Ritesh Babu: So, Jupiter’s Legacy, the first of the upcoming wave of Millarworld media works. The big launch of an IP-farm that Netflix spent 50 million on and bought, only to have Millar helm it and run it for them on top of that. This is his self-proclaimed masterpiece. His apparent magnum opus. His sprawling mega-epic, which spans and touches everything he’s ever wanted to express. So, folks, what do we think of this damn thing?
*Spoilers for Jupiter’s Legacy Season One Follow!* [Content Warning: Discussion Of Sexual Assault]
Sean Dillon: When it comes to adaptations of the work of Mark Millar, I expect them to be extremely sanitized of everything remotely worth poking at with a stick. Be it Wanted
turning a story about how the supervillains of the world have already conquered the world into one about a secret order of assassins, or making Kick-Ass into a more traditional superhero work. But with these adaptations, the sanitization often has the effect of cutting out the worst instincts of Millar, such as the rape, and putting in delightful things in its place (be it a new rock song by Danny Elfman, Kick-Ass shooting gangsters with a jetpack while Elvis is playing in the background, or (in the case of Kingsmen) the second best usage of Free Bird in cinematic history).
I preface with this because the Netflix original series Jupiter’s Legacy essentially cuts out everything interesting about the comic and doesn’t replace it with a damn thing. As such, the show is a dull, drab, uninteresting text about how shite of a father Superman, in the form of the Utopian, is.
David Mann: I think the question that has to be addressed up front is what makes a mid-tier superhero joint – and not Netflix’s first – worthy of this kind of extended analysis. This comes down to a handful of things.
- Like it or not, Mark Millar is a foundational architect of 21st century superhero stories: you don’t have the MCU as we understand it without him, so him doing his Big Definitive Statement is automatically of some kind of note.
- This is the first ‘prestige’ superhero show to go all-in on the conventional trappings, with the folks in tights flying out from stately headquarters to battle fiendish mad scientists and monsters, without the guy in the cape secretly being a mass-murderer. And
- The basic ingredients of Jupiter’s Legacy, the scope of what it wants to tackle and how, mean that a suitably transformative take on the material (ala what some prior Millar adaptations have received) could have been a benchmark for the genre in mass-media. And, well, this was pretty undeniably a transformative interpretation, though what it was transformed into didn’t quite work how I imagine they initially had in mind.
RB: I found the show truly dreadful. While I can’t stand Kirkman’s work in the slightest, and thus have no fondness for Invincible (in any form), I could absolutely see the math on how it was meant to appeal, how it could be popular, how it would succeed. It made sense, even as I had 0 connection to it. But even just 5 minutes into this thing, I was utterly baffled. I kept asking myself ‘A-A-Are people actually meant to like this? Are they supposed to think this is actually good?’ I had to message someone to be like ‘It’s not just me, right? This is terrible, yes?’, and I felt saner after their response, and the breaking of the review-embargo, where so many critics nailed down that yeah, this didn’t work. But much like most Millar work, which is terrible, it doesn’t work in a way that feels almost instructive? Like seeing a kid’s really dumb and tryhard paper, which makes you wanna go in and correct it with a red pen. The kind of thing you wanna teach a class on, as a What Not To Do.
SD: And, like all Millar texts, it’s going to make a boatload of money anyways.
DM: It IS wild that the show opens on its worst pair of scenes, and it can only salvage things so much from there. It’s (sometimes) slickly watchable, but in the same sense that Joker was a cynical redeployment of the motions and aesthetics of superior works – though if there’s a key phrase to much of Millar’s oeuvre it’s cynical redeployment, so I suppose it’s not inappropriate. This wants us to think of it as a grand thesis on justice, Americana, family, celebrity, power, human goodness and purpose. It…is recognizably about some of those things.
SD: I have to disagree with you on one front: I did not find the show to be watchable. For the majority of the time, I watched the show while looking at my phone doing other things. The visuals were largely drab and uninteresting. Even the usage of aspect ratio that can work brilliantly in texts like The Lighthouse, Homecoming, or works by Noah Hawley that aren’t Lucy in the Sky was the most uninteresting version of its potential. Like, if you’re going to have the past be full screen and the present wide, why not go all the way and change the color of the past beyond a vaguely sepia tone?
DM: I’ll cop to being the easily amused one here. It has some standalone scenes and pieces of spectacle that clicked well enough with me, but in the scheme of things they mostly just serve to further highlight the weaknesses. Most of what interested me either feels accidental, unintentional, or some awkward limbo where I’d question the deliberateness if I had slightly more faith in the vision on display here.
RB: At this juncture, it may be useful to back up a bit and lay out what this thing was before it manifested before our eyes. Let us, for a moment, turn to Millar’s comments pre-release:
These were how Millar chose to introduce his supposed opus to us all. And thus, it seems only fair, that these proclamations be remembered in assessing the work. Not to be left out are all his comparisons to Francis Ford Coppola, and his tremendous work The Godfather II, solely for the structure of being split between two times, following different generations. Although, in practice, the show is honestly more CW’s Arrow than it is The Godfather II, including in terms of ambition.
SD: I think the key aspect of the show, when read in this light, is the budget. Both Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones were massive scaled and budgeted works. Even the Coppola comparison is one that is contingent on the budget of the work. Bar his more recent fare, Coppola was perhaps famous for going significantly over budget on his films.
