Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Frank Quitely
Colours, letters and design: Peter Doherty
Published by :Image
In 1932, Sheldon Sampson lost everything. A millionaire whose fortune collapsed in the great crash, he found his beliefs going with them. America, the greatest idea in the history of the world, was being laid low by corrupt financial institutions and there was nothing he could do about it. Then he began dreaming of an island, and it began talking to him…
In 2013, Sheldon Sampson has everything. His family are superheroes who have changed the world. There is almost no war, almost no poverty and almost nothing to do. Chloe and Brandon, Sheldon’s children, are spoiled hyper-brats with inherited abilities and his brother, Walter, is starting to chafe against the yoke of Sheldon’s outdated beliefs. As far as Sheldon is concerned, the world is saved. As far as Walter is concerned, they have simply moved the corruption around and 1932 is about to happen all over again. Even worse, their children share almost none of their beliefs. Chloe is secretly dating the son of the biggest supervillain in history, Brandon is too drunk and desperate to please his father that he’ll never manage it and Jules, Walter’s son, is an idle coward. Even worse, the Financial Crisis is coming and if Sheldon doesn’t get out of the way and let his brother help, Walter has plans to make him move.
There’s a lot going on here – that’s already apparent even in these two issues – all stemming from the family drama. This is a clash of ideals, and Millar takes great pains to show how both men have a point. Sheldon is an honest, upstanding man who comes from a time when the establishment could absolutely be trusted. He’s also a ridiculously strict patriarch who has decided the best way to raise his children is to yell at them or ignore them. Conversely, Walter is a brilliant, altruistic, compassionate man who is forever in his brother’s shadow. He’s a mind where Sheldon is a muscle, and a mind that’s been constrained so long, murder is starting to look like an acceptable evil. This is Shakespearean level family drama and Millar handles it with tremendous grace.
Then, of course, there’s the fact this is all about Batman and Superman. Sheldon’s a muscle, Walter’s a brain, Sheldon wears a cape, Walter wears a uniform, one’s an idealist, one’s a realist, the list goes on. Normally this sort of nod and wink has me trying to knock myself out to make it stop but it’s secondary to the characters here and as a result, really works. Again, the watch word here is subtlety and the fact that neither man is quite the bad guy (yet) only helps with that.
Finally, there’s the family drama. Sheldon and Walter’s rivalry, the quiet, endless loyalty of Sheldon’s wife Grace and the alliances formed between their children are all fascinating to watch. This is the most powerful, and least functional, family on the planet and whilst none of them are especially likable, none of them are the preening monster Millar’s over fond of either. These are flawed, human people who stopped being human decades ago and, with the mystery of what happened on the island hanging over the book, people who seem to have a guilty secret. Whether that secret saves or dooms the family remains to be seen.
On the art side of things, Quitely’s work has never looked better. I’ve never been a fan of his character work but it’s exemplary here, with the argument between Sheldon and Walter in issue two a triumph of subtle character action and nuance. Likewise the scale and violence, when it does come, is handled with Quitely’s usual clean lines, marking this as one of the best-looking books on the shelf. Doherty’s lettering and colouring is a vital part of this too, each scene deftly coloured and sharply “lit”. The night time “rescue” in issue two is a particular standout, with Sheldon somehow still bright white, a relentless, unchangeable point of light in the darkness.
Jupiter’s Legacy is, like later books of Miracleman and Zenith , a story about what happens after the world is saved. It’s intelligent, considered, beautiful to look at and extremely tense, a sense of imminent, horrific tragedy hanging over every page. Sheldon and Walter, the past and the present, Superman and Batman. This is a book steeped in history but with a voice all its own. Do yourself a favour, and listen to it.