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Mark Millar on 'Jupiter's Circle': Your parents are human beings too

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Jupiters Circle
Image Comics

Last spring, award-winning writer Mark Millar teamed up with acclaimed artist Frank Quitely to launch Jupiter’s Legacy, a story about “what it would be like to grow up as Superman and Wonder Woman’s kids.” It’s high-concept premise from a writer who absolutely loves churning them out—something that has transitioned to great Hollywood success, as his comics are frequently adapted into big-budget films like Kick-Ass and Kingsmen: The Secret Service.  Now, as Jupiter’s Legacy approaches the end of its first story arc, Millar has announced Jupiter’s Circle, a 10-issue companion series with art from Wilfredo Torres set to release in between Legacy’s first and second halves.

Described as “Mad Men meets SuperFriends,” Jupiter’s Circle is designed to be a quieter series than Jupiter’s Legacy. According to Millar, Circle focuses on what happens between the panels of classic Silver Age heroics—the doubts and fears of the stoic, square-jawed heroes, their personal lives, and the ways they are just as frail and full of doubt as their children will turn out to be.

EW reached out to Millar for an in-depth look at the upcoming series, coming in April from Image Comics with art from Wilfredo Torres.

EW: One of the interesting things about legacies (and explored in Jupiter’s Legacy) is how they can become almost tyrannical, when one generation perceives their collective work as threatened by the often messy, always different ideals of the new one. Will we see that conflict in Circle as well?

MARK MILLAR: That’s very much a part of Jupiter’s Legacy, the notion that parents and children are always in ideological conflict and children tend to have more in common with their grandparents. People I know who are self-made, for example, often have kids who squander everything because they’ve always been privileged and it’s the grandchildren who get things back on track because they’ve had that little taste of failure. But Jupiter’s Circle is quite different from the parent book. It’s a very different type of superhero comic in the sense that it doesn’t focus on the usual tropes of action scenes and traitors and explosive third acts and alien invasions. These are small background details, the inverse of the traditional comic, as we focus instead on the tiny details of the ensemble’s private lives.

I love doing the big widescreen adventures, the Spielbergian perspective on these kind of characters, but I’m really interested in the smallness too and wanted to do something quite European. I just tried to shift gears and imagine what Truffaut or Godard would have done with a superhero story if they’d had an unlimited budget in the late ’50s or early ’60s. There’s something beautiful about America in that period, that Rockwellian perfection sold to the world, but with something more sad and real just underneath the surface. I wanted to do a superhero story about what happened between the panels of the comics we grew up with. What happened between the episodes of those Saturday morning cartoons. The things we weren’t allowed to see.

Jupiter’s Legacy is about grown-up children feeling they can never fill the shoes of their idealized parents, but the prequel is about how even your parents were human beings once. It’s a really beautiful, quite moving story, I hope. It approaches relationships and sexuality in a very mature way. Godard, as I said, is the approach I wanted to take, and the entire series has practically written itself. The idea that our mothers and fathers were so obsessed with each other, raging with young hormones, is an odd thought and yet it must have been the case for us to even be here. That’s what this book is about. It’s about realizing that even the people we think we can never live up to were really just very much like us at one time.

Since this is being released in the “act break” between Jupiter’s Legacy books one and two, will any of its events play a part in Legacy book two?

Yes, very much so. The Godfather, Part II was a big inspiration too in the sense that the stories of the main book and this prequel strongly interconnect, the entire saga really being a generational biography of the Sampson family like the Corleones or, in the case of Star Wars, the Skywalker family. But I also love that thing in Godfather II where you take a father and son and show their very different lives at exactly the same age. It’s a very powerful storytelling technique that tells you everything about their different characters and the different eras they’re operating within.

The costumed superhero epitomizes the 20th century for me. The characters have been around for thousands of years, and they’ll morph into something else next, but for most of the 20th century, they had this look and this ethical code and these hideouts and secret identities. We’ve moved away from that to some extent already, so it feels oddly fresh to go back and play around with some of this stuff, but infusing it with a 21st century head, and I weirdly think we have a tone we’ve never seen before here. The idea of superhero coming back from an adventure late at night and their kids sleeping and snuggling in beside their wife and having sex—but the sex is interrupted because a baby’s crying or whatever—is something we’ve never in a comic, but happens in real life.