With this in mind, it’s notable that Jupiter’s Legacy looks like shit. The fight scenes look like they could have been produced on the budget of a typical CW show and they aren’t helped by direction that doesn’t utilize the medium to its advantage. Look at how the HBO series Doom Patrol utilizes the cinematic language to the fullest possible level, using subtitles, editing, and narration as part of the very action being depicted. Conversely, we have the average, ordinary punches, kicks, and laser beams you’d expect coming from Jupiter’s Legacy.
Perhaps the most damnable thing is the attempt to adapt this amazing scene from the pen of Frank Quietly:
And all it does is make it CGI cubes that don’t even look that great.
DM: Yeah, a lot of this looks pretty trash. When it’s willing to go more stylized, it’s far more palatable as any expectation of verisimilitude is ditched, but those instances are few and far between – the super-fights in this conspicuously fail to measure up to Superman & Lois (which, hilariously, not only beat this to the punch on ‘what if Superman had a tough time raising his kids?’ but did it with the real deal) nevermind the big-screen comparisons early interviews evoked. Millar said pre-release that this baby had a budget of $100 million. Millar says lots of things. The costumes are really good though, it does have that going for it.
And the CGI cubes weren’t even there for that scene, they were later! A standout disappointment, we knew going in this wasn’t going to live up to being a visualization of the GOAT Frank Quitely’s take on a superhero universe but damn, way to not even try with the coolest bit in the source material.
RB: The wigs and makeup regrettably, are not. Like, you look at The Utopian’s wig and Lady Liberty’s, and you wince. Ben Daniels comes closest to working here, but otherwise, there’s something impossibly cheap about the whole affair. Which, like you said, David, is surprising, given Millar talked this up while comparing it to The Crown, and how it had the biggest budget of any superhero show, and was one of the most expensive shows ever produced.
But I think what Sean pointed out is the key point I wanna discuss. The utter lack of any sort of formal ambition or interest in the actual storytelling. It’s like they looked at that structure gimmick and called it a day. Take for instance, The Code. It is what the entire series is built on. It is what the entire show is driven by. It is its ethos, it is its heart. It is what the whole thing hinges and centers on. It is The Law Of Heroes. But it is presented and communicated to the audience so poorly, that you come away shocked at the show’s clumsiness. Like, alright, you’ve got this Code, why not present it in an opening card, almost treat it like an Asimov-esque Laws Of Robots thing. Or heck, to use a superhero example:
This show has 0 consideration or imagination as to how to convey information. The telling/showing of the story it’s got in its head, is dreadfully poor. For all its supposed, boastful claims of ambition, and the comparisons made to illustrate it: This has none.
SD: Not included in the comic initially, the Code is a proclamation that the heroes won’t kill and they won’t try to “Take over the world.” But its utilization within the show is ultimately to highlight the core moral dilemma at the heart of it all: should superheroes extrajudicially murder supervillains. That the show ultimately highlights this dilemma with characters in favor of superheroes killing, holding a sign that says “No Justice, No Peace,” highlights the degree of f****dness this show is operating upon. That the show doesn’t dwell upon this highlights the degree of uninteresting this show is operating on.
DM: THE CODE. This is one of those ‘how much credit do you wanna give’ moments: there’s the temptation to assume this is a failed effort at condensing a lot of the generational and societal issues the comic gestured towards into a single flashpoint, but by the end with the last showdown between Utopian, Paragon, and Blackstar, it’s hilariously clear it’s a nearly decade after the fact ‘rebuttal’ to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. I gotta imagine Millar insisted on that, much like I’m certain he demanded Steve DeKnight do this on the basis of “Daredevil ruled, get that guy!” without a second thought regarding his suitability to the mode this is trying to operate in. Or at least until he left the production partway through the season, our first inarguable sign that this was spinning out of any kind of control.
(“No Justice No Peace” used up half my WHOOF quotient, the other on Utopian and Brainwave exhaustedly mentioning they could have but did not stop the Holocaust.)
RB: That is actually precisely how DeKnight was hired. Post-sale to Netflix, Millar is the President Of Millarworld, a division of Netflix (with his spouse as CEO). And thus he gets to pick what gets made, how, and more vitally, who works on it, from showrunners to writers. He has maximum control. And when asked on Jupiter’s, his process literally was, by his own confession ‘Well, I’ve just finished watching Daredevil Season One by Steven DeKnight, and loved it. Let’s get DeKnight.’ But yeah, while we’ll never know the details on the eventual split halfway through (leading to Sang Kyu Kim to take over what was left to get it to the finish line), we do know that Millar had such intense control on the project that he’d literally wake up and go ‘I wanna tweak that one line or scene’ and then they’d get the actors back and do it, and he’d constantly be changing things until last minute, until it was finally locked. And it shows. His fingerprints are absolutely all over this, and it’s his vision that rises above anyone else’s. It is very clearly a Mark Millar product.
