Writer Mark Millar can be blunt in describing his Millarworld line of comics, so it’s no surprise that for “Jupiter’s Legacy,” his new, ten-part saga with Frank Quitely shipping in April from Image Comics, his pitch is simple: “Creator-Owned Superhero Event.”
Taking its cues from a variety of epic pop culture juggernauts and Millar’s own take on America’s history with superheroes, the series is the biggest single Millarworld project he’s proposed to date, and that raises plenty of questions of its own. Like, can Millar complete a book three times as long as recent series “Super Crooks” or “Nemesis?” Especially when Quietly, while a fan and critic favorite, is not known for producing work at the pace of someone like “Kick-Ass” artist John Romita, Jr.
But Millar, unsurprisingly, is confident that “Jupiter’s Legacy” will be his biggest book to date, in more ways than one. In talking about the project with CBR, the writer discussed how the bi-monthly story of the world’s first super family came together, detailing influences from “Star Wars” and “King Kong” to Roman myths and Golden Age origin tales, all while explaining how the book is his treatise on superheroes connection to the American ideal.
CBR News: Mark, let’s start by talking about the name “Jupiter” as a piece of this book. It evokes both space and Roman mythology, but what’s its significance within the story?
Mark Millar: I like the idea of doing something that feels more mythological. Something that felt like it was part of something gigantic. It does tap in to myths to some degree in story terms, but I’m also trying to contemporize those ideas as much as possible and blend classic themes and very old story structures with modern imagery. Superhero stories tend to have a fairly well-worn structure, but I wanted this to have a very grand, operatic series of beats and really get a sense of escalation in an almost Wagnerian fashion. There’s lots of “Hamlet” in it. There’s a lot of father/son things going on with it. It almost seems like something you’d be given in school. [Laughs] It’s going to feel like a big, weighty tome that happens to be about superheroes. It’s also about everything else. It’s about the dawn of man, the origin of the planet and everything right up to contemporary economics and people nervous about the fiscal cliff and the end of capitalism. But it also goes as small as relationships and family life, too. This is my ultimate superhero story. Everything I’ve ever wanted to say, I guess.
The early pages we’ve seen from Frank Quitely have a very Indiana Jones or “King Kong” feel to them. What was the thinking behind starting out in that very pulpy setting?
I like the idea of a superhero origin that was quite mythical as opposed to the science-based origins we’ve seen from the ’50s on. “King Kong” has always been one of my favorite movies. I’m ashamed to say that Hitler and I have the same favorite movie, because he likewise loved the 1933 “King Kong.” It’s the one thing we have in common. [Laughs] But that opening sequence is one of the greatest ever. It’s that very misty world, where they’re trying to get a crew together and they’re in that little bar talking about going to Skull Island. So that was in my head, and I thought about this being a superhero version of that in our opening sequence. There’s this mystical place, and the story gradually unfolds as the series progresses. We find out what happened on that island — what was waiting there for them and why they come back with super powers. There was this thing calling out to them. What was the purpose of it? That’s one of the mysteries of this story.
I also love the idea of a very simple superhero origin. I love the Golden Age superhero origins like Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, just finding an old lantern by the side of the railway that turns out to have this magical green flame inside it. I love the simplicity of that, or of chemicals splashing on someone and suddenly they can move at super speed. They seem very real in some ways, because the guys seem very real in them and there’s no attempt at explanation or sophistication. Conceptually, they’re no more realistic than Aladdin. It’s not as complex as what we’re used to now. Now, if you’re creating a new thing, you tend to have one eye on “New Scientist” when you’re writing, to explain it all away with genomes, trilobites and nanobots. You ground it in the real world. I like this idea of keeping this magical, something a child could understand and almost closer to our daily lives.
Does that kind of origin progress throughout the story? Like, do we later see an atomic hero or whatever other kinds of origins have been popular over the generations?
