom Come and Authority springing to my mind as I read the first issue (which is not to say there is no merit here, as I said, I did enjoy it after all).

Starting in 1932 we see a failed financier, wealthy family ruined in the crash of ’29 and the subsequent Great Depression. But he is less concerned with the loss of wealth and power than with what the Depression has done to his beloved America, a country now lacking confidence, unsure of its self, many unemployed, homes being repossessed, people literally on the bread line. And in a dream he is called to a mysterious island which promises some form of salvation. Gathering a group of friends who unquestioningly believe his vision, they manage to travel halfway across the world to an island on no charts. We don’t see what happens there, but when they return to the world they are changed, garbed in strange costumes, with awesome abilities and powers which they pledge to use for the betterment of humanity, to help…

Fast forward to the modern era, and the lazy, indolent, self-indulgent children of that first generation of superheroes. They too are superpowered, but more interested in the trappings of fame that come with their powers – money, sponsors, drugs, easy sex, superheroes for the me-me-me, 24 hour celeb-watch media, than in fighting evil (as one smirks, hey, most of the good villains are gone anyway, the older generation lived in a golden age for those kinds of battles). Into this crashes – literally a huge battle with a tremendously powerful being which takes a whole assembly of the older heroes to take down (with little to no help from their offspring, despite requests for aid).

In the aftermath one declares that he is tired of fighting villains – the world they served for the last few decades has again slipped back into economic chaos and moral quagmire, people again stand in line to beg for charitable food help. Perhaps they should be using their powers directly, getting involved in actually trying to change things and organise them at the political leadership level. Or should they remain ‘servants’ of the people and ignore the urge to take charge and try and fix a broken system which repeats the same errors to huge human cost every few decades?

It’s certainly interesting enough (and it boasts that lovely Quitely artwork of course, never  a bad thing), and taking element of today’s world problems and comparing them to similar ones from history gives it some relevance, while also working as a mirror to the simpler way superheroes were back in the old days, compared to today’s heroes. But as I said I kept feeling too many elements were familiar – the political aspects of the Authority and Kingdom Come for instance, or the celeb superheroes of X-Statix, as well as the obvious schism between generations which Kingdom Come did so well.

That said I still found it enjoyable enough, if not exactly gripping – and most superhero tales by their nature use and re-use elements of earlier genre tales, so I can’t hold that against Jupiter’s Legacy, really (and it is using some of them to comment on the changing nature of how we want our heroes). Besides it is the first issue and so it is early days – the question is what Millar and Quitely will do with those elements and how they mix them up into something new and uniquely theirs. I may not have been totally blown away with it (and to be fair it had too much hype to live up to, which is a bit unfair to be laden with so much expectation), but it did what a decent first issue should do: it introduced the set up (in a compact but efficient manner, no dawdling), the main characters, already set up some forthcoming lines of conflict and, most importantly, yes, it does make me want to read the next issue and see where the guys take this, and that’s what a first issue should do.

Mark Millar at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Over the holiday weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival once again, this time to see top Scottish comics scribe Mark Millar on what I think was his first appearance at this venerable literary bash. I bumped into Mark outside the Writer’s Yurt just before the event was about to start and he seemed pretty happy to be there, smiling and clearly enjoying the idea of being there. This enthusiasm was also evident during the actual event where Mark delighted the packed audience, discussing his comics and film work with much (and often self-effacing) humour before Scotland on Sunday’s books editor Stuart Kelly, who was chairing the event, opened proceedings up for the audience to ask some questions (including, as it turned out, an old friend of Mark’s from Glasgow’s well-loved AKA Comics).

Stuart introduced Mark, inviting him to discuss his earlier work and how he got into comics, with that well-proven path into comicdom for many a British writer, 2000 AD, which Mark was quite honest and candid about, talking about how he was obviously pleased when Tharg’s minions gave him his chance but saying that looking back he thinks he simply wasn’t quite ready at that stage and his writing wasn’t up to par, so there was an element of learning on the job. Naturally the subject of the notorious Big Dave strip for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic reared its beer-swilling head, the series he co-created with Grant Morrison and Steve Parkhouse and which still divides 2000 AD readers. Mark also paid tribute to Warren Ellis and getting noticed in the US comics market when he was given the writing gig for The Authority following Warren’s run.

