By Mark Mllar, Wilfredo Torres, and Ive Svorcina
There are few comic authors working today with the kind of aggressively tasteless and hateful aesthetic of Mark Millar writing superhero comics. His entire ethos has morphed into a blend of self-loathing eclipsed by an even greater loathing for the comic reading public all smothered in a layer of thick, creamy, nihilism. None of that is to say his work is bad or without merit, as Millar’s always been one of the few authors with the technical skill to translate his unique outlook into compelling stories; it just means whenever he’s writing superhero work, it’s basically a matter of time before things take a turn for the nasty. Jupiter’s Circle, a fairly interesting run of stories about original heroes set in the ‘50s and ‘60s, hasn’t reached that point yet, but with this second circuit of stories starting up it certainly feels like it’s heading in that direction.
So far the series has been made up of one-off stories grounded in human drama more than superhero adventures. It’s actually kind of a running background gag that superhero adventures keep happening off-screen and getting mentioned out of hand in a nonchalant manner. No, super-heroics are not the focus of Jupiter’s Circle (the title seems to be in reference to lead hero Jupiter’s social circle of fellow heroes.) Instead, the big emphasis of the series is on exploring the mistakes and personal lives of the people behind the masks and costumes working off the idea that none of them had the kind of heroic upbringing or tragic origin to mold them into the type of hero’s we’re used to seeing wield such tremendous power. It’s been a mixed read so far with a dynamite opener revolving around hero Blue Bolt being a closeted gay man and hero in the ‘50s as a highlight of the comic. Since then things have very much slowed down to more standard fare involving divorce, affairs, and romantic interests in general.
That same romantic emphasis is still here for this new series, though there’s a dark aura hovering over the proceedings. This first issue splits its focus between Jupiter, a transparent Superman stand-in, and Lady Liberty. Jupiter’s married to his girlfriend from before he gained super powers and Miller does his best job to give them the perfect relationship, which basically serves as narrative short hand for “bad things are coming.” Add to that Lady Liberty’s continued isolation and the fact she had a crush on Jupiter even before they got their powers and the idea that this whole love triangle is headed for a very dark ending seems all the more inevitable. This is the first of the superhero romance stories to actually work off the premise of starring super people. Previously the stories were very human, but to the point of not needing superheroes to be told; they were just standard stories of failed romance, mistaken affairs, and fights over girls. This time though, the implication that Lady Liberty is building up to some kind of Golden Archer shenanigans could only work because she has all the same powers as Jupiter and thus operates on a different set of rules than the rest of us.
That Squadron Supreme comparison isn’t made lightly either as the “not quite the Justice League” vibe runs heavy through the comic and the emphasis on the creepy exaggerations of interpersonal relationships that arise from people who can move planets is an element of both comics. Jupiter’s Circle is a lot sleazier than Squadron Supreme though, with less of an emphasis on the question of responsible use of power and more about what happens when you give normal people the power of gods. Additionally, Jupiter’s Circle doesn’t have nearly the level of character development and discernible identity as Squadron Supreme. Speaking of which, the artwork by Wilfredo Torres is good. Really good. Torres adopts this very Darwyn Cook visual aesthetic to infect everything with a decidedly Silver Age tint while still maintaining just enough humanity to keep it from feeling like a vacuumed sealed museum piece. You can see the outer layer of silver age on the pages, but there’s enough grit and reality lurking underneath it to keep you from growing complacent. Ive Svorcina is on coloring duty and he’s a great complement to Torres’ work. His style is very light in tone giving everything an odd sort of watercolor look that manages to look real and faded without feeling washed out or gray. Between Torres’ harsh angles and stylistic faces the visual style is curiously reminiscent of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty while the coloring leaves the proceedings more in line with something out of a Little Golden Book. It’s all charmingly vintage in a way that thoroughly evokes the time period perfectly.
It’s a little unclear if the world really NEEDED a blend of the sleazier elements of Watchmen with the scope and scale of Squadron Supreme, but it’s here now and it’s still a very engaging read. The new-found foreboding atmosphere and sense of things being on the cusp of going horribly wrong for everyone involved is a nice way of raising the stakes for the comic that seems like progress rather than the backsliding that afflicted Jupiter’s Legacy in its later issues. In a career filled with harsh entries like Kick Ass and Kingsman, where even the allegedly nicer comics like Starlight are still pretty angry and depressing, it’s pretty refreshing to see Millar write a story about well-rounded people trying to do the right thing till their humanity just ends up in the way. The emphasis on human fallibility isn’t new territory for him, but treating it with a greater deal of sympathy certainly is and it makes for a welcome change.