Comics On TV

5 Things To Know Before You Watch Jupiter's Legacy

Comics co-creator Mark Millar and series stars Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and more preview the weekend's hottest binge.

by | May 6, 2021 | Comments

Netflix’s new series, Jupiter’s Legacy, is a breed apart from many superhero series. The program focuses on the Union of Justice, a group of superheroes who began working together in the 1930s, but lived well into the 21st century and now face the prospect of handing their work off to their children; a second generation of various talents, constitutions, and interests.

Although some of its iconography will seem familiar, the story sets out to be a family drama of powers, resentments, high expectations, and at least one masterplan worthy of a Lex Luthor or Hydra. And viewers coming fresh to the series will find a number of unexpected things.

Rotten Tomatoes spoke to some of the cast and Jupiter’s Legacy co-creator Mark Millar to determine the five things you need to know before venturing into the show.


1. It Is a Generational Saga

JOSH DUHAMEL and LESLIE BIBB inJUPITER’S LEGACY

(Photo by Netflix)

The notion of generational superheroes – that is, parent and child (or a close relation) sharing abilities and a costumed identity – is not exactly a new idea in comic books. Titles like Starman and The Flash dived deep into the idea in the 1990s. Also, the more recent Flash TV series broached the topic a few years ago while still fighting a villain of the year, and Superman & Lois sees Clark learning how to be there for his teenage sons.

But in the case of Jupiter’s Legacy, facing the reality that a younger generation needs to step up is very much the theme of the show.

“[It’s] a metaphor for how you can pass on traditions, how you can pass on family values, how you can pass on love and connection,” as star Josh Duhmel, who plays the premiere hero Utopian, put it. “I think that there’s a lot to be said for how you raise your kids and how important it is to connect with them or there’s a good chance you lose them.”

Indeed, the possibility of losing his children quickly becomes one of Utopian’s concerns.


JUPITER'S LEGACY star ANDREW HORTON

(Photo by Marni Grossman/Netflix)

As the program begins, his son Brandon Sampson (Andrew Horton) – aka Paragon – makes a choice Utopian disapproves of, setting into motion a lot of soul searching among the Union and their children about what they really want for the future.

“I think Brandon puts an enormous amount of pressure upon himself, which definitely doesn’t help things,” Horton said when asked about Utopian’s expectations for his son. “Brandon and [his sister] Chloe are told by their father that these gifts are to help other people less fortunate. That’s an onus on them to use their powers for good and to maybe follow in their parents’ footsteps. But it’s never explicitly said within the show that this is what you must do: ‘You must be the same as us.'”

Nevertheless, Brandon takes onboard the idea that he should be just like his father and “trips himself up because he’s a more flawed human being.”

In Horton’s mind, he’s “kind of always going to be set up for failure when you’ve got the Utopian as someone to follow.”

And to some extent, that fear of failure leads to the choices his sister Chloe (Elena Kampouris) and their cousins make both before the story begins and after Brandon’s tactical error.


2. It Uses the Concept of the Justice League as Familiar Grounding

JUPITER’S LEGACY

(Photo by Netflix)

Although the original members of the Union have similar abilities, aspects of their look and more specialized powers will remind viewers of DC Comics’ Justice League of America. According to Millar, using that group’s dynamic over, say, the Avengers, is a completely intentional choice.

“That’s a perfect entry point for the mainstream audience,” he explained. “Those kinds of characters we grew up with also stretch all the way back 5,000 years to the Greek myths and then, really, the Egyptian myths, [and] in some ways go back to Sumer as well, 11,000 years ago — Babylonian myths.”

The archetypal stature means a character like Utopian is immediately recognizable even if he has longish white hair and a beard when he first arrives on the scene.

“The world is very, very plugged in to the idea of [this] bunch of people: You know, there’s a Superman-like guy, there’s a Wonder Woman–like woman, in the same way we had Zeus and Jupiter and we had Aphrodite and everything,” Millar said. “These archetypes have been around for a long time, in a way that other superheroes don’t really have. There’s a pantheon of gods that the Justice League really feels like [and] that people get.”

Of course, testing those archetypes via their children becomes one of the key sources of tension within Jupiter’s Legacy.


3. It Challenges a Very Specific Code of Superhero Conduct

TYLER MANE, ANDREW HORTON, and TENIKA DAVIS in JUPITER’S LEGACY

(Photo by Netflix)

Taking their cues from pop culture antecedents like the Justice League, the first generation Union members adhere to a strict code Sheldon Sampson (Utopian’s civilian name) put down during their founding nearly a century before the story begins: their powers must always be used to help others, they must never govern over the nation, and they do not kill. The code is rooted in Millar’s appreciate of the American culture he grew up experiencing via imported television, film, and music, but it also sets down three easy-to-understand concepts that, nonetheless, lead to a lot of heartache when one must live by them.

Duhamel, as himself, admitted he has some issues with the code, but absolutely agrees with his character that super-powered people should not use their powers to force a role in government.

“If you give somebody [that] much power, that’s just dangerous. They should just be there to serve,” he said.