But yes, this absolutely feels like Millar post-Mos/BvS/Snyder-in-general venting about stuff. Mark Millar has never been closer to Mark Waid than at this point. Which is bloody hilarious when you consider just how much of Kingdom Come there is in this iteration of Jupiter’s Legacy. It straight up even gives you the Old Detached Superman On A Farm stuff, which was never in the comic. Nevermind that it doesn’t even make sense or fit, because Sheldon Sampson wasn’t a poor working class farmboy, he was the rich, privileged son of a capitalist, who grew up with a silver spoon up his arse. It doesn’t track at all as a choice, beyond the obvious gesturing. It is all about gesturing to Superman, even when it makes no sense and is nonsensical.
DM: Yeah there’s no talking about this without mentioning Superman, to the point that Lady Liberty is fully reconfigured into Lois Lane. This show exists at the center of the current zeitgeist of the notion of “The Fall of Superman/The Son of Superman,” from The Boys, Invincible, Superman & Lois, My Hero Academia, and soon the Superman comics proper with Superman & The Authority and Son of Kal-El. But while those either go in relatively straightforward and sincere directions or wholly cynical, this tries to split the difference with a ‘superman’ who’s torn between trying his best and fully giving into huffing his own farts. He’s himself the victim of a Geoff Johns-esque devotion to a core theme of parents f***ing up their kids, a ‘successor’ in Andrew Horton’s Paragon who I can’t tell if he’s well-acted or not, but just naturally exudes the necessary failson energy, and Chloe as a mess rebelling against the concept of heroism by being an asshole. The results mean the core four of the Sampson family are practically in-name-only adaptations (Brandon was an emotionally arrested, arrogant, idiotic, misogynistic cartoon asshole, Chloe’s the hippy kid, Grace is The Mom, and comics Utopian is a whole other thing for later), and in spite of Duhamel somehow mustering some gravity not even particularly to the benefit of the show.
SD: Yeah, more than anything else, this felt less like a Mark Millar joint and more like a Geoff Johns work. It’s trying to return things back to normal where both extremes met in the middle, the same Johnsian Literalism of stating the themes over and over again until the view was beaten to death with them. It’s even got a moment where someone loses their arm. That this is, in many respects, a response to Snyder’s vision of superheroes as figures of horror and power, who has Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman kill left, right and center, is extremely telling.
And that argument Jupiter’s Legacy amounts to is… less convincing than Snyder’s. In Snyder’s vision, we are shown the vast horror of the superhero figure. A being who can destroy buildings at a whim. To use a Lord of the Rings comparison, the Superheroes are much like the stone giants in The Hobbit: fighting with one another without a care for the little people they might trample upon. The case Snyder makes is strong, highlighting aspects from the systemic death sentence being branded by The Batman would grant you, to the personal of the people on the ground looking in awe and horror at Superman fighting Zod with his heat vision.
Jupiter’s Legacy, meanwhile, can’t even muster anything in favor of superheroes not killing beyond “they shouldn’t.” Indeed, the argument that superheroes should kill is much stronger, with the show highlighting the number of heroes who die because they’re “too lenient” on supercriminals. People, be they heroes or civilians, die at the hands of supervillains. They die horribly, and brutally. The Utopian and Lady Liberty would’ve died at the hands of (the clone of) Blackstar. Ghost Beam, one of the show’s most sympathetic characters, actually did die, with her final words being “I stuck to the Code.” The show, for all its attempts to respond to Snyder’s vision of superheroes, can’t imagine an argument against it other than “this is how superheroes have always been, why change things?”
Which is, perhaps, the most Geoff Johns thing ever.
DM: A moment to ask what Venn diagram of human beings Sheldon Sampson exists in where he complains about how people don’t acknowledge the alt-right as Nazis AND that we won’t compromise anymore. More importantly, the assorted failings and short-sightedness of the heroes could have actually fit decently with the comics interpretation of superheroes as essentially living Americana – our brave, indefatigable, trustworthy public face who represent all the ideals we profess, but are ultimately ineffectual in attempting to heal the American reality and actively rejected when trying to meaningfully bring those ideals about. Except the show doesn’t actually talk about America in the present except in the first and last episodes in passing, or in the past beyond asking us to cry for the poor little rich boys who lost it all.
The idea of ‘the horror of superheroes’ is a fair one to point out as well, when the show presents the origins of the concept through a chain of events explicitly compared to Lovecraft – the terrifying island that gave them their powers slaughtered countless others over generations searching for the ‘worthy’ whose emotional epiphanies granting them their powers are hilariously transitory. But again, I have no particular sense of how much this is actually intended as a comment on the real nature of aristocratic American supermen soaring down from on high to declare right and wrong for us all based on how they’re compelled vs. it just being an atmosphere/pulp evocation thing. Like everything relating to Hutch, Blackstar, Brandon being an actual character, and *the plot going the rest of the way through act one*, it all depends on those further seasons they’re banking on. But this hasn’t put in the work to buy my faith.
RB: I want to touch on something brought up here. The Johnsian nonsense. Constantly, throughout this entire show, you have characters repeatedly stating ‘The world used to be simpler. It used to be Black and White.’ and that it no longer is. It is the most nonsensical idea present in the series that isn’t investigated appropriately. It is the idealized view and lie of the nostalgic. That the world has degraded from a higher state or was ‘better’ in the relative past. But no, this is a take of clouded privilege.
