With Marvel and DC solidly cornering the superhero market it can be hard for more independent shows to make their mark. However, with the popularity of shows such as Netflix’s Umbrella Academy and Amazon’s The Boys, superhero fares offering something a bit different have seen a spike in popularity.
Jupiter’s Legacy, based on comic books of the same name, takes a grittier twist on the classic hero adventure. Following a group of ageing superheroes who form a collective called “The Union,” the show flits from the alternate present in which superheroes are norm as protectors to the 1930s exploring the treacherous adventure which led to the Union’s inception. Each episode offers an in depth exploration of different main cast members while simultaneously propelling the action forward at an exciting pace in both the past and present.
Written by Tresca Mallon
In just eight episodes, we are introduced to a plethora of characters making up the Union, past and present. Firstly we have the original six members. Sheldon AKA Utopian (Josh Duhamel), establishes himself as a multifaceted and flawed protagonist. The golden child in his family in the 1930s and leader of the Union, he sees the world it black and white and is unable to deviate from his self-imposed code. This makes him an indomitable and at times unbearable morally upstanding figure in the lives of his friends and family. His brother Walter AKA Brainwave (Ben Daniels), is, on one hand, Sheldon’s pragmatic older brother and on the other a bitter understudy to his impressive sibling. For much of the season he acts as a sounding board for Sheldon’s more intense personality, however, in the penultimate episode we get an insight into the fissures of tension between the brothers and the disparities in their world-views. Then there is Grace AKA Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb). In the 1930s she was a hot-headed, liberated journalist. In the present, despite being a badass superhero, she seems to have gained her powers and lost her voice. Her agency is robbed by her duty to her country, the Union and her family. While towards the end of the season, she asserts herself against her husband Sheldon, she still fades somewhat into the background. George AKA Skyfox (Mike Lanter), Sheldon’s best friend in the 1930s, is a charismatic posh-boy with a vulnerable side. He is a second brother to Sheldon and has an unexplained frosty relationship with Walter. He is mysteriously absent in the present, with allusions to his breaking away from the Union and becoming a supervillain. We are teased the entire season as to whether he will be the series lead antagonist. Fitz Small AKA The Flare (Mike Wade) formerly worked in Sheldon’s father’s factory in the 1930s. He is in a wheelchair in the present with allusions to an unexplained accident in his younger life. There is an acknowledgment of the difference in his circumstances as a black man in America in the 1930s, however, it does not define his character. The final member of the original six is Richard Conrad AKA Blue-Bolt (David Julian Hirsch) who we are only briefly introduced to in the last two episodes as a shipwrecked neonatal surgeon. He is queer-coded which is inkeeping with the comics canon. His storyline is left wide open for development in season two.
Then we have the new generation. The Utopian and Lady Liberty’s children, Brandon AKA Paragon (Andrew Horton) who struggles to live up to his father’s legacy and Chloe (Elena Kampouris) who is an addict and has distanced herself from the superhero life and her overbearing parents. While neither character is particularly likeable, Chloe at least has layers and in episode four we get a further explanation into her addiction and the motivations behind her behaviour. She also has some electric action sequences. However, her constant hostility begins to wear as the season progresses. Brandon, touted as the inheritor of his father’s powers and position, is beyond dull. Horton’s flat performance is blatantly obvious beside the multifaceted offerings of his castmates. His swooping fringe, frequent shirtlessness and angsty personality is somewhat dated as a tv lead, reminiscent of the protagonists in the early noughties such as Tom Welling in Smallville. Conversely, Hutch played by Ian Quinlan is an absorbing anti-hero who provides a layered performance as a petty thief with daddy issues. His relationship with Chloe develops both of their characters nicely. However, his storyline is sidelined with a criminally small amount of screentime and isn’t seemingly relevant to the main plot. We are introduced to The Flare’s daughter, Petra AKA The Flare II (Tenika Davis), unfortunately beyond her proximity to her father and a scene with Brandon which was more about his character development, we don’t get to know much about her. Finally, in the last two episodes we are introduced to Walter’s estranged daughter Raikou (Anna Akana), who is a contract killer at odds with everything the Union stands for. Her introduction is a refreshing change of pace, despite appearing only briefly.
Sex, drugs, suicide and ethical grey areas, mean that Jupiter’s Legacy is aimed squarely at a late-teen and adult audience. This also allows examination of themes that are usually obfuscated by innuendo in mainstream superhero productions. Given the anti-capitalist source material, it is unsurprising that Jupiter’s Legacy is very politically aware. A running theme is that “lethal force without due process is not justice” which is particularly relevant with the string of killings by police in the USA that have recently brought into the spotlight. This ethical question becomes a cornerstone of the series as the characters grapple with the complications that accompany the Union’s strict code.
The period moments from the 1930s flashbacks are a highlight of the series. The make-up, costumes and production design envelope us in depression era America and the mutual devastation and desperation of the time. Additionally, the superhero costumes are wonderfully camp and the decision to keep classic comic book costumes is in keeping with the traditional ethos of the Union. The vivid colours and individual details in the heroes’ suits make facets of their alter egos shine through visually. Contrasting these costumes with civilian clothing and every-day life in the present humanises some of the characters. Especially Sheldon and Grace, who are softened by an insight into their domestic life and the day-to-day of their marriage.
Jupiter’s Legacy suffers somewhat from an overload of prominent characters. Despite almost every individual offering enticing room for development, we are left without truly knowing many of the characters in-depth. This does however, leave the series primed for further exploration. While a slight narrowing of focus is necessary, Jupiter’s Legacy is one of the most exciting TV offerings so far this year. Squeezing an intense amount of action into eight episodes, with a fantastic focus on world building. Ending with a twist that was perfectly set-up and yet satisfyingly shocking, leaves the door open for the series to go in an exciting new direction in season two.