There’s a certain narcissism inherent in superhero stories. There has to be. Anyone who truly believes that with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s their job to mete out that judgment is a little self-involved. Their confidence, by necessity, is in overdrive. But watching Jupiter’s Legacy, the superhero drama series that crash-landed on Netflix, is like watching that kernel of truth pop and burn until it loses its flavor.
The series, based on the comics by Mark Millar and Frank Quietly, drops viewers into a world where the Union of Justice keeps humanity safe. These super-powered heroes are led by the Utopian, a man named Sheldon (Josh Duhamel) whose code guides their efforts in battle and keeps them from crossing the line. The code requires members of the Union to devote their lives to service, be compassionate, show mercy and, above all, not to kill no matter what happens.
For eight episodes, Jupiter’s Legacy explores the limitations of Sheldon’s code as well as its meaning. It’s deeply important to him; therefore, it’s deeply important to the plot. Despite his code being questioned repeatedly, the series never actually moves past a surface-level deconstruction of this ideal.
Arguably, the code is Sheldon’s legacy. Like his children Brandon (Andrew Horton) and Chloe (Elena Kampouris), he sees it as a reflection of who he is, what he stands for, and the beliefs he holds. The code is Sheldon’s means of holding a mirror up to himself and being able to judge that he’s worthy, that he’s good and deserving of the love he receives and the respect he inspires.
Is Jupiter’s Legacy worth watching?
But Sheldon is also a man who lived through the stock market crash of 1929, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, World War II, and so on and yet fixed his mouth to say the world has never been intentionally cruel until this present point in the series. It’s a galling claim reinforced by all the heroes making statements on how the near-century of superheroism has been without heroes killing villains and villains killing heroes.
This is a series where Grace (Leslie Bibb), Lady Liberty and Sheldon’s wife, was the sole female reporter in her bullpen until she was fired after the stock market crash because she was the only woman. Where Fitz (Mike Wade), The Flare, can’t get work because he’s a Black man in a struggling city that only wants to hire white workers. Where Richard (David Julian Hirsh), The Blue Bolt, qualifies his relationship with the man he loves even when commiserating over lost loved ones because he knows discussing his relationship with another man as the romance it was could get him hurt or killed.
I wish I could give Jupiter’s Legacy the benefit of the doubt concerning Sheldon’s position on the world changing now, in this moment in time, when his code is being questioned. But the majority of the characters in this over-stuffed ensemble feel the same way. It’s not just his ignorance. It’s all of theirs. And, it’s because the series refuses to engage with history outside of peppered in conversations that feel like they may go somewhere and then don’t.
Sheldon and his brother Walt (Ben Daniels), also known as Brainwave, discuss why they didn’t do more in World War II letting the audience know in the first episode that the Holocaust and the atomic bomb drop on Nagasaki and Hiroshima happened in this universe. That the Union let the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East happen because the code dictates they stay out of the economic and social policies of America and the rest of the world.
All of that is interesting, it speaks to the gods-like presence of the Union deciding the fate of humanity by choosing not to act. But, Jupiter’s Legacy spends more time showing the clash between the young heroes and the older members of the Union without doing much with it, then it does on how even inaction can shape the world.
The show never explains how there are so many young super-powered individuals running around but so few of the older ones like the Utopian. Instead, we’re treated to Chloe’s perpetual tantrum-throwing and acting out because Sheldon repeatedly chose his superhero life over knowing his children and their lives along with a healthy dose of inadequacy issues because she can’t seem to do anything right in his eyes.
If Chloe wasn’t making reckless decision after reckless decision then Brandon was brooding over wanting to walk in his dad’s shoes but being found unworthy of doing so not only because he broke the code but because he’s emotional, temperamental, and reactionary.
In between their cyclical storylines was Hutch (Ian Quinlan). As the son of Skyfox, a hero turned villain who was once known as Sheldon’s best friend George, Hutch is, of course, a thief. He’s powerless, but he wields the Power Rod which only listens to his commands. His plot, which takes the series even further away from a central driving point, does move the story toward what could be a mystery involving his father in season 2, but considering we know so little about George and Hutch, it’s difficult to care.
This is a problem with so many of the characters in Jupiter’s Legacy. There are too many of them, especially among the younger supers. And the ones we are led to focus on, for the most part, die. Primarily the supers of colors. Specifically, there are two Asian supers who are clearly there as fodder to further the plot upon their death. They’re introduced, play a role in a key plot point, and die in the following episode.
It’s offensive. As was the “in case you didn’t know they’re sapphic” moment where Jacinda (Jess Salgueiro) and Gabriella (Humberly González) are interrupted by Hutch in the middle of having sex. He stands there and watches until Jacinda notices. It literally adds nothing to any of their stories that couldn’t have been written to be focused on the two girlfriends and not Hutch.
Honestly, the inclusion of story elements for shock value is a problem throughout Jupiter’s Legacy. It’s a plot-heavy series with minimal character development, a plot twist that wasn’t earned, and no central driving force, villain, or point beyond these are superheroes having to actually deal with the fact that they are not infallible and can die just like everyone else around them.Next: 50 best Netflix shows to watch right now