Mark Millar and Frank Quitely take us to the early days of the Great Depression, when Americans were looking for some kind of meaning after the Stock Market crash. For a small group of patriots led by Sheldon Sampson, that meant travelling the world to follow a compulsion. Drawn to a distant African island, Millar and Quitely don’t show us anything that happens on the island but but they leave us with these words: “Superheroes were the summit of American aspiration and so our children grew up to remind mankind of everything we could ever hope to be.” It’s the hope and dream of superheroes.
The first few pages of Jupiter’s Legacy #1 are fantastic. Millar reigns in his usual over-the-top writing while Quitely’s art, showing this small band of adventurers as they travel around the world, lusciously captures the time period of the early days of the 20th century. They establish a grand sense of history and adventure that pulls the reader into the story. These pages really showcase the timelessness of Quitely’s artwork, reminiscent of the classical approach he took to All Star Superman. And Peter Doherty’s coloring makes you nostalgic for those old bygone times. It’s the dawn of a new superhero age as Millar and Quitely are setting us up to witness a real golden age.
And then they jump to today where the new, modern and most importantly young superheroes are the celebrities of the checkout lane gossip rags. The older, original ones hold on to the ways and traditions that they established while the kids rebel, more interested in hitting the clubs than in hitting the bad guys. Eighty years after that trip to the island and we see how those original superheroes and their children live today. It’s the Greatest Generation versus the kids of today, a clash of ideals and traditions that tries to mirror “the real world.” Millar and Quitely settle into their story without the showmanship of the opening pages but they get down to business as they begin their story about parents and children.
For those with a decent memory, the idea of the kids of today as superheroes is something that Millar and Quitely delved into in their run on The Authority. Superhero decadence was always a theme of their story as the Authority revelled in their celebrity after the Ellis/Hitch run on that title. For many and various reasons, the Millar/Quiety run sputtered to a conclusion, sabotaged by forces inside and outside of DC (Paul Levitz supposedly hated it.) The weakness of the end of their run neutered the title, the characters and the ideas that Millar and Quitely had tried to explore in it.
This first issue feels like they’re now getting a chance to do what they really wanted to do. Millar challenges the idea that with great power comes great responsibility. The parents embraced their powers but what could they expect from their kids who inherited them like most people inherit hair color. “They were born into the family business,”one of the old guard challenges, as if being a superhero was like being in the mob. So maybe responsibility and power don’t go hand in hand.
If the beginning of the issue feels like Quitely’s homage to great old artists like Frank Frazetta, Hal Foster or Milton Caniff, the second half of it is all Quietly. His precise linework captures both the grandness of these costumes while also making them gaudy and a strange affectation of his characters. We see the kids, hanging in a club, wearing the clothes that I guess kids where in clubs today. The children of the superheroes are the real thing as they just try to escape their lives for a night. Millar and Quitely then show the posers, the non-powered kids who just want to hang around with the popular kids. They wear the outfits that they want to see their heroes wearing, the costumes and the capes Quitely makes them skimpy and ridiculous. They wouldn’t normally look out of place in a superhero comic but they just look silly here as you can see all of the kids playing dress up.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a good superhero deconstruction story. Maybe after DC’s New 52 and Marvel Now, which unironically embrace the greatness of heroes, it’s time for a couple of comics most popular creators to tug at Superman’s cape and actually question the place of superheroes in 2013. Millar comes at it slyly, delivering a first issue that seems to be all about introducing the characters. When you sit back, you realize that the deconstruction has already started and that Millar is already picking apart Stan Lee’s greatest line that every superhero comic fan knows by heart, “With great power comes great responsibility” (even if it turns out that Stan Lee was just quoting Voltaire. What do the French know about superheroes anyway?)