Welcome to the all-new Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. Enjoy!
Jupiter's Legacy #1 (by Mark Millar, Frank Quietly and Peter Doherty) I'm going to sound like a broken record, and I've probably even said "I'm going to sound like a broken record" in this column before, but that just lets you know serious I am- First issues need to be longer. There are some veterans or traditionalists who believe writers and artists should adhere to the typical 20-some page count, because it's some kind of comic book "sweet spot". They would argue that a good writer can tell a complete story in that amount of space, because it's been done, and done well. Brian K Vaughan did it very recently with the first issue of Saga, and using that book as an example is no coincidence, as the hype for Jupiter's Legacy is trying to position it as this year's Saga. Vaughan made the traditional page count work because he framed his story in a way that focuses on two characters, and the amazing and strange world around them grows as time goes on. Millar doesn't write that way, his stories are usually larger than life, even if they are character driven, and in the case of Jupiter's Legacy, it's as large as it gets- a sprawling, multi-generational look at a world full of superheroes. By the end of Saga's first issue I cared about our two doomed protagonists, but by the time Jupiter's Legacy #1 cuts off I was thinking "Wait, what? Where's the rest?" There's simply not enough pages in this issue for me to care about what's going on, it literally feels like someone turned off my TV in the middle of a show. Now, this isn't to say I didn't like the book, I actually did, but it's doing itself no favors by keeping the reader at arm's length. I honestly couldn't tell you who the main character is supposed to be, because there's a shift in the book that seems to turn the focus to a different (yet related) group of characters, none of which are as compelling as the ones we start out with. Let me explain...
The book opens up sometime in the 1930's, Sheldon Sampson, his brother, and a group of assorted friends are on a boat looking for a mysterious island off the coast of Morocco. The ship's captain has told them countless times that he's been sailing these waters his whole life, and there is no such island. Sampson is determined, he has lost everything to the stock market crash, and suddenly he doesn't know where he belongs in the world anymore. Until he has a dream, a dream of an island, reaching out of the water, calling to him. His friends are either loyal or curious enough to follow him, all in search of some form of destiny. Just when Sampson is beginning to doubt himself, they spot land, and it looks just like his sketches, just like his dreams. What they find, and what happens on their adventure on the island we are not privy to. We do know this group of adventurers become superheroes, as do their children... The book hurtles forward to present day, and it looks a lot like our reality, but instead of the sons and daughters of celebrities being famous for no other reason than their pedigree, it's the children of the superheroes who get endorsement deals, hang behind the velvet rope in trendy clubs, and OD on the latest drugs. Their parents are still protecting the planet, but the kids are far less interested in the morals and ideals of their elders.
Jupiter's Legacy has a great deal going for it, not least of which is the idea that even though our world is full of superheroes, we're still stuck in the same economic climate, and the world still has the same problems. Sheldon Sampson, now Utopian, still holds to the code of values he believes are the reason he and the other's were chosen, but being an aged superhero in 2013 seems more like a job than an ideal. We don't know the full story, but the hints are that the superheroes just take care of the supervillains, and don't effect politics, world affairs, or the hopes and dreams of the average citizens, at least not anymore. The idea of being a superhero and being famous is interchangeable. It's a status to achieve, not responsibility to be held accountable for.
We have to spend some time talking about Frank Quitley's art and Peter Doherty's finishing. This is some of the best art you will see in any book currently on the shelves. Quietly has a truly unique style, and he labors over every panel. I've heard him speak at many panels, and believe me when I say he goes the extra mile for every page, even if it seems like a simple set up. His obsession with perspective pays off, as the angles of our view have been chosen with care, and horizon lines and vanishing points been drawn well off the page. There is one image in particular in this issue that is absolutely stunning. A character uses his psychic powers to give a villain a new "reality" while his body is being pummeled by the superheroes in the real world. The image of this new reality is genius, as we literally see the layers of the comic art process create a new space. From blue pencil guidelines, to regular pencils, to color guides, to inks, to some color to full color, it's a memorable idea executed perfectly. Put it in the hopper for the year end accolades.
Where this book is going I truly don't know. As I said- the first issue cuts out just when you feel some core idea might come to light, and I don't know why Millar and co. didn't just expand the issue to tell a satisfying and complete story. End on a parallel, end on a truth, end on a hope, but to just end with a cliff hanger no one really cares about, because it deals with a shallow character we don't even know yet, is a poor idea. I would hope as this book continues we will get pieces of the island story, because as of now that's more compelling than anything else. I know the rest will emerge, I have no doubt, but I feel like this first issue is many little tastes, but never a satisfying whole. I am definitely on board, but I can't give issue #1 by itself the recommendation it probably will deserve as a whole.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.