Thursday, May 13, 2021

Break The Code

Earlier this week, when Jupiter's Legacy popped up as the Netflix suggestion of the day, the name didn't ring any bells. Didn't sound very interesting, either. Some historical series, maybe? Set in ancient Rome, perhaps. Not my sort of thing, really.

The picture they'd chosen to promote it didn't quite fit that image. It looked vaguely superheroic. Enough to make my finger twitch. 

I read the description of the first episode: "Brandon's attempt to live up to his father's high expectations suffers a blow. Sheldon's carefree life as the boss's son comes crashing down in 1929".

Excuse me? What? Avoiding spoilers is one thing but give us something to work with, can't you? Scanning down, the thumbnails didn't help. What the hell is this meant to be? I mean, look at them.

Episode One: a guy in a cape and a union suit, straight out of superhero central casting. Episodes Two and Three: stills from The Sting and the Robert Redford Great Gatsby. Episode Four: a Madonna video, circa 1985. 

After that came something from one of those early-evening, family sci-fi shows like Quantum Leap or Knight Rider then it was back to Gatsby, followed by Indiana Jones and finally a shot that actually looked like it belonged in a show called "Jupiter's Legacy".

But I'd not long finished watching The Expanse and I needed something to replace it. I'd started Shadowhunters but it wasn't really doing much for me. I needed an hour-long sci-fi/superhero drama to maintain my routine. Whatever this was, it looked like it might do. What the hell. Give it a go.

With that kind of build-up I guess the bar wasn't set too high. I certainly wasn't expecting what I got: one of the most impressively true-to-form comic book adaptations I've seen. And I've seen a few.

That's not to say it's a faitfhful translation of Mark Millar's original comic book series. It might be but I wouldn't know. Not only have I never read it, if it wasn't for the credits I wouldn't have guessed there was an actual comic behind the show. 

I probably should have. These things are always adaptations. And Mark Millar is a big deal. He wrote some of Marvel's best-selling arcs of all time, including Avengers: Civil War. I've known his name for many years even if I do have an unfortunate tendency to get it muddled in my mind with Martin Millar. (He's another Scottish author who once wrote a few comics but went on to write many, many books, almost all of which I love, especially the superb Supercute Futures and the wonderful Kalix the Werewolf trilogy. I only wish Netflix would make a series out of those).

So, I had no preconceptions or expectations for Jupiter's Legacy. I just started watching it because it was there and I needed something to fill a gap. And it seemed like it must be popular. It had just launched on Netflix U.K and it was in the Top 10, somewhere in the middle. 

It's doing better than that now. Every day it's gone up a place or two until a couple of days ago it reached  #1. That suggests good word of mouth.

And here I am, adding to that. I really liked Jupiter's Legacy a lot. I recommend it with enthusiasm. I watched one episode a night until last night, when I watched the last three back to back. I despise the phrase "I just couldn't wait" but in this case I literally couldn't.

None of which is the same as saying I think it's any good. Not, that is, in absolute terms. Asmiroth has a post up in which he points out a number of things he thinks are wrong with it, some of which I agree with and others about which I feel entirely the opposite. I'll get to some of that in a while but first I'd like to say just what it is about Jupiter's Legacy that I absolutely love: it's a proper comic book superhero show.

It's not just a superhero TV show. There are so many of those now it hardly matters any more. Most of them are entertaining. Some of them transcend the genre. Not enough of them, in my opinion, double down on the true strengths of classic superhero comics, namely not having to make a lick of sense from start to finish but going so fast and hard you never have time to notice. And looking breathtakingly gorgeous while doing it, of course.

By far the strongest elements of Jupiter's Legacy are the twin pillars that have held up the superhero comic for decades: fist fights and soap opera storylines. The classic comic book consists of pages of kinetic violence interspersed with interludes of angst-ridden interpersonal drama. Emotions are as brightly-colored as costumes. Every break-up is apocalyptic, every hook-up world-shaking.

The first episode features a set-piece fight that's as true to the comic page as anything I've ever seen. Asmiroth sums it up beautifully: "A monster of the week setting in a rubber suit, lots of weird ninja moves, lots of speeches, and slow motion. It’s like 10 heroes vs 1 villain, none of whom are actually strong enough to take him solo. Which, you know, is borderline Thanos."