No, there’s no flashbacks to the ’60s or anything. Everything beyond that pre-credit sequence is set in the present or the future. That ’60s commentary or ’80s stuff has all been done, I think. I just wanted to show the beginnings of super humanity and then contemporize it very quickly. We’re never going to see something done in the style of a ’60s comic or any of that stuff. That’s been done many times. I’m not doing a thing that’s talking about comics; I’m doing more of a more universal story that’s about the difference between generations.
There is this weird thing, especially in the West, where the people who are around at the moment kind of feel like we’re not as useful or have served as great a purpose as our grandparents generation. Our grandparents fought the Nazis, and they seem to belong to a simpler, more decent time in our heads. In reality, that’s not true. People have always been the same, stretching back forever. No generation is more noble than any other. Everybody is fundamentally decent, and everybody fundamentally has their flaws. That’s what this story is about, too. It’s about young super people feeling that they can’t possibly live up to the legacies of the people that came before them. But as it unfolds, we realize that they were just human and our guys see the reserves of decency in themselves when it comes to the crunch. It’s more about real life and human nature than it is about superheroes, but all told on this crazy scale that makes it as big as a “Civil War” or a “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” It’s very much a summer blockbuster crossover kind of book, but the beauty is that you’re not getting ripped off with poor tie-ins.
Let’s talk about Sheldon Sampson, who is The Utopian and our original superhero. That itself is a very Biblical name. Did you just work to pour all these primal superhero ideas into one man?
I’ll tell you what’s so amazing: Whenever I launch a creator-owned book, I always have a charity auction, and whoever wins the auction gets to name the character after themselves. You can really fall on your face doing these, because what if the person who wins has a Chinese name or something and you’ve got a white, Anglo-Saxon lead character drawn into the first issue? [Laughs] There’s been a couple of tricky moments with things like that in the past. But the guy who won this auction, whose name was going to become that of the first Golden Age Superman character, was called Sheldon Sampson, which is a name that’s so good I couldn’t have made it up!
Sometimes fate just takes care of you. This series has worked out really well for us, so far. Frank (Quitely) is working faster than he’s ever been known to work, and he’s producing the best work of his career. I couldn’t be more excited when his three pages arrive every week on a Monday morning. The scripts have been slow because I’m so insanely meticulous about this thing. I’ve been desperate to do it for a few years and very keen to get it right. I’m on issue #5 at the moment, but will doubtless go back and change twenty things in #4 tomorrow. I just want this to be perfect.
So is the core cast The Utopian’s literal family, or is it more the next generation of superheroes in a broad sense?
It’s a family book, really. The entire story really comes out of this basic family. The idea is that there were these superheroes in the past, and they never did anything wrong, they never took any money for doing all these amazing things. They were like the superheroes we understand or our parents would understand. They’re Christopher Reeve or Adam West-style superheroes. It’s entirely altruistic. But their kids, when given the same set of values growing up, don’t always choose the same path. I’ve met a lot of people since I’ve been working in movies who are like this. They’re like these kids, and it fascinates me, because they have every opportunity you can imagine, but they’re missing that crucial X-factor that their parents seem to have in spades.
A big part of the story asks what makes someone special and driven. What makes them have a plan? That’s so unique, and we all imagine that our children will have that too, but it’s no guarantee. If anything, the kids from enormously successful households I’ve met will have their own set of problems and expectation issues. With any big movie star, for example, chances are they didn’t spend enough time with their children. Their children had a lot more money than they had growing up, but also a lot more temptations. So if Superman and Wonder Woman were your parents, you’d think life would be wonderful as they’re beloved the whole world over. But they’re always off in another dimension fighting an alien or something. This is about how awful it would be to have parents who were the two most famous people on the planet.
