The other day I got my box of comics from Mail Order Comics and as usual a shuffled the single issues into a reading order with the trades planned for later (which includes a trade form my previous package and a couple from other websites). I read a few into the day and the one I read before going to sleep left a sour taste in my mouth, and that was Jupiters Legacy #3. The sixth book down in the pile had me saying “Yep, thats it” by the end of the book.
For those unaware Jupiters Legacy is a big indy project by creators Mark Millar (Kick Ass, Wanted) and Frank Quitely (All Star Superman, We3) and follows the generational and familial conflicts surrounding the original superheroes the Sampson Family. The story is three issues in and starts in part with these men and women going to a mysterious island and gaining super powers to come back and help the world. Utopian (Sheldon Sampson), the main hero, and his brother Walter are in disagreement decades later in regards to dealing with the economy of the US. Walter wants them to influence and help while Utopian believes they should not. There is also the children-specially Utopian and his wife Lady Liberty’s two kids. They play a major part with Brandon being resentful of his father and there is Chloe who is involved with the son of her parents super-villain.
Now, let me get this out of the way-this is not a bad book. Mark Millar is a good writer. His Ultimate X-men is a favorite and I spoke about it in my Favorite X-Men runs list. However I have come to start avoiding his work mostly for a number of reasons. The first goes back to Wanted where somewhere between the start of that book and its eventual ending I became a a different fan. Either I was disappointed with the last half, burnt out on comics, or my interesting grim n’ grotty violent superhero/super-villain tales waned considerably. What I know about his creator owned work has not enticed me to buy it and his various comment on female superheroes and violence to female characters has turned me off considerably. Frank Quitely though is one of my all time favorite artists and that’s why I gave this a shot.
So what went wrong? The quickened pace and violent result in issue 3. You see, I thought the premise was interesting and I was curious about where this was going. The disagreement between the brothers, the celebrity of the children and their feelings about their parents and the way the world viewed them. I knew it was would eventually come to blows but I wanted it to simmer to give me more time with these characters. More drama before the eventual gore fest. Jump to issue three and thats out the window and all I got were two deaths that were not moving and the shock resulted in frustration. I didn’t get too much time with Utopian or Lady Liberty-why should I really care? Walter setting this off doesn’t make him a interesting villain-he becomes petty. I get the dissatisfaction, the grievance with Utopians control and leadership but I didn’t see enough of it to believe that the brother would take this step. nor that his son Brandon would be that hateful of, not just his father, but his mother and sister to join this crusade. If anything it does make me hate him-credit to Millar for that but hating a villain does not mean that character is really all that good. Credit also to Quitely whose execution of Millars script is so good it makes my reaction even stronger but it does save the problems I have. Its mean for the sake of being mean. Grim and violent masquerading as “serious superhero storytelling.”
Why should I continue? While I find Chloe and her boyfriend somewhat interesting I don’t know enough about either to feel it necessary to continue. I imagine that now the heroes start to exert control, Chloe and Hutch are on the run and have to prepare for battle, the worlds reaction to Utopian and Lady Liberty’s death, and I imagine the island will kick back into this. Those possibilities don’t make me too curious. I just keep thinking of Walter killing Lady Liberty and then threatening his pregnant niece who has stayed out of the hero business and while might be fodder for gossip is generally a decent girl and I shake my head. Quitelys work is phenomenal, don’t get me wrong but Millar is deep into the type of superhero comic storytelling I am tired of now. The two and Frank Quitely are not enough for me to keep going.
Earlier in the day, third book down on the pile, was Adam Warren’s Empowered one shot Nine Beers with Ninjette that featured guest artist Takeshi Miyazawa. After reading Jupiters Legacy my mind raced back to this book. Comparing the two seems unfair as one is 3 issues in and the other a piece of a long running series but I can’t not compare. Both are independent comics that deal with dark material and the conflict between child and parent. Now, Nine Beers is a companion piece to volume 7 of the series but I believe it works on its own. While it only has a bit of the characters lead creator Adam Warren gives the general set up of the series and the focus on Ninjette gives all you need to know about her. Plus I believe it can be read all on its own without having read the rest of the series.
Now Nine Beers opens with creator Adam Warrens opens with the usual recap page (kept to the cast and herself) and then goes into Empowereds thoughts on her friendship with her pal Ninjette, the hard drinking New Jersey ninja princess wondering how such a cool and confident lady could be her friend. Thats when the narrative switches with Takeshi Miyazawa taking art duties and Warren having Ninjette talk about how the number of beer she has is connected to a memory. As it progresses through the nine beers it jumps from fun to seriousness. At the core its about Ninjette and her abusive father and her fear of rejection from Empowered, the only true friend she has ever had.
Warren has found a way to walk the line where on one side its silly fun, superhero satire, and cheesecake while on the other its trauma, loss, harassment, and other serious points. Ninjettes issues with her father are far more serious than Brandon and the Utopian and the truth is we only recently been given or of a glimpse. Her father has rarely even been seen or heard in the series thus far and the creative team keeps that going. His presence is felt but kept at a minimal which makes it more effective. Warrens not shy from violence but he does not revel in it like Mark Millar does. He allows you to imagine the beating Ninjettes father gives her younger self in a scene and it makes worse. You really feel for Ninjette and see how her alcoholic father has impacted her life. Warren has let this subplot bubble for a long time before pushing it to the forefront in the last volume but you don’t need the book to get what he’s doing here.
This issue gave me goosebumps and its lead into Ninjettes admitting that she relies on Empowereds warmth and her fear of rejection brings its to a satisfying conclusion that makes me want volume 8 more than I already did.
The essential conflict are far different between the two books. Brandons resentment of his father Utopian is spoken of but we are not given much about it and its not enough for me to buy into his willingness to turn on a family that, as far as we know, really do love him. If I had only read Nine Beers I would understand greatly that Ninjette needed to kill fer father and cheered even louder when she ran away from home and went into hiding from him. The circumstances are different but ultimately both comics are set against a superhero backdrop, deal with the conflict of parent and child, and have moments of darkness. Yet Jupiters Legacy, for all its talent and execution fails for me because it indulges more in its false notion that violence and grittiness equals heavy or dark material. That somehow all that means you’re telling an adult book. Nine Beers gets it right, being dark is about setting a mood where the characters know fear and violence but that also know love and hope. Nine Beers is darker, heavier, and really engages the reader with serious superhero storytelling.