If you are familiar with the Jupiter’s Legacy comic book series — or the companion miniseries Jupiter’s Circle — you know it tells a lot of story in a very short span of pages. It is, after all, the intention of writer Mark Millar and artists like Frank Quitely to offer a great deal of information in the most economical fashion.
So, going into Netflix’s adaption of the series, you might expect a similar brevity. Instead, you will find the writers and producers of the series opted for something more decompressed — a generational saga told in the style of The Godfather Part II. That is to say, most episodes are split between a 1929 storyline and a present day story lifted more or less directly from the comic book. Each plot weaves around the other as it focuses on a thematic connection between a parent and child.
The primary driver in each storyline is Sheldon Sampson (Josh Duhamel). In 1929, he faces the implosion of his father’s company and the growing sense that he needs to assemble five other people to visit a mysterious island. In the 21st Century, he is The Utopian, the world’s leading superhero. And though his powers include a dramatic resistance to aging, he knows his time is coming to an end. Nevertheless, he worries what the next generation of superheroes — his children and those of his contemporaries — might do in his absence.
In the hands of Netflix and talented creatives like Steven S. DeKnight, who developed the series and wrote several episodes before departing the project sometime ago, the premise is gorgeously rendered with warm lighting, rich sets, and great performances from Duhamel and casts members like Leslie Bibb, Matt Lanter, and Ben Daniels. Daniels, in particular, steals the show as Walter, Sheldon’s put-upon brother. While readers of the comic book know Walter’s story, Daniels adds an unexpected dimension to the proceedings. The constant jabs from Sheldon’s friend George (Lanter) feel less funny and more hurtful as the viewer better understands where Walter is coming from; particularly in the program’s 1929 storyline. Even in the present day, the added depth the performance brings to the character creates a tension as you begin to wonder if Walter will do things differently. For those who haven’t read the comic, his choices may even come off as more of a surprise.
This added texture to the first generation of heroes is the show’s biggest strength. Grace (Bibb), Fitz (Mike Wade), and George come alive as we get to know them better before they receive their powers. They also become stronger characters in the 21st Century parts of the story even if the focus is meant to be on the next generation.
And that might be the program’s biggest fault, outside of Hutch (Ian Quinlan), the second generation feels distant and unknowable even as it expands on things like Brandon Sampson’s (Andrew Horton) state of mind and Fitz’s daughter Petra (Tenika Davis) growing uncertainty about being in a superhero team. Curiously, the character least served by the show’s structure is Sheldon and Grace’s daughter Chloe (Elena Kampouris). Although one episode focuses on her (and Grace in 1929), the character’s arc is barely hinted at in this first volume of episodes. Granted, the program exchanges her narrative momentum for the chance to see the very beginning of her relationship with Hutch — something that goes a long way in establishing subsequent events for both.
Nevertheless, the decompression of the second generation storyline might frustrate readers of the comic book who expect a certain pace — especially as a certain twist never occurs in these eights episodes.
But if you are prepared to meet the series at its speed, the experience is rewarding thanks to the added depth of the characters, the strong performances, and very strong production values. Also, at just eight episodes for this first volume, it is an easily digestible binge.
Juptier’s Legacy is available now on Netflix.