It’s the new, much anticipated creator owned superhero comic from Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, coloured by Pete Doherty It’s reported to have pre-orders in the region of 150,000, putting it well into the top five for the month at least. There’s a lot of expectation and hope resting upon it.
But the first thing out of the gate, you’re going to think is that you’re watching an episode of a familiar TV series. A group of young folk trying to persuade a ship’s captain to take them and a crew to a mysterious island on an empty point of a map that they saw in a dream, that is an answer to all the world needs. It even holds back on what happens on the island. But it is old, it is full of knowledge and it calls to people.
Whooshy sound increasing in volume. Cut to black. LOST. But as a superhero origin story.
Initially set in the thirties, the comic, there are definite attempts to draw allegories with the current political state and economic collapse. Talk of the “President’s austerity drive” or a nation “reduced to breadlines and soup kitchens” and “could our entire free-market infrastructure be destroyed by some bad loans and reckless bankers?”.
However, by creating such a period piece, Millar does choose to put certain of his tools back in the toolbox, or at least hold on getting them out. This is not a comic setting out to shock, or at least not initially. No abortion bombs, no casual racism, even in a 1930s multicultural cast. And in the present, we get their children, superheroes as rock stars – worse, the children of rock stars, treating sex and drugs in the most casual fashion, but even there, we get consequences.
Because yes, with so many questions left unanswered, we skip forward eighty years. In that respect it follows the pattern Millar set out with The Ultimates, first just telling Captain America’s World War Two story and then smashing him into the present to play up the juxtaposition. So here we get a golden age of pulp heroes, just before the capes arrived, and then straight to the present day, a history left to explore, wonder about and fill in. Which, as comic book readers, we are bound to do.
And despite all the glory of the superhero age, which we only hear about in passing, we’re right back where we started. Even with all their power, we still end up in 2013 with an economic collapse and fears for the very nature of the system. However, while the thirties scene was set in optimism, excitement and a belief that things could be done even in the face of certain economic doom, in the present day, that hope has been lost.
This is a superhero comic about impotence in that regard. Having all this enormous power and choosing to use it to fight super villains while the real dangers to the world are left unchallenged.
It’s also worth noting that while the 1930s is unexpectedly diverse in cast, with women and non-whites in significant role, that’s less so among the superhero set in the present day. Something happened…
It’s also a comic about generations, how our children always become something other than ourselves, often a disappointment to their parents who have an idea of how things should be, and also as a result of expectations that don’t take into consideration other cultural and economic factors. Things have changed, life is different, expectations may need to change too. But, of course, they don’t, which leads to a massive gap in understanding and even conversation.
Of course, this is a superhero comic, so there are still villains to fight. And scenes to fight them in.
But it’s a rarity. Most of this comic book deals with people sitting around and talking about stuff. But for no moment does this feel dull. It may be preachy in places, but it’s chewy. This is not a subtle book, it’s closer to Marshal Law than anything else. It’s a little heavy handed with the politics, sometimes choosing to tell rather than show – we hear about the economic and political problems far more than we see them. The issues raised are a little sixth-form common room in nature, but considering how often the superhero form leaves these things unchallenged, it’s refreshing. Subtlety may be wasted on this kind of book anyway, the superhero shows us bold, bright beings beating on each other, Jupiter’s Legacy does the same with political, cultural and economic ideas, broad brushstrokes fighting on the page. But this isn’t the action figure playground of Civil War, this is closer in thought to Red Son, and it benefits from that.
And even in the depths of conversation, Quitely provides us with plenty to look at, a master of how a three dimensional body hangs on a two dimensional page, he uses that to convey so much body language in the main characters and those around him. It’s a truly gorgeous experience to read.
There are new tricks too. Quitely shows telepathy in a new way with a series of levels of reality depicted as a series of states of comic book art, from coloured to knocked back colour, to initial pencils, faint perspective ruler lines and all, as if the world view is being created by the mind, while other elements overlap it. The initial 1930s scene has a different line to it, scratchier, with colourist Peter Doherty knocking aspects of them back, giving an age, a different printing style to those scenes. While modern day is bright costumes set against a dark background. Thematically, it’s right there.
The book has outlined the issues, the gaps that separate, that divide and the challenges yet to be tackled. It’s a good chewy start. But those with different opinions and viewpoints, certainly across the ages, are mostly separated in this issue. But the cliffhanger looks as if that can no longer be the case in issues to come…
If you liked America’s Got Powers (and I did), then this is your next favourite comic, easily. But it should also appeal to the political junkie too. Proper, decent superhero revisionism that takes aspects of Tom Strong and those of Zenith and sees those two world views collide. If you like Supurbia, Empowered or The Authority, this should fit in very nicely and snugly on your superhero shelf, and it deserves that place.
Jupiter’s Legacy #1 by Mark Millar, Frank Quitely and Peter Doherty is published by Image Comics next week.