If you want to see a perfect example of this, read Carrie Fisher’s wonderful book, “Wishful Drinking.” It’s great. I went to see the live show she did in New York where she did essentially a spoken version of her book on Broadway. The book is fantastic, and it’s weird because it crystalizes everything I’ve always thought about what it must be like to grow up in an overly ambitious household. She said, “What if you weren’t as beautiful as your mother? What if you weren’t as beautiful as Debbie Reynolds, or as good a singer as Eddie Fisher?” That’s what it’s like to be the children of the most famous people on the planet. You think that Superman and Wonder Woman would be great parents, but if you take analogues of those characters, you realize that you’d have children growing up with some massive problems. On one level, that’s what this book is about: What it’s like to grow up in a super household. But, of course, this is only one aspect of the story, and we have this massive world-changing thing going on across multiple planets and time-zones.
You’ve made some comparisons to “Star Wars” for this book in terms of its scope and scale, and you’ve also talked about this one leather jacket wearing character as being like the Han Solo of the series. What’s your take on the supporting players in an epic like this?
That was the exciting thing about this. “Star Wars” is really about the Skywalkers, isn’t it? The movies are essentially the photo album of the Skywalker family, and all the other people fit into that world. Whether it’s Anakin Skywalker or Luke Skywalker, it’s all about their lovers and friends. That’s what this is, too. We have the ultimate super male and super female with their troubled, but good-hearted, children, and then there’s the extended family. There are uncles and aunts and jealous cousins, and then there are boyfriends and girlfriends. That “Han Solo” character, if you will, is the son of the world’s greatest supervillain and is in a clandestine romance with the daughter of the world’s greatest superhero. So you have this Romeo and Juliet thing going on with these two families that can never get together. That’s not a major thing in the story. It’s a background thread, but it’s where he fits into the story and his character unfolds a little more around issue #4.
With all this span of time in these characters’ lives, and all the pieces of the world, why tell this story now? What is it about this modern era that makes us want to step into this story at this point?
That’s a brilliant question because that’s exactly what the series is about. Why this has to happen right now is because this is a story about the potential end of America, even as a concept, and everything we love about that country facing a genuine threat. As someone who grew up with an American flag in my bedroom, I watched from across the Atlantic in the past few years to see something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: poverty in the States. It actually touches my life because a lot of my friends who are comic book fans or freelancers will tell me stories I could never have imagined happening in my lifetime, like how their local gas station is closing down because no one in town has the money to run a car anymore. It’s a country that, growing up, I always associated with things getting bigger and better, and so to see it contracting is actually quite terrifying. That served as the inspiration for the backdrop to this story. The superheroes are impotent in the face of this complex situation, and that’s where things kick off.
This story is my love letter to America. That idea of democracy and everyone having an equal say is such a fundamentally decent one and something we should cherish. You only have to look around the world to see that democracy isn’t something to take for granted. I don’t mean this in a partisan way. Left or right, it’s very hard not to be impressed by the fundamental ideals of America. And for me, the United States has always been tied up with superheroes as well. Maybe that’s because Wonder Woman and Superman are wearing the American flag. It seems a nice analogy to tie in the end of the American Empire with this big, grand twilight of the superheroes kind of story.
It’s very, very much a superhero event. Marvel and DC have their various events this year, and I’m planning on blowing them both away with this. I see this as the big creator-owned superhero event. Nobody’s tried anything like this before, but it’s a big thing covering a huge time period with tons of characters and tons of dramatic twists. Like I said, this is my love letter to America and everything I like about America. America has had its problems, but this is my way of reminding you what’s cool about America. It’s very timely. This story couldn’t have been done five years ago. It’s straight out of the headlines of today.
Maybe when the book is done, you’ll have saved America, Mark.
[Laughs] But really, speaking of the book being done, I’m so pleased with how Frank Quitely’s been doing on this. He’s amazing. An honor to be working with him. The plan is for this first volume to be ten issues long. It’ll be five issues, a break and then five issues again. And he’s been bang on. He’s doing at least three pages a week. We’re shipping it bi-monthly, and we’re in great shape. If we speed it up, even better, but it’s pretty good so far.
“Jupiter’s Legacy” #1 hit stores in April from Image Comics.