A century after receiving their powers, America’s first superheroes are growing long in the tooth. As crime-fighting duo The Utopian (Josh Duhamel) and Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb) ready their kids to take up the mantle, it becomes clear that the next generation of heroes may not be up to the task.
What would happen if Superman and Wonder Woman were cursed with feckless super-kids? Such is the question posed by this adaptation of Mark Millar’s 2013 comic series, which injects a little dynastic family drama into the traditional superhero formula. As leaders of supergroup The Union, Sheldon “The Utopian” Sampson (Duhamel) and his wife Grace (Bibb) — AKA Lady Liberty — have been foiling petty crimes and rescuing civilians since the 1930s, all while following a strict code to never take a human life. All of that is called into question, however, when a tense showdown leads their son Brandon (Andrew Horton) to stave in the skull of supervillain Blackstar (Tyler Mane). The incident not only paves the way for a new threat to emerge, but exposes a philosophical rift between the original heroes and their would-be successors.
Exploring the disconnect between ageing Boomer heroes and their errant Gen Z offspring might sound like the setup for high comedy but Jupiter’s Legacy is far from jovial. Cloaking its conceit with self-important sobriety, the show eschews cross-generational hijinks in favour of musings on capitalism, the preservation of democracy, and the fragility of the American Dream. It’s a tone that doesn’t instantly gel with the show’s outlandish wardrobe or the abundance of stick-on beards. Thanks to a dual-timeline narrative, the primary cast spend the majority of their roles in grey wigs and geriatric make-up, lending early episodes a layer of absurdity and the look of what might happen if you ran an Alex Ross painting through FaceApp.
The debate over Golden Age comic sensibilities versus the grim reality of millennial storytelling burns brightly throughout Jupiter’s Legacy
Thankfully, the show’s secondary storyline does away with panto prosthetics for a prohibition-era origin story that quickly establishes itself as the show’s most compelling aspect. Following the Wall Street crash that kicks off the Great Depression, Sheldon is driven by visions of his dead father to seek out a mysterious island. Half mad and with a band of sceptical companions in tow, he embarks on a quest with strong echoes of the original King Kong, one that explores what it means to be a hero — more specifically an American hero, born into an era of capitalism in crisis.
While the soapier present-day thread is less compelling, the moral conundrum at its core certainly rings true. Zack Snyder provoked fanboy ire when he had both Batman and Superman rack up body counts to put John Wick’s to shame, and the debate over Golden Age comic sensibilities versus the grim reality of millennial storytelling burns brightly throughout Jupiter’s Legacy. As a parable for the generational divide, it works well and provides Duhamel with meat to chew on as he works to humanise his inhuman protagonist — a man who can hear an incoming asteroid pass Jupiter but can’t make his family say grace at dinner time or stop his daughter Chloe (Kampouris) overindulging in drink, drugs and supervillain shags.
If the show feels slightly uneven, it can be likely traced back to the departure of showrunner Steven S. DeKnight (Daredevil), who walked away from the project over creative differences mid-production, subsequently replaced by Sang Kyu Kim (Altered Carbon, The Walking Dead). But despite its occasional wobble — and a painfully rocky start — Jupiter’s Legacy finds its feet and strikes a decent balance between period adventure saga and contemporary social commentary, building to a climax that lays a solid framework for Season 2. It’s just a shame it doesn’t try to have a little fun along the way.
More straightforward than The Umbrella Academy but lacking the playfulness or bite of The Boys, this is a decent enough stab at superhero deconstruction, if one that takes itself far too seriously.