Mark Millar at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2 small

(Mark and supporting wine glasses signing for fans after the event at the Book Festival, click for the bigger pic on Flickr)

Stuart, who is a self-confessed comics lover, clearly knew his stuff and asked Mark about a variety of his work, taking us from 2000 AD and the Authority to childhood dream come true of working on some of the biggest comics characters around like the Superman and the Avengers and, of course, re-interpreting and reworking classic Marvel characters to such acclaim with the Ultimates and discussing Mark’s penchant for happily subverting established rules and clichés of the medium (which is, of course, one of the reasons we love him) and then on to creator-owned works such as American Jesus and Kick-Ass.

Graphic novels are, as we all know, now pretty damned big business in Hollywood and its no surprised that one of the medium’s best-known writers would be involved in this comics-celluloid crossover. However, as with much of his comics work Mark’s achieved this in his own style and he was refreshingly straightforward with the audience – it seems unlikely that the glamour of Tinsel Town or huge box office success is going to swell the head of the boy from Coatbridge. In fact it seemed quite the contrary – he was obviously delighted with the success he was enjoying in Hollywood, but he made it quite clear that at the end of the day his main occupation is a comics writer, although as he admitted laughingly, he had always wanted to write a superhero film since he was a kid after seeing the 70s Superman movie and deciding as a boy that he should be the one to write a sequel! Which prompted Stuart to ask him about the Superman movie he was almost involved in more recently, asking what his version would have been like. Laughter erupted as Mark explained he couldn’t tell us about that script idea unless we wrote him a very large cheque. Would he still like to write a Superman film? Oh yes!

Kick-Ass Mark Millar John Romita Jr

(a page from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s Kick-Ass, published Marvel Icon)

Obviously Wanted came up – a serious box office success although it was considerably different from Mark’s original comics. When Stuart asked him how he felt about the differences he explained he didn’t mind, in fact he said he quite enjoyed the film version; the version he wrote worked perfectly as a comic, eh thought, but not necessarily as a film, so he had no big problem with changing concepts to suit a different medium and besides, he laughed, he loved some additions in the film version, like the loom (super-assassins knitting, what a great idea he commented).

Naturally the film version of Kick-Ass was discussed and the way studios were interested in the property but only if they could change elements they were worried about. Mark had nothing but praise for director Matthew Vaughan (Stardust, Layer Cake and the film version of American Jesus) who agreed with him that they wanted to go with the story from the comics, not some watered-down-by-studio-committee version (which would doubtless excise many of the controversial elements that are central to the concept) and set about talking to contacts to raise their own finance to do the film their way (an approach recently vindicated by the excited studios bidding for distribution rights to the completed film after footage screened at San Diego Comic Con to much excitement), as well as complimenting Jane Goldman’s script-writing ability. He also promises us that what we’ll see on screen is taken directly from the comic original.

All in all it was a cracking event, with a packed and very happy looking audience (including Ian Rankin and his son who is a big comics fan) clearly enjoying the evening discussing Mark’s comics and film work (not to mention briefly mentioning an idea he has been floating to Scottish Television for a possible show set in Scotland, which I’m sure we will hear more about further down the line) and it seemed to me that Mark was seriously enjoying himself talking to a home-country audience about comics at the Festival, carrying on his talk on a more individual level with a line of fans who waited patiently to speak to him while getting their books signed afterwards. As this year’s Book Festival draws to a close in Edinburgh I have to say that evening rounded it off very nicely for the comics fans.

Mark Millar talks Wanted

Over on the Forbidden Planet blog my colleague Mark poses some questions to another Mark, Mark Millar, Scottish comics superstar (Civil War, Ultimates) about his comics and the movie versions of Wanted and Kick Ass. On the blog there’s a second, shorter video with an excerpt from the special effects creation extras on the Wanted DVD too.