Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance. This week, it’s Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #2. Written by Mark Millar (Huck, Empress) with art by Frank Quitely (All-Star Superman, The Multiversity: Pax Americana) and colorist Sunny Gho (The Indestructible Hulk, Avengers), this issue delivers gorgeous, hard-hitting superhero spectacle that showcases Quitely’s invaluable contributions to the title. (Note: This review reveals major plot points.)
For better or worse, Mark Millar has played a huge part in shaping the current landscape of the comic book industry. To start, his work with Bryan Hitch on Marvel Comics’ The Ultimates provided the framework for much of Marvel Studios’ multibillion-dollar cinematic franchises, which have had a direct influence on the entire superhero comics industry. As Millar’s profile grew at Marvel, he began to pursue more creator-owned projects to capitalize on his expanding fan base while keeping the rights to the work, which proved extremely lucrative when his books grabbed Hollywood’s attention. Millar’s Wanted, Kick-Ass, and The Secret Service have all been adapted into films, and his continued success in Hollywood is a big reason why many creator-owned comics read like pitches for movies and TV shows nowadays.
Millar eventually realized that his Millarworld creator-owned line was more financially and creatively fulfilling than licensed superhero comics, and he made Image Comics the new home for future Millarworld projects. He was one of the early big-name creators in the ongoing exodus of superhero writers and artists to Image, and Millarworld is just getting bigger and bigger each year. This year, Millar scored an Eisner Award nomination for his Chrononauts miniseries with artist Sean Murphy; launched a new title, Empress, with all-star artist Stuart Immonen (a series published at Marvel’s Icon imprint because of Immonen’s Marvel-exclusive contract); and released the first Millarworld Annual, showcasing a variety of up-and-coming creators discovered via an international talent search.
It’s been a busy year for Millar, and while the quality of his writing isn’t consistent across all of his projects, he is a savvy businessman and continues to produce new comics with the intent of seeing them have a second life in film, because that’s where the big money is. That can result in some fairly uninspired stories, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Millar is a pop writer, and he wants his work to reach the broadest audience possible. He uses a set of basic storytelling tools to create comics that are entertaining but not too challenging, and while his scripts can often be reductive and juvenile, they can also be pretty damn fun when he’s at the top of his game.
It helps that Millar surrounds himself with the best artists in the business. His Hollywood success has given him the capital to hire top talent, and an offer to work with Millar is especially attractive because he shares ownership with the artist, giving his collaborators a sizable piece of the Hollywood pie if a producer picks up the property. Given the popularity of superhero franchises right now, it was no surprise when Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy series was optioned for a feature film last year, and while there hasn’t been much movement with the project since it was announced, Millar has been devoting much of his time to exploring the world of Jupiter’s Legacy in comics. He launched a prequel series, Jupiter’s Circle, while Frank Quitely worked on the sequel to Jupiter’s Legacy, and the fruits of that year and a half of labor are finally hitting stands this summer.
A few weeks ago I wrote that The Wicked & The Divine is this summer’s best superhero event, but Jupiter’s Legacy 2 is giving it some tough competition, thanks to Quitely’s awe-inspiring work. The first issue was a stunner, but the opening fight sequence of this week’s second chapter elevates the series to a new level of hyperdetailed action spectacle. A film version of this comic could never capture the beauty of some of these images; Quitely’s art should be savored. The eye needs time to register all the tiny details in his linework, and colorist Sunny Gho uses a realistic rendering style that accentuates all the hard work that has gone into the visuals.
The very first page of Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #2 offers a prime example of Quitely’s brilliance, beginning with three panels that build to an incredible cutaway illustration of two superheroes crashing through the many stories of a Dubai building: The first panel introduces three of the major players in this issue—superpowered preteen Jason, psychic assassin Raikou, and the incapacitated Repro—and the tight framing of the wide panel keeps the reader from thinking about the space above the characters. Raikou looks behind her when Jason says she probably knows what’s coming, and like Raikou, the reader isn’t considering a threat from above because of how Quitely has presented each beat thus far. That intensifies the impact of the hit on the third panel, which has Quitely pulling out to show Jason’s mother, Chloe, crashing into Raikou from above to send them both careening through the floors beneath them.
