[SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for this week's "Jupiter's Legacy" #3 lie below.]
Writer Mark Millar is known, among other things, for the high level of realistic action and violence in his Millarworld superhero comics. But with the latest issue of "Jupiter's Legacy," his new Image Comics series with artist Frank Quitely, the scribe showed a new side to his storytelling skills: restraint.
When issue #3 of the series arrived in comic shops this week, many readers were surprised to see that The Utopian -- the foundational caped wonder of the book's world -- was violently murdered by his own son Brendan. While "this world's Superman gets murdered by his own son" sounds like the starting pitch of a Mark Millar series, the creators opted instead to hold the plot point back to more fully develop the world of "Jupiter's Legacy."
With the cat now out of the bag, Millar revealed to CBR News that the comic will continue with a new focus -- nine years after the story told in its first three issues. Starting with "Jupiter's Legacy" #4, Millar and Quitely's tale will center on Utopian's daughter Chloe and the family she's raised in secret with Hutch -- son of the world's greatest supervillain -- while her brother Brendan and uncle Walter have run America to ruin trying to reset the financial system. Below, Millar details to CBR News why he took his time to deliver the extended series' first act, how Chloe and family's story will change as they embrace secret identities and what details from the origin of the Utopian will come back to impact the series as it continues. Plus, he shares an exclusive first look at Quitely's designs and covers for issue #4 as well as a variant by Bryan Hitch featuring Chloe's son Jason.
CBR News: So "Jupiter's Legacy" #3 was the big one in a lot of ways -- the issue where the full hook and promise of the series came to light. What does the death of Utopian represent for the series as a whole, and why was this the conflict that best embodied the generational themes you wanted to get at in the book?
Mark Millar: If you're thinking in play terms, "Jupiter's Legacy" is a four-act play, and issue three was the end of act one. If you're thinking in chess terms, everybody put out the first couple of pawns and their knights, and then we jumped straight into the Queen being taken and an immediate checkmate. I structured this very carefully for the maximum impact, eschewing the usual first issue grab and playing the slightly longer game here, and Frank and I are both satisfied with how it's paid off. Even though we see the end result on the cover it still seems to have surprised everyone, which is quite funny.
The death of Chloe's parents signifies the end of the traditional heroic archetype, and we're immediately forced to do something different. But at the same time, it's also her "origin story" if you like. This is the equivalent of Bambi's mother getting shot, and now she has to go away and prepare for what comes next. We purposely kept everyone guessing at first, but Chloe is now the lead character of the book. She's the daughter of the world's greatest heroes and will be the one carrying the story forward from here.
Of course, as we get into #4, things are going to go even further down the rabbit hole. Why was nine years the gap you wanted to jump here? What kind of perspective does all that time give us on the way this world is working?
Two reasons, really. Chloe was pregnant and the son is a very, very important character in the book. Hutch is the son of the world's greatest villain and the idea of putting he and Chloe together and these two second generation heroes having a child seems really interesting to me. The kid is called Jason, and he's the product of this amazing lineage, a kind of eight-year-old Doc Savage, I suppose, in that he's a genius and seemingly brilliant at everything. But in order to survive, he and his parents have to hide. The superheroes, who have been handed America, don't even know he exists and so for the past nine years Chloe, Hutch and Jason have been hiding in secret identities, not allowed to show their powers in any way. That feels like an interesting starting point for next issue, and I had a lot of fun writing that stuff. He's not like Hit-Girl or outrageous in any way. He's not a mini-adult. He's just a very earnest sweet kid and my tribute to Cary Bates and Kurt Schaffenberger's Superboy, which I know few people will have read but was my absolute favorite comic growing up.
I also really wanted to bring back the idea of the fake-geeky secret identity. I loved that aspect of superheroes growing up, where Clark Kent would trip over his shoe-laces or Peter Parker would have to duck out of a fight with Flash Thompson. That's the empathic entry point for kids in particular as they have never entirely related to the superheroes. Losing that aspect of superheroes in the last 20 years has created some really interesting stories, but bringing it back has given me something quite rich to mine.
We also know how the core characters of the series are breaking down at this point. Starting with Chloe and Hutch, the pair seem to be forced to live up to Utopian's standards to survive. Do they have a shot at growing closer to the traditional model of superheroes nine years into their fugitive family life?
No, they're really just surviving. Maybe 80 superheroes took down their amazingly powerful parents, and neither Chloe nor Hutch are anything like as powerful or experienced. So this is their dilemma as issue #4 opens. Chloe in particular would love to do something, but it isn't even just herself she has to think about here. She needs to protect her little boy, whom at the moment the other side don't even know exists.
On the flip side, Walter and Brandon were quite confident in Walter's ideas for America when they launched their rebellion. How does the series engage those heady questions of how to fix America through their eyes? Is there a chance these two could ever admit it if they're wrong?
I've really had a lot of fun with that. Villains wanting to take over the world can be traced back through Fu Manchu and the pulps to even Greek and Egyptian mythology, but the actual reality of it should be awesome. Even healthcare alone, with a 250-year-old constitution, has been impossible to resolve so imagine you're reworking everything from scratch -- especially when your plans are as radical as Walter's. I had a line in the first issue where The Utopian was telling Walter that hubris would be his undoing -- that he's not as smart as he thinks he is. And that's what we're seeing as we come in nine years later: the country falling apart and the economic consequences for Europe and Asia as refugees are moving around the world and unemployment is worse than the '30s. Meanwhile. Chloe is simmering and plotting her revenge.
Overall, the book is called "Jupiter's Legacy," and I get the sense that that idea will play out in a very literal sense in terms of the superpowers at play in this world. As we continue to learn about the past, what do those revelations mean for the present both in terms of story and theme?
The big thing we keep coming back to is the island Sheldon Sampson was called to and why they got their powers. Who gave them, and what was the purpose? We find out a little more in issue #4 as we flashback and see the ship in the harbor and the gang of friends hacking through the jungles to get to this thing that's been calling them. Frank's designs are for those characters can be seen here and we see the structure of this (possibly Miskatonic) University they've all been taken too.
But the mystery is why these beings from outside our understanding of the universe would care about America's decline in 1932. Why would they augment these people and ask them to go back and repair the America that seemed to be collapsing after the Wall Street Crash and the subsequent rugged individualism? Also, how does it all relate to this psychic construct Walter was building, the childhood beach scene we saw in issue #1? We come back to that in issue #6 and start to realize what his subconscious is telling him. It's a whole other layer to the story that builds everything up to the final act. But don't worry about that stuff right now. Just enjoy the first three, and if you didn't get a copy (I've been told we sold out pretty instantly) we're going back to press with a pretty awesome new cover.
Lastly, let's take one more look at Frank's designs for the ship and its crew. He seems to be working out some pretty serious Moebius influence here. How's the collaboration growing as you guys get deeper in the series?
One of the great joys of being a comic writer is when an artist comes back with something that looks better than you saw it in your head. With Frank Quitely, this happens five times on every page. But nothing excites me more than seeing his basic design work. You can see two instances here, the first being the alien university on the island that's been calling the crew of the ship and the other being 20-foot ultra-terrestrials who have come here to the lower world for a very mysterious reason. I'm reading a lot of Moebius at the moment for this other book I'm launching next April or May, and that's all I really said to Frank with this one. I just asked for a structure on a wide, barren piece of land and was even vaguer with my description of the ultra-terrestrials. Whatever you're thinking he's only going to make better anyway.
"Jupiter's Legacy" #4 goes on sale October 30.