What Can We Steal From Issue 1 of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy?

Title of Work and its Form:  Issue 1 of “Jupiter’s Legacy,” comic book
Author: Written by Mark Millar (on Twitter @mrmarkmillar).  Art by Frank Quitely.  Colors and letters and design by Peter Doherty.
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found: The issue was published in April 2013 and can be purchased at any fine comic book store, including Oswego, NY’s The Comic Shop.

Bonuses:  Here is the official Image Comics listing for the issue.  Here is a Comics Alliance analysis by David Brothers with which you may or may not agree. Here is an interview Mr. Millar did with Comic Book Resources in which he discusses the series.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Narrative Perspective

Discussion:
It’s 1932.  Sheldon Sampson lost (almost) all of his money in the stock market crash and is desperately looking for a way to improve his own prospects and that of the whole country.  He has been seeing an island in his dreams and charters a ship to take him there.  He and his wife acquired superhero powers on that island; Sheldon doesn’t talk about how.  Sheldon is an idealist.  A good man.  Cut to March 2013.  Sheldon’s children aren’t so great.  Brandon and Chloe Sampson are socialites who live in the shadow of their parents’ accomplishments.  The young people party and indulge in sex and drugs, lamenting that “the great battles are well and truly over.”  The older generation debates what must be done to help the country, but Sheldon and his brother have opposing ideas.  (Source of conflict!)  At the end of the issue, Chloe has overdosed on some particularly potent drugs.

As I noted in my previous GWS essay about a comic book, I love graphic storytelling, but time constraints have prevented me from sending out scripts.  I’m not sure the connection between the literary and comic book worlds is strong enough.  Oh well; that’s what the future is for.  Speaking of the future, Jupiter’s Legacy seems to straddle different time periods.  Sheldon acquires his powers and helps the country recover from the Great Depression.  He and his group are facing the aftermath of the problems that happened in the first decade of the twenty-first century.  And if you want to be picky, we have to mention the titular Roman deity.  If you’ll recall, Jupiter is the king of all of the gods; he hurled lightning bolts from the sky.  He was worshipped most by the upper class of Roman society, who believed his intercession explained their supremacy.  No matter the time period, Mr. Millar is using each situation to reflect on the others.  Jupiter was the savior of the Romans, Sheldon, et. al. saved the United States in the thirties and the next generation…well, what will they do?  Mr. Millar is playing with big, classic themes here!  This is a very powerful technique; when you examine the same situation through several different angles, you gain a lot of perspective.  Think of Citizen Kane; the reporter is trying to figure out what Kane was all about by talking to a number of people about the man’s life.  Think of Rashomon.  The same event is examined from different perspectives; the similarities and differences in their accounts lend characterization and advance the plot in a way that creates suspense.  In the case of Jupiter’s Legacy, societal problems are being engaged in a time of optimism and a time of apathy.  As the series progresses, Mr. Millar will no doubt continue to juxtapose the two time periods.  In doing so, we’ll learn a little bit about what he thinks of our society.

Another part of Jupiter’s Legacy that I admire is the way that Mr. Millar focuses on the conflict between the characters.  He could easily show us how the Sampsons gained their powers—and perhaps he will—but he chose to plant several big conflicts in the first issue:

  • How Americans responded to the Depression in contrast to how they have dealt with recent struggles
  • Celebrity society vs. meaningful existence
  • The moral obligations of the individual to the society
  • How the child of a very “successful” person can “succeed” on their own terms.  (Success is a subjective term, of course.)

Now that Mr. Millar has set up all of these conflicts, he can play with them throughout the rest of the series.  Indeed, there is a battle sequence that takes up several pages, but Mr. Millar doesn’t include it only for the “fun” of it.  Remember, we’re much more curious about the WHY than the HOW.

What Should We Steal?

  • Examine the same idea through different lenses and different perspectives.  If you want to get a good idea of what a person is really like, you might ask several of the people they know.  The same principle can apply to story.
  • Focus on the conflict instead of the spectacle.  (Most of the time.)  The big reveals in your story will mean more once we care about your characters.

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