By Mark Millar, Davide Gianfelice, and Mortarino
Sooner or later all creators try to make their Watchmen. Kurt Busiek did it with Marvels, Mark Waid did it with Kingdom Come, even Grant Morrison gave it a try with Multiversity: Pax Americana. In all these cases the ultimate result is less important for its direct comparison of quality with Watchmen and more interesting as an example of what the creator chose to zero-in on and reproduce from Watchmen. In the case of Marvels, Busiek took Watchmen’s focus on superheroes impacting culture and their actions as massively impactful events that unfolded over years and years. Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come is a rebuttal to the ideas of Watchmen, specifically that acceptable losses accomplish more good than hard-line heroism. Pax Americana was essentially a recreation of Watcmen’s incredibly unique approach to comic book panels and layouts as an art in and of itself. Now there’s Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Circle, a relatively stand alone prequel to Jupiter’s Legacy, taking the tract of exploring how superheroes would function when fitted with real world personal issues and operating in a historical accurate depiction of real life.
The era Jupiter’s Circle chooses to explore is the 1950s, setting up short and punchy stories that revolve around the various personal insecurities, failings, and challenges of a pantheon of God-like super beings. This latest issue completes a storyline revolving around one member Fitz who’s begun an affair with his teenage, non-super powered sidekick April. An interesting aspect of Jupiter’s Circle is that even though the various issue all tend to include some major superhero action that’s rarely the focus. It’s an interesting choice from Millar to deliberately distance the book from super heroics even though he easily could link the various individual hero’s personal struggles to some impending disaster. This has the effect of wheeling the audience more into the mindset of this overall universe and in particular the characters we’re meant to be empathizing with.
For these characters their feats of heroism are essentially a day job while for the rest of the world they’ve become fairly commonplace. The point of all this is that Millar wants us to engage with these characters on a more grounded level, we should invest in characters like Fitz or Utopian because their struggles are compelling and relatable not because we’re just tagging along for all the robot punching later in the issue. This goes back to the theme of growing out of Watchmen’s conceptual DNA. In Watchmen almost none of the superheroes are actively heroic so we’re forced to confront them as individuals rather than lofty Gods or pop icons. In Millar’s case rather than strip the characters of their heroic actions he merely boils those actions down to the equivalent of a job similar to a cop or a firefighter so that we can see, accept, and appreciate these characters for what they are: human.
The only downside to all this is the story Millar is choosing to tell for this second act. It’s by no means a poorly written one, touching very nicely on themes of aging, impotence, and fear of stagnation, but it pales when compared to the first arcs focus on the trials of being a closeted gay public figure in an era like the 1950s. A similar issue plagues Davide Gianfelice’s artwork throughout the series. His style is a unique blend of sketchy line work with simplistic bodies and quasi-stylized faces, it fits well with the book’s silver age motif and is heavily reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke in some aspects, but it pales in comparison to the work of Frank Quitely on Jupiter’s Legacy. Additionally the color work by Gianfelice and Mortarino is solid, but nothing really amazing. They do a good job balancing color work and making sure all the characters pop against the background and each other without blending into anything, but it’s ultimately pretty workman-like and nothing truly wows in the issue.
This all leaves Jupiter’s Circle #4 in the curious case of disappointment by association. As it stands it’s by no means a bad comic and is quite enjoyable, it’s just that the story leaves one desiring a greater impact. A big part of this is that within this narrative the deeper character flaws, such as Fitz’s fears about aging, are left unaddressed and don’t actually make up the literal focus. They’re certainly present and are the deeper problems causing tension in the story, but the characters and plot never actually address them. All this adds up to a curiously insubstantial tale that’s still quite satisfying in its own way, but leaves you hoping for meatier subjects in the next story.