From graphic novel to the big screen, Mark Millar has superhero pedigree: he wrote Kick-Ass, Wanted and Kingsman: The Secret Service. All of which became great movies.
He also wrote graphic novel Civil War, which formed the blueprint for Captain America: Civil War (2016). In the superhero world, much of what he does turns to gold. Indeed, Stan Lee advised him to branch out on his own and get out from the Marvel and DC shadow. So he did, forming his own company Millarworld, which he then sold to Netflix in 2017 for mucho millions of dollars.
Netflix likely bought Millarworld to compete with Marvel’s current crop of shows coming thick and fast on Disney+ (Wandavision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki is soon etc), and Amazon Prime (The Boys, Titans, Black Lightning). All Netflix really have is The Umbrella Academy. Granted, they used to have Marvel shows (Punisher, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage etc) but those days are done since Disney took them back. They needed a pipeline.
Enter Jupiter’s Legacy. The first output from Netflix’s acquisition of Millarworld features god-like superheroes similar to Superman and Wonder Woman, but very much Mark Millar’s own creation. Reading up on the origins of this show I discovered it was originally planned to be a movie until director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad) advised it would work better as a TV show.
And he was right. This story is too big and too epic to be boiled down into two hours.
It’s a family affair
Our main character is Sheldon Shampson aka The Utopian (Josh Duhamel): the patriarch and head of a family of superheroes which include his wife Grace aka Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb), brother Walter aka Brainwave (Ben Daniels), son Brandon aka The Paragon (Andrew Horton) and daughter Chloe (Elena Kampouris).
Our story kicks off in present day, where supervillain Blackstar (Tyler Mane) has broken out of prison and our heroes must stop him. Things occur during that encounter that shape the rest of the season… themes around what it means to be a hero and where do you draw the line in terms of what you will and won’t do.
What it means to be a hero
Filling in the backstory in terms of how Sheldon and co. came to acquire their powers our story jumps back to the 1920s, to the time of the Wall Street crash. A life-changing moment occurs which has a profound effect on Sheldon, triggering visions and compelling him to go on a quest and drag a bunch of people – including Walter and Grace – along for the ride. For me, this part of the story was perhaps more exciting than the present day stuff. It put me in mind of King Kong (2005), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and The Lost City of Z (2016)… a group are thrown together on a perilous journey to an unknown land in search of some kind of treasure or prize.
The present day stuff has its moments, but it’s a lot to chew on. There’s a lot of family drama fighting for attention, so much so that some characters, like the son Brandon, get lost in the noise. One character I had mixed feelings about was the daughter, Chloe. I felt like she was channelling Kristen Ritter from Jessica Jones (2015-2019) or even Angelina Jolie from Gia (1998). Here she plays a model with a drug and anger management problem, she’s full of self-loathing and hates her father. She also wants nothing to do with the hero life, yet she’s one of the show’s most powerful characters. Her rebellious outcast thing is fine for a while, but started to become a bit one note after a time, making it hard to see any kind of sympathy for her character.
Fathers, daughters and sons
Some have compared this show to The Boys, yet it’s a completely different type of story that showrunner Steven S. DeKnight is trying to tell. Not least because its focus is largely on the family unit and their struggles. Versus The Boys, which is more focused on corrupt corporations and the media. Jupiter’s Legacy feels like it sits closer to something like American Gods (2017-2021). It also puts me in mind of Watchmen (2009) and in particular the origin story around the original line-up, the Minutemen.
The theme of what it means to be a hero continues throughout the season, with The Utopian referring back to ‘the code’, a way to live as heroes (never to kill, never to govern or rule). The conflict comes from the changing nature of the world around him, and the changing nature of the threat that good people face. It’s a good theme, yet the show doesn’t dig into it as much as I would have liked. Perhaps Harvey Dent said it best in The Dark Knight (2008), ‘You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’
Whether the show gets a second season is anyone’s guess. It’s had mixed reviews thus far. I think it’s good enough to get a second go round. There are so many loose threads and characters and themes to explore in a second season that I think it’s a show that could only get better – particularly now they’ve gotten the origin story out the way. But we shall see.