Review by Frank Plowright
Short review: Mark Millar’s pulled it off again.
Is there anyone writing comics at the moment also possessing Millar’s grasp of populism and how to splatter a widescreen canvas? He has that instinct serving all great commercial artists at the peak of their popularity of being able to tap into the zeitgeist, magpie-picking here and there, and reconfiguring the recipe to serve anew. David Bowie worked with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, Madonna with Nellee Hooper and William Orbit, Kylie Minogue with Stock, Aitken and Waterman and Xenomania. In this instance it’s Frank Quitely channelling Millar’s mash-up, refining it for maximum appeal.
Back in the 1930s a group of ambitious American patriots led by Sheldon Sampson following his dream, acquired superpowers. Convinced the depression was a momentary blip, they united to improve the country, and for a while it worked out fine. However, cracks developed, and by 2013 there’s another depression and it seems to some events have come full circle. Sampson, for many years the Utopian, believes it to be another temporary blip and what’s required is faith in elected officials. Not everyone sees it that way.
The original team now all have a second generation with inherited super powers, and the Utopian’s children fail to live up to his high ideals. Both exploit their endowed celebrity status. Brandon is a drunken dilettante expecting acclaim without effort, while Chloe’s illusion is recreational drug use, and if that’s accompanied by the occasional overdose, well that’s just an occupational hazard. Miller peppers his script with shocking showcase moments that paper over the occasional lapse of logic. It’s not the major set piece, but a scene with a container ship endangered several miles above a city is spectacularly conceived.
Quitely, with some help from Rob Miller, is also at the top of his game. There’s a rare instinctive emotional intelligence about his delicate figures, yet no lack of expansive dynamism about his vivid action sequences. Is there another comic artist who could picture a man having his brain burned out through his eye sockets, yet give it a Sistine Chapel beauty?
Flaws? The American patriotism is laid on with a trowel by a Scotsman and smacks of audience pandering. Why would one character with the abilities he has so covet power? The super powers are ill-defined and plot convenient. None of this matters in the bigger picture. They’re mere flecks on the windscreen while the serotonin rush is maintained.
This is only the opening portion of a longer work, the dark before the dawn showcasing that first glimmer of light. It seems as if Millar’s already over-played a pivotal aspect of his probable conclusion, but that doesn’t matter, the destination is irrelevant as long as the journey remains this much fun and looks this good.
There is also a prequel, Jupiter’s Circle, but Quitely only draws the covers and it’s nowhere near as good.