Perhaps more than anything though, I think the show represents the ultimate end of The Realist lens on superhero fiction. While The Utopian and Walter are having the aforementioned talk on America, Walter says ‘I still regret not doing more in World War II’ and it’s at this point the whole show cracks for me. It lays bare the problem of these ‘realistic’ visions, which is that they are not realistic at all. They are laughable. They are cartoonish. They are a fantasy that is utterly absurd the closer you try to bring them to reality. It is, in a way, the ultimate dead-end of The Millar-Vision. It is that Alan Moore quote of superheroes becoming grotesque made manifest. But alas, it isn’t grotesque in a way that serves the work and its points, it’s just so in a way that breaks the entire vision being presented. You have a fake cartoon man saying he regrets not doing more in WWII, a very real horror and tragedy. What can you do except laugh, as you’re pulled out of this whole enterprise?
But also, and this is classic Millar, The Utopian and Walter talk about the Nazis out on the streets, but they never say ‘Alt-Right,’ in fact they never say a damn thing at all in their ‘Meeting In The Middle vs Full On Fascism’ discussion. It is intentionally vague nothingness. They say America is more divided than it ever has been, but never go into it beyond that. There are no specifics, there’s no texture, it’s vague gesturing that wants to please and win over everyone, while going ‘We’re relevant, we’re political, we’re tapped into the zeitgeist!’. But it isn’t. Its idea of America is a simple binary that is merely just 1929 and 2021. No other periods seemingly exist for it. Ultimately, it is the kind of fiction that deliberately is broad so as to offend no one and say nothing. It’s the kind of work that leaves room for all the centrists and conservatives to go ‘Yeah! Antifa are the nazis! That’s what he means! Why can’t we meet in the middle?!’
SD: It’s worth keeping in mind, since we’re talking about Mark Millar’s vision, that Millar has some… choice politics. He is a pro-Brexit Labour Party member who has an affinity towards the works of Jordan Peterson. Millar is not one to imagine the overthrow of the world governments on the grounds that they are monstrous and evil as a good thing. Consider Wanted, where the supervillains take over the world. The core conflict of that text was whether or not the supervillains who rule the world should be public about their domination of the world. The villains we are meant to align with (who rape, murder, torture, and love every moment of it) are the ones who want to keep the world as is while the baddies (who rape, murder, torture, and love every moment of it) don’t.
The fundamental flaw at the heart of “realistic” superhero fiction is that dichotomy, that belief that those with power don’t want to change the world. They want to keep it the same. Not because a fundamental change in the way the world functions would hurt their money flow, but because the very act of changing the world is not good for… reasons. It would change things forever. Which, yes it would. That’s what change is. Keeping things the way they are is, ultimately not something that’s sustainable. Walter is right that they should have done more in World War II, with all the atrocities conducted by the Nazis and, let’s be honest, the Allies. Be it the concentration camps of Auschwitz, the barren ruins of Hiroshima, or, to use an example not named in the show, the Japanese Internment Camps in California.
But Walter is the ultimate baddie of the show. He’s the one who’s responsible for everything that’s been going wrong with the show, from the clone of Blackstar to the resentment of Paragon to the framing of Skyfox. Everything that is wrong with the world as it is is because of him. Even his argument to change the world for the better rather than let things go on as they always have is indicative of this desire to control things. He wants the world to work the way he thinks it should and he’s villainous because he wants to change the world. Indeed, you can see this vision of villainy as a desire to change the world throughout fiction, be it Koba in the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy or Killmonger in Black Panther. Whatever the motivation, be it a return of fascism or a rise in leftist ideals, villainy in genre fiction is centered around wanting to change things.
DM: Millar has such a shifty, detached relationship with the idea of the status quo. In Wanted, the villains ARE the status quo, but he can’t help but love them in all their most hideous excesses. The Authority are the heroes for changing things, Superman ‘interfering’ in Red Son nearly triggers the apocalypse, the Ultimates can be read as either upholding the status quo or upending it in the name of American interests. Walter and his dumb plan to fake a psychic fight with Skyfox no one was supposed to see is the most dangerous thing in the world for trying to change it all, while Skyfox is the tragic misunderstood One True Champion for trying to do broadly the same thing. There’s no ideological consistency or self-reflection, beyond the idea that there are Great Men and they should preferably be some kind of nice about it. And at the end of the day, this is a show about the genesis of superheroes springing from those Great Men in three rich boys and their debate about whether and how the world should be a more equitable place, rather than the other end of the equation where half the original superhero team in the 1920s that’d go on to have that debate was made up of a Black man, a gay man, and a woman who’s a crusading anti-capitalist journalist, which is entirely brushed aside.
RB: There is a fundamental Whiteness baked into the whole premise and enterprise, in this sense. You mentioned the Lovecraft point David, which I think is worth noting, if only because the series, neither the comic or the show, despite Millar openly noting Lovecraft as an influence, do anything with that. Like, he is just referenced in a single scene, and that is it. The show doesn’t unpack or explore race much, or wrestle with the full implications of the pulp context it’s playing with. Even as it recasts Fitz Small, The Flare, as a Black man, from the White Dude in the comic, it doesn’t feel like Race is actually figured into its overall thought on power, power dynamics, and laws. It has the typical acknowledgements you’d expect, due to the very nature of the re-casting, but Mike Wade deserves so, so much better than what he gets here. As does Tenika Davis, who plays The Flare II.