Exactly! That's why it's so great. And so much better than the Thanos fights (thrilling as they are) because the Thanos fights make sense. The Blackstar fight makes absolutely no sense at all but you only realize that much, much later, and even then not because you're supposed to have come to an understanding but because you've finally closed the comic, had a coffee, gone and done a few chores and then thought "Hang on a moment...".

As the series develops it becomes clear that almost nothing in that fight makes any sense at all. Why is Blackstar so strong? Why does he never say anything? If he is that strong, how did they catch him in the first place to put him in the Supermax prison? And how does that prison hold him, anyway? 

When Paragon punches Blackstar so hard half his head explodes, setting up the entire "heroes never kill" storyline, why does Blackstar's head explode? Did Paragon intend for that to happen? Is that why everyone's so upset about it? Or did he just get the timing wrong? And how come Paragon could do it when no-one else could? Are they all that much weaker than he is or was everyone else pulling their punches the whole time?

And as for Brainwave's mental trip to the beach, given what we find out in episode eight, how does that make any sense at all

Okay. Time out. I know it's been all spoilers up to here but those were just for episode one. This next part is a big spoiler for the whole season so, really, if you haven't yet watched the show and think you might, don't read this next bit. I'll slot a picture in to give you a chance to slip away quietly. Come back when you've seen the last episode...


Brainwave created the Blackstar clone. Why is he bothering with all that bravura "you're in my world now" stuff when he's facing down his own creation in his own head with no-one else to see him doing it? It's like he's putting on a one-man show for his own amusement. When he does much the same at the end of the series, he's being monitored both electronically and psychically so maybe there's a chance someone will be able to hear or see what he's doing but none of that applies to the first fight.

Don't look for an explanation. There isn't one and there's not going to be. No, it's just there because it looks good and it feels right. And that's the key thing about all the contemporary parts of Jupiter's Legacy. They all feel right. They feel like comics. So many superhero shows just don't. This one does.

The fights are fantastic. The special effects might occasionally be a little shaky but that's just like having a fill-in artist on inks for a panel or two. And mostly I found the effects convincing, anyway. The punches I particularly loved. These people hit each other properly hard and they hit like comic book superheroes hit, not like movie heroes. There's nothing very subtle or balletic about any of it. It's a slugfest.

The very best physical moment in all eight episodes comes when Chloe punches Neutrino (I think that's her name...) into space. That is such an absolute classic power move. The Utopian, when he's lecturing Paragon about how he could have avoided killing Blackstar, offers it as an example of what his son might have done instead of kill. It's Chloe, though, the bad daughter, the rebel who won't do anything she should, it's she who knows what to do without having to be told. Brandon, the good son, the child who desperately wants to live up to his father's code? He doesn't. Or won't. Or, worst of all, maybe can't.

The whole show is like that. Comic book logic. Comic book nuance. Comic book soul. Well, except for the flashbacks, which probably take up more than half the running time. They're not so much comic book as pulp and I was never much of a pulp fan. I have to accept that pulp and comics have shared ancestry, though, so I've lerned to live with it.

That's the main reason I loved Jupiter's Legacy. It's a comic book come to life. But there's another. The characters.

Asmiroth says "It doesn’t help that none of the main characters aren’t endearing in any form." I refute that absolutely. I found almost all of the characters immensely endearing, especially the minors and the villains, many of whom I would happily have watched in episodes of their own. Hutch and his crew of idiots could easily hold down their own show as some kind of sleazy Scooby Doo Crew. They have an actual magic van ffs! Who wouldn't want to watch that?

Josh Duhamel, paterfamilias and strongest man on the planet, goes by an increasingly ironic codename, The Utopian. He's grizzled and gritty, which he should be. He's been a superhero for ninety years and he was probably thirty when he started. He looks a young sixty and a lot like Tom Hanks, which is not, I think, any kind of co-incidence. His wife, Grace, goes by Lady Liberty, doesn't get a lot of good lines and seems to be channeling Katherine Hepburn in the flashbacks. Neither of them is any more real than the four color printing process can make them and neither should they be.

Brother Walt can't surely not be modelled on Walt Disney. If you didn't have him pegged as the Big Bad after a couple of episodes you really can't have been paying attention. Heir apparent to the Utopian crown, son Brandon, aka Paragon, could have walked off the set of any CW teen-angst show but the many scenes of him working the farm with his shirt off cannot but bring back images of Smallville. Not the only time I made that connection, either. It's a brave show that would go there.

