There’s a new comic adaptation hitting TV screens today, as Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s superhero epic Jupiter’s Legacy comes to Netflix. As the first production born out of Netflix’s history-making purchase of comic book company Millarworld, a lot is riding on Jupiter’s Legacy, at least reputationally.
Unfortunately, whether you’re coming to the series fresh, or are familiar with the source material, Season 1 of Jupiter’s Legacy is a largely underwhelming experience.
The series set-up
Drawing barely-veiled inspiration from material such as Golden Age comics and pulp adventures like Doc Savage, Jupiter’s Legacy is essentially Millar and Quitely’s take on DC’s landmark Kingdom Come series from the mid-90s. As per the comic, the TV series is a tale of inter-generational conflict between superheroes and is set in our reality.
Season 1 of Jupiter’s Legacy follows two timelines simultaneously. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, disgraced steel magnate Sheldon Sampson (Josh Duhamel) is plagued by visions of a mysterious island. Finally, he embarks on an expedition to find it. After numerous trials, Sheldon and his band of companions prove worthy of incredible, world-changing gifts. They return to the United States with super powers, nifty costumes and new names to match.
Sheldon is the Superman-esque Utopian; his brother Walt (Ben Daniels) becomes Brainwave, a Martian Manhunter-styled hero; and playboy best friend George (Matt Lanter) is Batman stand-in Skyfox. Meanwhile, journalist Grace (Leslie Bibb) transforms into Wonder Woman equivalent Lady Liberty; ex-Sampson employee Fitz (Mike Wade) becomes Flash-like The Flare; and doctor Richard (David Julian Hirsh) is Blue Bolt, in a nod to Green Lantern.
Immediately, this Union of heroes pledges to live by the “Code.” The first generation of super-powered beings exists to serve and inspire humanity. They will not lead, and they will not kill.
Jump forward almost a century to present day, and the new generation of superheroes has a very different set of priorities. They’re all about prestige, parties and that sweet influencer life. That applies especially to Sheldon and Grace’s daughter Chloe (Elena Kampouris). Even the new-gen heroes who continue to uphold the Code, like Chloe’s brother Brandon (Andrew Horton), feel disillusioned. The “no kill” rule is getting them massacred as villains increasingly use deadly force.
Change is coming to this character-stuffed universe. And referencing Game of Thrones is suitable, as Jupiter’s Legacy peppers its CW-grade superhero action and domestic drama with graphic violence, sex, and plot twists.
Coming into the series fresh – Tracy
Without the background of the comics, watching Jupiter’s Legacy is confusing at the best of times. As mentioned, the storytelling of the show jumps between modern-day happenings and flashbacks to the original six, with little context to go on. Usually this isn’t a problem; with Netflix adaptations it’s generally a case of wait a few episodes and things start falling into place. With Jupiter’s Legacy, however, I had to restrain myself from reaching for the Wikipedia page of the books after every episode.
The story feels jumbled and disjointed. Plot hooks seem to be dangled, then whisked away never to be seen again. The flashbacks to the rise, fall, and rise again of Sheldon and crew are the most coherent parts, focusing on the build-up to how their great powers were granted. With a limited complement of characters and more straight-forward narrative, I would have happily watched a series based solely on this older time period.
Jumping forward to the present though, the Golden Age is over and the younger members of the Union chafe at the rules that hold them back. The problem is that none of these younglings are in any way likeable. I know it’s got to be tough trying to live up to the legacy of their parents and predecessors, but most of the new generation come across as entitled, whiney brats (not helped by some truly cringe-worthy acting), while Sheldon, Walter, and, to a lesser extent, Grace, are a parody of “back in my day” old-timers.
I can see the outline of what Jupiter’s Legacy is trying to do. It’s bold and relevant. Unfortunately, it only ever remains an outline. The inter-generational conflicts are shouted loud, without a hint of subtlety. We’re moved briskly between action setpieces and personal conflicts without much thought as to the why of it all. Season 1 is starkly black and white, and could have done with more subtle shading and colouring in.
Paradoxically, while wanting more shading, Jupiter’s Legacy somehow still feels overly long. The first season is only eight episodes, some of which are as short as 31 minutes, and yet somehow it’s still tedious to get through it all. The show spends a lot of time unnecessarily spinning its wheels, revisiting the same concepts and repeating similar dialogue over and over without going anywhere.
As I mentioned, Jupiter’s Legacy is a confusing experience at best. It could have been both shorter and longer, more dynamic as well as more reflective, more detailed but also less complicated. Half the story had me interested while the other half irritated beyond belief. And it was a slog to get to the point where those two stories met.
As a comic adaptation – Noelle
Let’s be honest. As a comic book series, Jupiter’s Legacy (and prequel Jupiter’s Circle) has always been more thought-provoking than a meaty exploration of, well, anything. The story and characters are thinly sketched, which is fine for the medium as readers are used to filling in the gaps with throwaway lines and educated guesses.
However, with Jupiter’s Legacy being transplanted to TV, it felt like the perfect opportunity to flesh out characters and answer some of the biggest questions about the show’s universe – like where do the other superheroes and villains, unrelated to the original six, come from? What is the real relevance of the title? This kind of deepening of the comic book experience is something that Netflix’s Umbrella Academy adaptation has done so well.
The first season of Jupiter’s Legacy does expand on some key characters and issues glossed over in the comics. However, for the most part it functions like a prequel to the first Jupiter’s Legacy comic arc. If a live-action version of issues 1-5 (now bundled in the Volume 3 “Netflix Edition” paperback) is what you’re here for, note that Season 1 of the show is just a setup.
As a result, watching Jupiter’s Legacy can feel like a trial at times, with the Utopian berating his offspring at least twice per episode, and a season-long build-up to the island expedition. You really just want the adaptation to get on with things, knowing what’s to come.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t already pleasures for fans. The casting is largely spot-on, with special mention going to Kampouris as hot mess Chloe, who comes across as a twitchy combination of Winona Ryder and Judy Garland. Then there’s Daniels’s Walt, who has had his voice of reason, and multiple sacrifices, overlooked for decades because of his morally rigid, golden boy brother.
Other familiar faces from later issues of the comic make an appearance as well, while the adaptation includes easter eggs for readers, like Lady Liberty using her signature suplex wrestling move on villains.
What changes have been made to the comic characters are welcome, and feel natural. Much like Shadow and Bone, on-screen tweaks offset the lack of representation in the source material. Where Sheldon and his league of heroes are all white, ultra-privileged Ivy League buddies on the comic page, in the Netflix series, Fitz/The Flare is a black man doubly disadvantaged during the Depression. Meanwhile, Skyfox’s canonically biracial son, who was lily-white in the comics, is played by an actor (Ian Quinlan) of obvious mixed ethnicity.
It’s just that the onscreen Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t ever seem confident about what it wants to be. Gore, sex and shirtless dude shots have been dialled up, but the razor-sharp cynicism and shocking darkness present in the comic are diluted. You have to wonder if the series was impacted by the mid-production departure of showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, creator of Starz’s Spartacus, and helmer of Daredevil S1.
As it stands, Season 1 is Jupiter’s Legacy in first gear. It sets the stage to accelerate into bigger and better things, but now we wait to see if we even reach that point. All eight episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy Season 1 are streaming on Netflix from today, 7 May.
Last Updated: May 7, 2021