The entire show is framed around The Burden Of The Great White Man, who has maintained the status quo so far while being a centrist monster. And now is set to see it fall…to his Fellow Great White Man brother, Walter, who will plunge it into being an even worse dystopia, to even greater heights of Fascism. Jupiter’s Legacy is a show that conflates its cartoonishly simple notions and conceits for deep, nuanced moral quandaries and complexities. It expects and wants the audience to genuinely believe that across 90 years of Superheroics, a culture and history built around Super-People, The Code has never been broken, with the exception of that goshdarned Skyfox fella in ‘67. Nobody has ever killed with the exception of that notorious super-traitor, up until Brandon in 2021. What a nice, innocent, White lie and premise. Mark Millar can sell that somewhere else, because boy do I not buy it. I do not buy his fantasy of an innocent America, that is only now so divided, that is only now not so simple. The entire enterprise is swimming in a Whiteness that doesn’t get critiqued or dealt with in the show.
SD: At most, Race is used as a token, a Black man arguing in favor of being sympathetic towards and working with the rich, white capitalists who f***ed over the working class. It has the image of a Black person not as seen through the eyes of Black people, but through that omnipresent lens of Whiteness. Bar one exception, all of the PoC characters within the show function at service to the White characters. Be they the Asian girl whose death is meant to give pathos to the white women of the show’s cast, the Asian guy who gets one scene before he dies and it amounts to “he was friends with the White boy and had kids,” or the black woman whose crisis of conscious regarding superheroism is resolved by the white Paragon reciting his own father’s words. And don’t get me started on the sword wielding Asian woman brought in at the last moment.
RB: Anna Akana’s Raikou being killed at the ending is the moment I loudly yelled ‘$%&! off’ more than ever. It was like the punctuation mark on all the stupid stuff the series had done up to that point. She only exists as a prop to do the Walter reveal, to show his monstrosity. To make a point about how EVIL he is, and like, if that’s all this character is gonna get used for in a series, I have no patience.
Jupiter’s Legacy is a show that repeatedly displays heroes you’re meant to care about, because they have dreams of making a better America, a better world. But what does ‘better’ even mean, or look like? How do they even see it? It never really, actually tells you. ‘Better’ just means vague bullshit that lets White Men like The Utopian keep his hands clean, wherein you don’t get ‘political’, wherein you don’t actually do anything. ‘Better’ means watching cops beat up protestors, particularly PoC, and turning a blind-eye, or worse, helping the cops do it in the name of ‘keeping the peace’. They’re pals of The Prison-System more than they are actually heroes. There is no actual ethos or vision for anything. It’s all vague gesturing that shows like The Boys call out for exactly what they are, and become active cultural critiques of, whereas Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t do anything with it. It’s just…there. And it’s boring.
DM: Shockingly, for all that like most Millar titles it’s largely a collection of neat notions, setpieces, and sketches of characters rather than an actual story, the original comic in its Jupiter’s Circle flashback segment actually tries to grapple with the idea of them as recognizing their unsustainability, with the Utopian directly confronting his privilege and sincerely considering the worth of Skyfox’s revolutionary tactics until betrayal, personal alignment, and self-doubt lead to him succumbing to inertia and becoming the hollow figurehead the superkids eventually turn on. It’s hardly a radical take, but it’s wild that the big prestige series casts an actively less critical eye on the basic idea of an old money nigh-immortal with laser vision deciding to ‘save’ America, instead apparently concluding that everything would have been fine if he’d raised his kids better for when they took over.
SD: Since we’ve brought it up, I’d like to note that of the whole Jupiter’s Enterprise, it’s Jupiter’s Circle that remains the most interesting. Throughout the comic, we are presented with a world of superheroes who want to change the world beset by forces challenging and working against their idealism. It shows the various means by which a “realistic” superhero comic could, potentially, work without descending into centrist nonsense. For example, in an early portion of the comic, the character Blue Bolt was blackmailed by J Edgar Hoover into revealing the secret identities of his fellow superheroes on the grounds that he’s gay (something the show has, thus far, only gestured towards). The implications of this within the superhero narrative work in much the same way many other revolutionary forces within the real world have been taken down: disgrace, blackmail, and (as was often the case) assassination.
But, as with the rest of Jupiter’s Legacy, it’s a half measure that doesn’t fully embrace the implications of what it’s doing. The conflict of Blue Bolt’s blackmail is resolved over the course of two issues with him coming out to the team and largely being embraced by them, the public blackmail being counteracted by Skyfox blackmailing Hoover over his own sexuality. The superheroes just keep the world as it is because that’s what superheroes do. Even the comic’s later exploration into Blue Bolt’s sexuality bar his blackmail is largely surface level at best. The aesthetics of having a minority member on the superhero team is more important than what it actually means to be a minority. The superheroic identity ultimately subsumes and consumes all other identity. There is no intersectionality with costumed types. No multiversial diversity. Not even metaphorical implications to what a superhero is.
All a superhero can be within Jupiter’s Legacy… is a superhero.