Their devastating descent through the building is Quitely at his showiest, and not just because of the detail that goes into drawing a cutaway of 14 stories of a building, nine of which contain an indoor ski slope. The genius of this panel is that the grid created by the walls of the building functions like a page within a page, with Chloe and Raikou’s velocity amplified by having them crash through all the little panels. The explosion of snow from the slope and the water cascading in from the broken foundation add even more force, making for an exceptionally powerful start to this superhero showdown. It’s unclear if this last panel was written in the script or if it was something Quitely thought up on his own. If it’s the former, it shows how well Millar writes for his artists, and if it’s the former, it shows how innovative Quitely is when it comes to presenting action on the page.
This fight sequence takes up the first half of the issue, and it is a thrilling display of Quitely’s action skills. As evidenced on the first page, Quitely knows how to use an environment to inform action. In one panel showing an above-water battle, Quitely uses a stream of water to trace the course of Raikou’s movement as she breaks through the water’s surface and swings her sword to redirect the beams of Jason’s heat vision. The immediately preceding panels have Raikou picking up a yacht with her mind and throwing it at Jason, with Quitely highlighting the strength of Raikou’s telekinetic ability by establishing the distance of the yacht from the combatants.
There are so many cool moments in this fight, and Millar deserves credit for giving Quitely the chance to create visuals on such a massive scale. The detail is the most obviously impressive element of Quitely’s art, but there’s also much attention given to the layout of the action, which is primarily presented through sequences of four rectangular panels running the entire width of the page. This structure sets a consistent rhythm, making for a remarkably smooth flow of action when combined with the specificity of Quitely’s panel compositions and linework and Gho’s coloring.
Gho focuses on adding texture and dimension rather than making more figurative choices to energize the action beats, but that works just fine because there’s already so much energy in Quitely’s art. When there are bold pops of color they have a big effect on the visuals, like in the sequence where Raikou is ambushed by heroes and sends each of them to a psychic prison, with each nightmare depicted in a vividly colored cube that turns into a flat square as Raikou moves on to the next opponent. The biggest rush of color comes at the very end of the fight when a newly freed Repro traps Raikou in a psychic construct that is basically the antithesis of what readers can normally expect from a Quitely drawing, showing a cartoon cat on a lavender My Little Pony-style unicorn, soaring through the cosmos under a rainbow. It’s a shock to the system after the violence that precedes it, giving the reader an impression of Raikou’s disorientation during that sudden shift in the action.
Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #2 isn’t a perfect issue, and once the fight is over, Millar rushes through major moments in the narrative to set up the next big confrontation between superhero factions. The bombing of a political event in Detroit has almost no emotional impact and is used solely to give the book’s antagonist, Brandon, a reason to go off the rails and act foolishly in retaliation. Quitely and Gho impeccably render that blast, but Millar’s reliance on shocking spectacle to advance the plot gets in the way of character development. Brandon is an especially broad character, and while his bratty impetuousness makes him an easy villain to root against, it also makes him less interesting than the rest of the cast.
Even with the issue’s flaws, many of which it inherits from its predecessor, Jupiter’s Legacy 2 is shaping up to be an exciting expansion of Millar and Quitely’s superhero world. The story of rebel superheroes teaming up to stop fellow heroes that have seized control by abusing their power isn’t an especially fresh one, but this creative team reinvigorates the concept in the execution. Jupiter’s Legacy wouldn’t be nearly as engaging without Quitely’s expertise in bringing Millar’s ideas to the page, but in choosing the perfect collaborator, Millar compensates for any weaknesses in his writing.