It makes sense Netflix starts its Millarworld venture with Jupiter’s Legacy as it’s the most traditional superhero story Mark Millar has created. It also featured some of Frank Quitely’s best work with shocking twists and iconic superhero imagery that mirrored the Golden Age of comics.
In a way, Jupiter’s Legacy the comic, and the Netflix show — now available to stream — is the epitome of superhero storytelling as it builds on everything that came before it. For that reason, the show is a masterclass of superhero storytelling new and old with a heavy dose of adventure. It just takes a bit of time to get going.
The show follows the comic series well albeit it folds the prequel series Jupiter’s Circle into the main series events. In a sense, this is how it should have played out as the past informs the future and helps build up the mystery. Sure, the story could start at the beginning right before the great depression and shown us how the elder heroes got their powers then moved on to the future events when the very same heroes have kids, but it plays against expectations better this way. You might think things could get confusing crosscutting between two timelines, but it uses letterbox for the past and subtly fills the screen for scenes in the present.
Jupiter’s Legacy is about the world’s first superheroes who received their powers in the 1930s. In the present day, they are the revered elder guard but their superpowered children struggle to live up to the legendary feats of their parents. That’s the story at its most basic, but there’s a lot more here than you might realize including an adventure to acquire their powers based on some shoddy visions.
The story mixes a lot of elements well in a way never done before. From superpowers and big action sequences to hero quests into the great beyond, social commentary on being a parent, and even commentary on the great destructor that is capitalism. As we get to know these characters in the now — the characters struggle with whether killing should still be off the table while determining how an omega-level threat came out of nowhere — the story crosscuts with the characters in the 1930s which tests their relationships and trust. The show is never about the powers so much as what the powers mean as an extension of the personalities who wield them.
The show’s genius shows itself best when character reveals from the past inform us of who these characters are in the present, or vice versa. Just as we begin to understand why a character might be so valiant and heroic, we learn they were in fact quite scared or even violent in the other timeline. This helps keep your interest up as you attempt to figure out how a character really feels or what they may really be thinking in the past or present.
As a character piece, Josh Duhamel leads the show as Sheldon Sampson aka The Utopian, followed by his brother Walter Sampson aka Brainwave played by Ben Daniels. The Utopian is a Superman type who has the ultimate ideal of protecting the innocent and never killing. Brainwave has mind powers and is the calculating type who deems himself the realist.
We meet them in the now as two seasoned heroes closing in on the end of their prime years. We also meet them decades earlier when they still worked for their father in the office of a steel mill. The show utilizes the distance the men have built between each other due to time and differences, but for the most part, they trust each other and work towards a common goal.
At times other characters take the lead in episodes, like The Utopian’s son Brandon aka Paragon (Andrew Horton), or his daughter Chloe (Elena Kampouris). Subplots help flesh out these characters and they generally play against tropes. The Utopian’s daughter is anything but perfect as she struggles with drug abuse while living in her father’s shadow.
His son isn’t much better. It seems all the story choices inform the viewer about who these characters are because of the legacy The Utopian and the original heroes established after getting powers. Similar to people whose parents are Baby Boomers today, it’s difficult to make your own path when the Golden Age was so grand.
Andrew Horton takes some time to get his character off and running as Paragon, but his smokey good looks and desire to be as good as his dad — or better — even out midway through the season. Other characters like Hutch (Ian Quinlan) are instantly relatable and enjoyable, possibly because of his underdog nature.
Chloe is a character that might seem a touch familiar, but Kampouris infuses her with a lot of pain and self-doubt that feels relatable for a young person unable to manage a life with godlike powers. These characters give the show its more relatable edge since the older characters like The Utopian are from an older time in the past and have lived with powers so long in the present they’re practically gods.
The show isn’t perfect, though it’s tighter than many other superhero shows that have come before it. The biggest weakness of this season might be how long it takes to get going. The first two episodes don’t do enough to connect the viewer to the characters nor draw your interest into the larger narrative.
Jupiter’s Legacy is largely driven by the themes of the old guard setting too high expectations for the younger, but it’s hard to understand that beyond the mix of emotions Paragon is feeling at the start. After the first few episodes, you might feel like superhero TV shows have overstayed their welcome, but luckily the show finds its uniqueness and identity eventually.
The mystery of how all these superheroes exist takes a while to even start and once it does the raving visions of a madman can get a bit tiresome. You already know they’ll get powers so finding out how doesn’t draw you in until the adventure in that plot gets underway. Again, after the first three or so episodes the show starts to even out and stay true to its bigger purpose and becomes addictively good.
Other drawbacks include things we’ve seen with other shows, like how it never manages to give every character equal time and focus. Grace Sampson aka Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb) ends up being a means to inform the viewer The Utopian has his problems, for instance. Bibb does a great job with what she has, but the character supports more than leads in any real way even when she’s fighting crime or given a side adventure later in the series.
Another common thing seen in superhero TV shows is subpar special effects. They are honestly stellar 95% of the time in this show, but there’s certainly a scene or two that can look comical or doesn’t quite mix well into the scene. Generally, the show is working with super strength and flight though, which are hard powers to screw up visually.
Jupiter’s Legacy is a great example of how genre-blending can be a powerful way to make familiar elements feel new again. Mixing superheroes of the Golden Age with a more modern and violent younger brass with silver screen adventure ala Indiana Jones, Jupiter’s Legacy entertains the mind and the eye.
For more on Jupiter’s Legacy, read our essay on how the comic series and Netflix show are obsessed with legacy.
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