DM: Jupiter’s Circle works the best of the entire endeavor because it focuses on ‘Superman’, who Millar loves, classic superhero storytelling, which he’s good at, and character drama and ambiguities that can’t be immediately superseded by the upheaval of regime change, while Legacy is nothing but shortcuts. Going by the early interviews, he originally had a much more focused, genuinely earnest intent with the project, but clearly he quickly realized he could squeeze a lot more out of it with prequels and sequels so there went that. Circle – which only existed in the first place to give Quitely more time to work on the main book – seems a more authentic expression of whatever it is he first had in mind.
RB: It is very much a comic wherein everything hinges upon rape and monstrous mind-control, which is not only central to that book and the flashback narrative, but the entire Jupiter’s Saga as a whole. The whole thing is built upon rape, and we get a whole sequence of the villain boasting about it, practically twirling his goddamn mustache. It is cartoonish nonsense, and the height of Millar storytelling, wherein the women are reduced to just ‘The Mom,’ ‘The Girl One,’ ‘The Wife/Girlfriend,’ ‘The Mistress’ and are just objects in the dick-measuring contests between dudes.
SD: Don’t forget sexual relationships with minors. In a decision I hope they reconsider for the Netflix adaptation, the character of The Flare, who is played by Mike Wade, a black man, has a sexual relationship with a minor that fractures his marriage. The connotations of a person of color having a sexual relationship with a minor are… unfortunate, to say the least.
RB: Fingers crossed that they do not adapt that, especially given, like I said, the work being unable to be critically aware of race. The whole comic was clearly pitched as Mad Men meets Superfriends, but it’s not one Mark Millar of all people has the chops or the appropriate sensitivity to actually write and pull off. As such, you get something that is both nothing and infuriating at the same time.
DM: It’s definitely a comic about exploring the Dramatic, Salacious Behind The Scenes of the not-Justice League where all the dudes are struggling with their places in society and families, except for the Wonder Woman in Lady Liberty who’s really bummed about how she can’t get laid and that Utopian won’t notice her. There’s no amount of old-school charm you can lather over that, and that’s obviously the least of its sins in how it treats the central women. The notion that the show is going to go all the way with hinging the central conflict around someone being turned into a sexual prop helplessly manipulated across decades for two men to battle over is abominable: if you’re going to change literally anything from the comic, why wouldn’t that be at the top of any self-respecting list?
SD: In fact, that “Mind Control Rape” aspect of the comic acts to tone down some of the leftist implications of Skyfox’s defection from the Union, the superhero team at the heart of the series. What ultimately pushes him off the deep end of fighting his friends, to make him go too far without any possibility of reconciliation, isn’t kidnapping the Vice President, fighting against the police during the Watts Riots, or any other leftist ideals. It’s the fact that Walter used his mind control powers to brainwash his fiance into leaving Skyfox for Walter. And no one believes him because Walter would never do something as horrid and evil as “Mind Control Rape.” His leftist turn was predicated by leaving the team because he suspected Walter of doing “Mind Control Rape” and his ultimate turn against them was because Walter gloated to him in private, just as he accepted that Walter would never do something that evil, that he actually did brainwash Skyfox’s fiance into loving him and then had sex with her.
And, keep in mind, all of these stories are told from the viewpoint of men. It cares nothing about the lives of the women hurt by these awful, awful men.
RB: Skyfox is, and remains, the accidental best Mark Millar original character of all time, even if that says literally nothing, and is me damning him with faint praise. But nevertheless, I think it is true, with ‘accidental’ being key there. Because, like you note Sean, Millar absolutely does taint his entire shift and radicalization from The Aloof Rich Capitalist to The Dude Who Fights For The People, with that whole awful misogynistic story-thread. We never get the perspective of the victim, Sunny, the woman who this happens to, who endures this, both in the past or the present. We never see her fate. Her story doesn’t matter.
And having just looked it up, folks, they are absolutely going ahead with this godawful story-thread for the show:
No, Walter doesn’t know where George is either, so yes, framing him might have been a bit of a gamble. “But it’s a gamble worth taking, just the joy that he’s ruined his life,” Daniels laughs.
That’s something that Walter especially enjoys and it ties into something you might have missed. “George has really hidden himself away and it’s so fascinating to me and it was a source of endless conversations that I used to have with Mark Millar. He steals George’s wife, with a brain trick, which you get more of in Season 2,” Daniels continues. “She appears really briefly in the scene with the cake on the beach. He goes, ‘Say, hello to Blackstar, darling.’ That is George’s wife. He literally cannot bear George to be anywhere near him for the rest of his life, so he just has to get him out of the universe. I think he hates it, that he doesn’t know where George is but loves that he’s not in his life anymore causing him grief.”
SD: That Mark focuses on how George and Skyfox feel and not Sunny pretty much sums up everything wrong with… this. I mean, contrast it with (to keep things within the frame of prestige superhero television) Legion. Legion is an extremely problematic show (especially in this aspect), but at least it had the decency to focus on the interiority of its female characters, look at the lives they lead before and after their experiences with “Mind Control Rape.” It didn’t treat them like props in the name of the manpain of the show’s male characters.
DM: Comic or TV, it’s a tale of the failings of the powers that be that cannot conceive of a perspective or consequences outside their own.
RB: It is endlessly frustrating, but also at once predictable and not shocking at all given its Millar. But the pure vileness and insularity aside, I think we need to touch on the other key thing about the show: Its identity crisis.