The idea of a gay superhero is nothing new in the last 10 or 15 years, but shifting this back to 1958 and a gay superhero being as closeted as Rock Hudson, even from his teammates, feels very fresh. The first storyline involves a character who in a strange way has three secret identities because he’s a superhero with a heterosexual secret identity and a secretly gay private life even his friends don’t know about. He’s part of the gay Hollywood scene and the big parties behind high walls up at places like Katharine Hepburn’s house, but if the truth ever gets out there he’s ruined. We live in a different world now where you can have a gay Green Lantern, but as a writer it was interesting to explore an era where getting busted in an L.A. police entrapment situation, for example, would be enough to have you thrown off a superteam. I think that period in gay history is fascinating in L.A., that weird time between total condemnation and the acceptance you started to see by the mid-’60s.

I also wanted to write something that was as physical as a heterosexual relationship in comics, not that more sexually diluted kind of gay character we usually see in sitcoms or teen shows where they’re devoid of any sensuality and just there for witty barbs or that token gay BFF thing. One of my friends, Russel T. Davies (Doctor Who), did a big show here called Queer as Folk that tackled something similar on U.K. television and I was telling him I was keen to do that in comics. I sometimes feel that the gay characters in television and movies are more desexualized than heterosexual counterparts. You basically get a kiss occasionally, but there’s a very different set of rules generally to the heterosexual characters. So that was a big factor in wanting to write this too. To do a really different kind of gay guy in comics. There are six superheroes in this ensemble, everyone getting an issue or two each across the ten issue series, making up one big story and we kick it off with Blue-Bolt, our closeted hero, and everything that happens to him based on an old guy I know in L.A.—but given a little superhero twist.

How did Wilfredo Torres get involved? He’s an excellent choice, with a style that’s well-suited for a Greatest Generation-era story.

Wilfredo was either recommended by Jenny Lee or Goran Parlov. I can’t remember now. I’d actually seen his Superman: The Movie drawings before and I absolutely loved them, but hadn’t seen his sequentials until the guys put me onto him. His stuff is beautiful. It feels absolutely in keeping with that Mad Men meets SuperFriends vibe we’re going for—the beauty of the clothes and the furniture and the hairstyles and so on—but also very modern at the same time.

He couldn’t be more perfect for this and though Frank Quitely is doing the covers and designs, Wilfredo is doing everything else. Frank and I feel very, very lucky to have him and the three of us are in constant touch as Frank continues on with the second book of the Jupiter’s Legacy series. But the thing I wanted to evoke here was classic DC. Something that really captures that classic Madison Avenue New York vibe. I don’t know if it was because DC Publisher Carmine Infantino came from that world when he joined in the company’s heyday, but the two things are inextricably linked for me, the glamour and density and excitement of New York in that era just seems like a place superheroes would live. The glamour is very important when you’re evoking DC. The suits were always perfectly cut, the hair immaculate, the careers very solid and dependable whereas the Marvel New York was a very different animal. The Marvel characters were more flawed, all drunken weapons dealers or brilliant inventors who could never manage their money properly. But the DC heroes always felt more grown-up and stable and well-groomed. They were perfect. These guys were your parents and Wilfredo’s really captured that.

Between this, Chrononauts, and Starlight, you seem to be shifting gears, creatively. Less deconstruction and more celebration. These stories also feel a bit more personal, too. How does Jupiter’s Circle/Legacy speak to where you’re at as a writer?

I like to shift gears a lot. I never stay on a book for more than a year or two, and six issues is actually my preferred amount of time. But the celebration of the hero is something I enjoy as much as the deconstruction. I just shift with what interests me at any particular moment.

It’s funny, but when I started out I was writing Superman Adventures aimed at 6- to 10-year-old kids based on that brilliant animated series. It was up for a bunch of awards and people liked it, but assumed I could only write for children and so I loved having the opportunity to cut loose on stuff like The Authority and The Ultimates next to show a different side. But I’m as happy writing something as upbeat as Superman: Red Son or Starlight or Chrononauts as I am doing the darker stuff. Even books like Kick-Ass are really idealism wrapped up in cynicism because it’s about a kid who dresses up to make a difference every night.

But since Superior and Kingsman: The Secret Service I think I’ve gone more overtly idealistic with my stories because it’s what I want as an audience member now, as well as a writer. I always want to think, but a little idealism and a touch of escapism just feels right in these very uncertain times. Guardians of the Galaxy pretty much epitomized what I want to see on a night out now, and it’s also what I want to read as a comic. Tonally, it was so pitch perfect and I try to bring that same sense of fun and irreverence to my work in these past couple of years.

The heroic side of superheroes has been missing for a while, so it suddenly feels very fresh to shift gears and go this way. But you need to show people things they’ve never seen before, or they might as well read their back-issues. This isn’t like any old comic that ever existed. This is something new. Wilfredo and I are really pleased with it.

Jupiters Circle
Bill Sienkiewicz
Jupiters Circle 02
Goran Parlov
Jupiters Circle 03
Frank Quitely