Nevertheless, the prohibition against killing left Duhamel with more angst because he can see situations where lethal force is understandable. One hypothetical he offered will strike a chord with parents: “If somebody is going to take my son out, I’m going to take them out first, no matter what.”

Conversations with the writers and producers put him more at ease with Sheldon’s absolutely belief that there is always a better way and, as viewers will see, Sheldon always adheres to the code.


JUPITER’S LEGACY stars TENIKA DAVIS and MIKE WADE

(Photo by Marni Grossman/Netflix)

Mike Wade, who plays original Union member Fitz Small (aka The Flare), thinks his character’s appreciation of the code changes across the 60 or so years he operates as a superhero.

“Fitz, I would say, sees Sheldon as an older brother; somebody that Fitz looks up to. A lot of people look up to Sheldon,” he explained. “So initially, Fitz felt that [same way about the code as Sheldon], but through battle and through sacrifice, [he] might’ve changed and might not feel so strongly about the code like a lot of other people do.”

Tenika Davis plays Fitz’s daughter Petra – the new Flare – and represents the younger generation on the issue.

“Things like the code have to be amended and changed as things develop and grow,” Davis said. “I think the code is one of those things that is a bit outdated. So we respect it for the foundation it provided, but at the same time we’re like, ‘Yeah, it probably needs a few updates.'”


JUPITER'S LEGACY cast

(Photo by Steve Wilkie/Netflix)

And, as viewers will see, there is no easy answer on how to respect the code or augment it to meet the challenges both generations of the Union face in the series.

“I think it’s such a complex issue,” Leslie Bibb added. Bibb plays Grace Sampson, a hero in her own right — the beloved Lady Liberty — and Utopian’s wife. While both the actress and her character see the code as a way of preventing the supers from becoming judge, jury, and executioner, they also understand why some of the younger generation will chafe against it as they face more powerful and ruthless adversaries.

“I don’t think it’s black and white. I think that that’s sort of what Grace’s dilemma is [as the story unfolds],” she said. “I think that is a cool thing about the show. It doesn’t really give you an answer. It poses these questions and hopefully, you walk away and you start thinking, and maybe it starts a conversation about something bigger.”


4. It Is Not Ashamed of Superhero Costumes

LESLIE BIBB, JOSH DUHAMEL, and BEN DANIELS in JUPITER'S LEGACY

(Photo by Steve Wilkie/Netflix)

Another cool thing about the show: it literally wears the pulpy inspiration of the 1930s and ’40s superheroes on its sleeves. Sure, the younger generation may go for the black leather look of modern heroes, but the original Union members proudly wear garish colors into the 21st century.

“When I think about my favorite costume ever, costume design ever, in a movie, I would say it’s [from the] 1978 Superman,” Millar said. The suit, designed by Yvonne Blake, highlighted the design worn by the Man of Steel in the comics during the 30 years prior to the film. “She didn’t really rethink it. She just thought, ‘What does Superman look like?’ and just made that work in real life.

“We did the same with this, we made it look like the heroes of that period. So the Golden Age heroes would have looked weird if they’d had armor or oddly textured, metallic costumes,” he said. “They just look like superheroes in the very traditional sense, which I love.”

Nevertheless, the costumes may look strange to viewers as the program begins, but remember: the first generation Union members still represent a 1930s ideal of superheroes.


5. It Will Surprise Readers of the Comic Book

JUPITER’S LEGACY star BEN DANIELS

(Photo by Netflix)

While the series is quite faithful to the comics – and its companion piece, Jupiter’s Circle – it will contain a few surprising changes as it unfolds across its eight episodes. But even before those developments transpire, readers may find they like Sheldon’s brother Walter (Ben Daniels) a lot more than they did in the comics.

Although Daniels denied any conscious attempt to bring viewers to the character’s side, he definitely wanted to convey “what it was like to have Clint Eastwood as your brother, who sails through life when you find it incredibly difficult.”

In both the comic book and the show, Walter tends to be the first to naysay Sheldon – even after they get their powers – but as Daniels saw it, “He feels very downtrodden. He’s a highly volatile person and highly sensitive person, and he has trouble regulating those emotions.”

And though much of his anxiety melts away after his powers give him an almost universal telepathic range, the scars of his younger days remain.

“I don’t think it’s about making him sympathetic. I think it’s about making his actions 100 years later more understandable,” he added.


For readers of the comic, the added texture characters like Walter receive may be its most rewarding element. As Millar put it, “To read a comic out loud would take about four minutes, you know? So it has to be elaborated upon.”

Much of that elaboration takes the form of deeper characters, but it also uses ideas from Jupiter’s Circle and the original comic’s flashbacks to weave an ongoing Godfather Part II–like narrative. In each episode, viewers will see the original Union team slowly assembling and how it relates to the current conflicts of their children.

“It’s a really sophisticated narrative structure, and I’ve never seen it applied to superheroes before. So that was really cool to see it,” Millar added. He hopes it will prove to be satisfying for viewers as they begin to watch Jupiter’s Legacy across the weekend.

All 8 episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy debut on Netflix this Friday.

 

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