With the sustained success of Captain America: Civil War, the recent release of X-Men: Apocalypse and its $80 million opening weekend, and Suicide Squad coming up in a couple of months, it's fitting to say that we're well into the (latest) summer of the superhero. This month, the comic book equivalents of these summer blockbusters join their big-screen counterparts with the debut of Marvel's crossover event Civil War II and the long-awaited return of Image's Jupiter Legacy.
From their tone to their art, the two stories are wildly different. One is crisp and clean, the other loose and expressive. One is a story about hope, the other about tragedy. But they both converge on a single idea: the responsibility of being a superhero.
Jupiter's Legacy Vol. 2 is a hopeful return to one dark, twisted, superhero story
Midway through the first volume of Jupiter's Legacy, the story's villains pull off a major coup. Grace/Lady Liberty, the seemingly invulnerable matriarch of the story, thinks she's successfully defended herself from a band of superheroes gone rogue. Then her brother-in-law Walter Sampson/Brainwave, the leader of this literal and figurative backstabbing, reveals that she's been trapped in a psychic construct and shows her what's happened in real life: She's been skewered through her throat, gut, and knees and is choking down thick, gooey blood.
The scene is frustratingly hopeless and helpless, and a major testament to the skill of artist Frank Quitely.
And now Quitely and writer Mark Millar are back with the beginning of the second volume of Jupiter's Legacy, set years after Grace/Lady Liberty and her husband Sheldon Sampson/the Utopian died in that hopeless, helpless issue and the superhero brigade that betrayed them took all the power for themselves. The first issue explores the plan hatched by Grace and Sheldon's daughter Chloe, son-in-law Hutch, and grandson Jason to stand up to these good guys turned bad by assembling a team of bad guys gone good.
Millar, who has been on a more hopeful kick of late, does a fine job of building out his superhero world and imbuing the comic with excitement. The characters introduced are intriguing and inventive. Millar doesn't reveal the full capability of their powers, but that just adds to the mystery and fun.
Quitely's art is on point, too. The faces he draws have always been expressive. But in this issue you really get a sense of how well Quitely understands motion and emotion when it comes to posture and the way his characters slouch, hunch, and lean.
If there's a drawback, it's that there isn't a real sense of how bad things have gotten with Walter in charge. In the first volume of Jupiter's Legacy, we got a small taste of what it's like to be a superhuman in this world (Walter's band of baddies began hunting them down).
But we haven't really seen that fleshed out here.
Not spelling out the severity of the dystopia these heroes are living in feels like a lost opportunity, and it makes the drama seem more personal as opposed to a bigger, more sweeping exploration of the idea of a superhero. If these heroes want to change the world, we have to know what the consequences are. That isn't to say that there's anything wrong with a personal story about kids avenging their parents, but building out this world could be the key to Jupiter's Legacy fulfilling its potential as a superhero epic.
Jupiter's Legacy Vol. 2, No. 1 is scheduled for a June 29 release.
Civil War II will make you want to choose a side (yes, again)
The most difficult task that Civil War II writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez face is the same problem that Marvel's first Civil War story faced in 2006: How do you make both sides of the conflict compelling without sacrificing the integrity of the characters?
In the first Civil War (Captain America: Civil War tweaked the comic's premise a bit), written by Mark Millar, there was a fundamental argument about superheroes working for the government. Millar framed it as the idea of regulation versus freedom, explaining that even though making superheroes answer to the government was a commonsense approach, the notion of a government controlling superheroes would be a little harder to swallow.
In Civil War II No. 1, Bendis and Marquez present a Minority Report–like conundrum: If superheroes had a way to predict the future and prevent disastrous attacks from ever happening, should they act on it?
Captain Marvel is all about preventing future attacks, while Tony Stark is more cautious — he prefers to wait for someone to act before acting on them. And perhaps because we've seen similar stories to Civil War II's premise before (again, Minority Report, or even the season finale of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), there's a tendency to go into it with a sense of spoiled cynicism.
But Bendis fully commits to the idea of the worst possible scenario — the idea that if we knew a huge threat like Thanos or, in terms of real life, a disaster like 9/11 was going to occur, we would take advantage of that knowledge.
The comic has its flashy moments — a huge, funtastic team fight and an appearance from Thanos — but what really works well are its more emotionally devastating scenes. Without giving too much away, two heroes (Marvel fanatics know who) are hurt (possibly killed), and the fallout takes a toll on Captain Marvel and Iron Man's psyches. (Tip: Read A-Force and Ultimates to really understand Captain Marvel's personal relationships.)
Marquez's art is slick. The aforementioned team fight is everything you want in a superhero crossover — godlike humans with square jaws in tight costumes zipping around and blasting things — but his real strength is in drawing eyes. There are some magical points in the story where, based on how Marquez has depicted a character's eyes, you don't need dialogue or any other parts of the panel to tell you what's going on.
Bendis's quick jolts of humor are also an asset for Civil War II. He's clearly comfortable and understands when to utilize Spider-Man, who manages to bring levity and brightness to the book.
But the writing, at times, leaves a bit to be desired.
There are moments when Captain Marvel and Iron Man, the latter especially, seem a bit out of character. Some of this is understandable given the polarizing premise of the book, but getting into Captain Marvel's head almost requires you to read The Ultimates (a great book featuring Captain Marvel and a team that includes Black Panther and Spectrum going about solving gigantic universe-threatening crises) to fill in the gaps.
At points, the Inhumans are given moments when they're supposed to inspire awe like the Avengers and the X-Men, but they fall flat (though this might be more of a conceptual problem with the Inhumans than Bendis's writing or Marquez's art). There are also weird scenes where iconic characters appear and then just spout off some generic, throwaway lines like, "Where are you going?"
But despite its flaws, Civil War II No. 1 still manages to make its central argument compelling. I can see why Captain Marvel, a hero I've enjoyed reading, would adopt a borderline fascistic, authoritarian worldview when it comes to the evil she's faced with. I can see why Iron Man wouldn't. And I'm eager to see how Marvel's epic crossover will play out.
Civil War II No. 1 is available in stores and online.