It is multiple shows shoved together, unable to truly decide what it actually wants to be. Does it want to be the Hutch/Chloe Romeo & Juliet-esque show? (A thread that just…happens, and is jarring at best.) Does it wish to be the political drama set around America and this super-family in the now? Does it wish to be the pulpy adventure serial of the ‘20s, in the vein of King Kong? And that’s just off the top of my head. Maybe a better show could weave all of this deftly, but this isn’t it.
It feels desperately lacking in focus. Even its perspective characters and who it focuses on feel bizarre. Brandon goes from being the central figure to someone who barely exists in a bunch of episodes. And every time Matt Lanter’s Skyfox shows up, I wonder Why isn’t he the lead and focus character here? Why isn’t he the perspective character? Why is it The Utopian? Because at least Lanter seems to be having fun on screen here, especially relative to the others. Only Ben Daniels and Anna Akana come close otherwise, and one’s playing The Absolute Worst Monster, and the other lives for only 2 episodes. So.
DM: It’s telling as hell how passingly we’re bringing up the kids. The ‘20s material is as good as the show gets, having some of the sweep and grandeur a narrative of doomed dynasties and the twilight of the supergods would seem to be crying out for yet otherwise largely lacks, but aside from explaining where the oldheads are coming from, there’s almost no thematic ties to the present because the generational and ‘the state of America’ aspects are so underplayed. Structurally it would have worked better to show the Union in their prime to establish a more direct contrast in the superhero side of the narrative, but between costing the show its big mystery hook and inviting getting into everything with Sunny, I can’t imagine that would have been worth it either.
SD: And what’s worse, the show spends the majority of its time on the modern day antics of the youth. But even then, it feels simultaneously decompressed and rushed. That this whole first season is essentially the first issue of Jupiter’s Legacy expanded over eight episodes speaks to this. Hell, the first three episodes alone could have been combined into one episode and the show would be much stronger for it. There’s a lot of fat that could have easily been cut for a smoother narrative. Something that goes “this is what the show is.”
Since Mark brought it up, let’s look at the first episode of Game of Thrones. Sure, we don’t get every plot thread the show is going to tackle. We don’t, for example, meet any of the Night Watch or Jorah Mormont yet. But it provides us with enough context of the world, the themes, and the ideas at the heart of the story to highlight what the show is going to be about. By contrast, I have no idea which of the many threads Jupiter’s Legacy introduces is the core of its show. Is it about the failure of fathers? The necessity of superheroes killing their enemies? The meaning of what it means to be an American today in contrast to the 1920s? There’s no core vision for what Jupiter’s Legacy is to be, and I’m left bored by the mess it’s left in its wake.
RB: This is why so many writings on it discuss it so much in relation to its peers, because it’s so all over the place and broad, both in its messaging, politics, and intentionality, with such a lack of any identity, that discussing what all the things it attempts to do are done better by its respective peers illustrates a point. The point being, this damn show needs to pick a course, and set off on it, rather than stumbling around carelessly. It so desperately wants to build and show off a Superhero Universe, one with a Grand History, it’s even designed by Frank Quitely, maybe the best working superhero artist alive. But you know what? I still couldn’t be bothered to care. And that is damning.
Watching it, I just wonder: Why not just make the 1920s Pulpy Adventure show? That at least doesn’t feel like a ‘We have The Boys at home, son’ bit. There’s no other period piece superhero drama, especially in that era, and not with the whole pulp thing going. And it’s the thread that has the most focused and tangible narrative momentum. So why not make that the actual show? That’d at least be distinctive, and would make for a show that stands out, rather than feeling like a dime-store version of other things. As it stands, Jupiter’s is a poor Jack Of All Trades and Master Of None.
DM: Quitely is not only wasted – indefensibly so given how precious his time is, cranking out a low double-digit number of jaw dropping issues in any given decade – but used on the least visually spectacular act of the story to add insult to injury. I’d say if you wanted him to design the costumes (which really just means a couple core characters, the only time you ever really see a bunch of superheroes is issue #3 and they’re a faceless mass) just have him do that, but that wouldn’t have had the same prestige. At least he got paid out the ass for this.
You’re absolutely right that this can only be discussed in relation to its surroundings; even the end of the original comic essentially concludes “well, they’ll handle regular superhero stuff, but also crooked politicians and businessmen”, i.e. the thesis of Millar’s and Quitely’s Authority. The upcoming sequel in Jupiter’s Requiem is apparently a riff on the likes of the Legion of Super-Heroes and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, fastforwarding past the details of superheroes successfully integrating into society and making things better. The show, very subtly, even has a drop of blood dramatically landing in the exact right spot on a clockface. It has all these fascinating components in its super-families and sprawling history and cosmic mysteries and ambition to confront everything from the downfall of capitalism to the origins of humanity, but it can’t talk about any of those things except through the lens of works by writers better at this stuff than Millar. A few odd moments of mythic portent aside there’s rarely a sense of wonder or cleverness or raw humanity, and the story is trying as hard as it can to build itself on all three. And paired with the lack of juggernauts like Quitely or Torres or Sprouse or Edwards to bring it to life on screen, the whole thing feels consciously second-rate, offshoot, ‘flavor of the week’ rather than striving for any sort of definitiveness in spite of whatever lofty aims this gurgled into life with.