The true heart of the show, the keystone that holds it all together is, of course, the utterly wonderful Chloe. I don't think that's any kind of revelation. I didn't watch the trailer until after I'd seen the whole thing but when I did, there it all was, laid bare in flashes of lightning. It's Chloe's show. She's the emotional driver and hers is the arc that's going to matter.

Seriously, it's not as though you're going to be allowed to miss it. Episode One opens with a flashback of Chloe and Brandon as children. The tableau they enact is the season in micorocosm and the entire conflict plays out in the emotions that flicker across her face. In case you still haven't got it, there's a scene later in the same episode that hammers the point home, the implications of grown-up Chloe's absence from Sunday lunch only superceded in significance by those that follow her to the family table when she unexpectedly stumbles through the door.

From then on, every scene with Chloe in it carries almost all the weight, with those featuring her brother, Brandon, picking up whatever slack there is left. It's a generational tale of mythical proportions, which is, I suppose, where the classical allusions of the title come in. 

Chloe and Brandon and their parents Sheldon and Grace are the nuclear family to beat all nuclear families and right now they're in meltdown. And they're not alone. Everywhere you look it's parent against child, sibling against sibling. This is comic book soap opera at its finest.

Emotionally it works, wonderfully. Just don't expect the actual plot to make any rational sense. Good comic book narratives never do.  

Of course, I could sit here all afternoon, poking holes in the plot. That would be fun. I am a comics fan, after all. It is kind of what we do. I'm not going to, though. I loved it. (Well, the bits that weren't in sepia, anyway. Those I just tolerated. George helped a lot. I hope we get to see Skyfox in Series Two and not just Brainwave's shadow puppet version, either).

That's assuming there's going to be a Season Two. I haven't heard anything yet. But, since like just about every superhero series before it, Season One of Jupiter's Legacy is pretty much one long origin story, there damn well better be a second season. Not least because, as Asmiroth says, there are plenty of questions left to answer. 

I imagine most people will want to know stuff like where the powers came from and how did the world end up with so many supers? (Really, they can't all be desecendents of the original six, can they?) Top of my personal list is somethng a lot more important. What the hell were those crystals Hutch was commissioned to steal, the stuff that looked like busted windshield glass, that Chloe shovelled up her nose?

Ah well, I guess there are just some things we were never meant to know. No wonder she ended up in hospital.


  1. I appreciate this more in depth view of the series. Certainly helps with added perspective and I agree with the majority of the points laid out.

    Still don't on Chloe, but I guess that's not much different that folks reading comics, is it?

    1. The post kind of got away from me a little. It's nearly two and a half thousand words long but I still had to skate over loads of points I wanted to make so parts of it aren't as clear as I'd like. Can't really do 5-10k essays on a blog, unfortunately. It's really the kind of thing that goes beter in a freewheeling conversation over many beers, anyway, because that's how comics and tv shows are meant to be dissected.

  2. If you have Apple TV, I recommend Mythic Quest - an "Office-like" comedy set in an MMO game studio. Loving season one so far!

    1. Someone recommended that a while back.. might even have been you! I don't have Apple TV but in theory I could get a 7-day free trial and binge watch it. Before that, though, I need to do a one-month sub to Disney+ and watch Wandavision and another to StarZ and watch Season Two of Doom Patrol...

    2. It wasn't me, because we just started binge watching Mythic Quest last week. All those shows are great!

  3. Belated response, but for the most part I'm with you on this one. I think perhaps the one major point we disagree on is Chloe. But I'll admit off the bat that I almost never enjoy this type of troubled, drug-addled character. Granted only 8 episodes in the season, but I kept expecting some form of resolution to her character -- either being some form of redemption or, (more likely, in my opinion) going completely off the rails into the realm of being a villain.

    One might argue the latter did happen, but eh. I'm not sure it qualifies. There's still further to go and I think they might yet change direction with her.

    Hutch and his crew were also some of my favourites though. I remember having, if not actually, then at least in my mind, a jaw-drop moment when what he can do with that little tube of his fully demonstrated. :)

    So yes, more Hutch please! And definitely need to see Skyfox. Which, if my take away was right, is what Hutch was attempting to work toward -- having the power to break through whatever was preventing his teleportation from tracking his father down.


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