RB: Watching or reading Jupiter’s Legacy is a lot like watching a man take the most expensive, high-quality ingredients, the ones from the pantry of a Michelin-star restaurant, only to cook up a bowl of shitty noodles that tastes worse than my own instant Ramen. It’s agony, it is pain, it is exhaustion. I shake my head, and at once also wish to fist fight the fool for what’s been done. What an absolute, total waste. It’s only ambitious in that it somehow decimates these incredible ingredients it’s gotten.
SD: Like so many Mark Millar adaptations before it, you really wish someone else was doing this. Imagine Paul Verhoeven’s take on this material. Sure, he’d absolutely do the Mind Control Rape because he’s Mark Millar’s kindrid spirit (watch his Dutch work and tell me I’m wrong) and their collaboration will no doubt be a marker for the end times. But he’d do something to elevate the work he’s given beyond the rote drab, uninteresting vision DeKnight offers. He’d at least have some ideas as to how to adapt the bleh material into something more than just a regurgitation of every single conversation about superheroes since 1985. I mean, characters even talk about how silly the superhero names are. It’s a show and a comic uninterested in the potential of superheroes, viewing them as nothing more than a commodity to make them a lot of money.
If we lived in a just world, this would be the only season of Jupiter’s Legacy that existed. Another in a long line of one season shows that are quickly forgotten. But if the history of Mark Millar has taught us anything, it’s that he always finds a way to end up on top.
RB: Well, he’s got a 6-part Spy show, and The Magical Order TV show, and like 5 movies all coming, alongside an anime spin-off for Jupiter’s Legacy made by Studio BONES (Mob Psycho 100, FMA:B, My Hero Academia, etc.) all of which is just the tip of the iceberg. Netflix has to justify spending that 50 million for his IP-farm. And thus we’re in for a whooole lotta Millar in the future. It’s why we got headlines and big articles and coverage/pieces like these this week:
I hate this world.
DM: Ten years ago this would have been a critically flawed but notable harbinger of more interesting things to come; as is it turned a dumb punch comic craving to be more into a dumb moody little brother very publicly stumbling off the shoulders of giants. The only reason this isn’t a tragedy is because nothing that could work about this couldn’t work better elsewhere, and because a good artist got a good payday. A couple final incidental notes:
- This keeps dropping notes of wizards and parallel universes, but isn’t willing to commit to showing any of it. Real worst of both worlds situation, if you’re just gonna focus on a ‘core’ mythology instead of a sprawling superhero world don’t imply there’s cooler stuff happening offscreen.
- Why did Jock draw the opening credits instead of anyone who actually worked on any of the books? I guess he did a variant cover, but?
- Bugged me throughout that there’s a very obvious ‘losing themselves in their roles to numb themselves from how their dad’s shadow weighs on them’ parallel between Sheldon and Chloe that I’m 99% certain the writers never tumbled onto. Grace even tries for an intervention!
- Funniest part of the comic is that while as a plot point it’s meant as a treatise on the virtues of democracy or whatever, the idea that the revolutionary superhumans trying to run the world might flat-out suck at it is honestly kinda hilarious and is yet another component that could have been a much better idea.
- …okay, Blackstar’s little reading glasses were kinda funny.
- I want to emphasize that for whatever reason I don’t really have the constitution for binging TV, but I watched this. This. In two days. One of those being on my birthday. FOR FRIENDSHIP.
RB: I’m truly sorry.
That the world delivers us this, but not a proper Klaus show is a true travesty.
SD: Hell, I’d settle for a third season of Happy! Or, better yet, Sinatoro.
DM: Like the Utopian, we as fans live in a fallen world of our own making, but it was my honor to trudge through it beside you.
RB: Thank you for joining us on this mad voyage. There are no cosmic super-powers at the end of this one like in the show, but hey, what can ya do?
In terms of closing notes, the one thing I do wanna touch upon is this: This show is so desperately clawing and trying to attain and convey gravitas, but it fails in such a spectacular way that it’s actually genuinely incredible. It wants to be Shakespearean, it wants to be poetic, epic, mythic, with words that shake you, with lines that chill, with moments that awe. But it’s just…nothing? And that applies to the visuals as well. We touched on the lack of ambition or any meaningful formally bold choices, as well as the poor wigs and the cheap looking nature of the action and the absence of a budget at points. But the biggest thing above all that, which a lot of cheap stuff can overcome with inventiveness that this can’t?
Visual boredom. It’s just bloody boring to look at. It has no real discernibly distinct aesthetic or even a personality or sense of style. The most interesting visual in it is at the end of Episode 7:
But this single scene aside (flawed and all), there’s nothing remotely memorable visually about this show. For a show so obsessed with the mythic, with the iconic, it has no imagery or vision (this time in the visual, directorial sense) that sticks out or remains in your mind. And y’know what Mr. Millar? For all that you can clown on Zack Snyder, I actually remember his shots and imagery. His composition stands out.
DM: The final shot of one episode is a pair of glorious doomed super-people, husband and wife realizing the depth of the gap between them as all starts to fall away, the sky illuminated beyond their picture-esque pastures by the comet the husband diverted with his bare hands, a tragically ironic piece of beauty in contrast to the despair within…and it looked okay. I felt nothing. What could be a better summation of its failings than that?