Jupiter’s Legacy is the type of superhero TV series that Netflix needs right now. Rivals have stolen a march on the streaming giant since it cancelled the last of its interconnected Marvel shows two years ago, with properties including Amazon’s The Boys and Disney Plus hit Falcon and the Winter Soldier dominating the superhero landscape.
It’s not that Netflix hasn’t tried to stay competitive; however, for every successful superhero project, such as The Umbrella Academy, there have been notable misfires like Thunder Force. To truly compete, Netflix needs its own unique superhero universe to muscle in on this increasingly popular genre.
Step forward Jupiter’s Legacy, the first of Netflix’s upcoming TV shows based on the works of comic writer Mark Millar. Ahead of the series’ launch, TechRadar sat down with Millar to discuss how Jupiter’s Legacy lends itself to the TV format. We also asked about the challenge of bringing the comics’ biggest action sequence to life, and why subversive superhero stories are becoming more popular with modern-day audiences.
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Building a superhero TV world
Based on Millar and Frank Quitley’s comics of the same name, Jupiter’s Legacy tells the story of the Union, the world’s first superheroes. After a century of protecting Earth from a variety of foes, the Union’s remaining members – The Utopian (Josh Duhamel), Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb), Brainwave (Ben Daniels) and The Flare (Mike Wade) – are wrestling with the prospect of passing their responsibilities on to their ill-prepared superpowered children.
As the children, for their part, struggle to live up to their parents’ legacy, tensions rise between the generations – and it isn’t long before loyalties are truly tested when a seemingly unsolvable mystery threatens to ignite a superhero civil war.
Netflix’s adaptation of Jupiter’s Legacy has been three and a half years in the making. Back in August 2017, the streaming giant acquired Millarworld, the comic empire founded by Millar, with the aim of adapting his company’s various properties for its platform.
Before Netflix’s buyout of his company, Millar’s works – including Kick Ass and Kingsman – had only been turned into movies. Jupiter’s Legacy, too, was being primed for a film treatment by way of a trilogy before Netflix swooped, and those plans were shelved in favor of a TV series soon after.
For Millar, transforming Jupiter’s Legacy into a TV show didn’t initially seem like the right fit, which is understandable, given that his other properties had worked well as movies. Following a conversation with a prominent Marvel movie director, however, Millar’s perceptions of television as an art form changed.
“It was actually [Guardians of the Galaxy director] James Gunn's idea [for a TV show],” Millar explains. “Back in 2015, he said to [executive producer] Lorenzo di Bonaventura and I ‘This isn’t a movie. It isn’t even a movie trilogy. It’s such a big story, you need a TV show.’ And he was completely right.”
Given that most movie runtimes sit between two and three hours these days, condensing the decades-spanning plot of Jupiter’s Legacy into a potential nine-hour movie arc meant that plenty of vital story beats would have been left out.
By contrast, the TV format presented the opportunity to not only explore the comic book’s characters and their motivations in as much detail as possible, but also expand on specific parts of the source material that Millar wanted to add context to.
“It meant we could go deeper into things that I only make reference to in the comic universe,” Millar says. “There’s a moment where these characters travel to the island, and the idea of that journey was initially supposed to be the first half of season 1. You realize, if this had been a movie, that journey would’ve only been a five-minute opening sequence. We could never have given it that emotional depth [that it needed] if it had been a movie.”
Maintaining a comic book structure
It isn’t just Jupiter’s Legacy’s character and world expansions that the TV series benefits from. The structured approach of Netflix’s adaptation, too, resembles that of a comic book, particularly in how it presents its two stories set in different time periods.
The first story, set in the present day, follows the Union and their children as they attempt to simultaneously work through their personal issues and solve the series’ overarching mystery. The second, meanwhile, takes place during the Great Depression, and reveals how the Union’s original members came into possession of their abilities.
Intertwining these narratives allows audiences to unravel the series’ many puzzles as the TV show progresses. It’s a format similar to that employed by other comic-book series, including The Umbrella Academy, and one that required a showrunner with experience of adapting comics for the small screen. In Millar’s mind, there was only one person suited for the role: Steven S. DeKnight, who had worked on superhero TV shows including Smallville and Netflix’s Daredevil.
“Netflix said ‘Who would you like to be the showrunner?’ and I had no hesitation,” Millar says. “I’d just watched Daredevil season one, and I thought it was brilliant. As soon as Steven started talking to me, I knew this was in good hands. I remember him sending in the series’ outline, and the first half of it was set in the opening sequence of the comic. He said ‘Trust me on this, give it time to breathe and it’ll be monumental.’”
That structuring aspect extends to the series’ fights and other action set-pieces. Jupiter’s Legacy’s biggest battle surprisingly takes place in its first episode, a subversion of viewer expectations, given that similar scenarios play out much later in other superhero productions. As Millar explains, though, ensuring these big bouts – featuring almost 20 superpowered individuals – are believable is more important than where they take place within a story’s context.
“The fight coordination is extremely tricky,” he says. “Steven directed that [episode one’s battle] and the stunt coordinators were there for weeks. I remember when we made Kick Ass, and one fight scene involving Hit Girl, which was 30 seconds of footage, was three weeks of preparation. It’s why you don’t see a lot of them on television as they’re really expensive. It’s a theoretical nightmare to get right.”
Netflix is positioning Jupiter’s Legacy on a unique part of the superhero spectrum. It appears that the streamer’s hopes lie with the series’ subversive tone and style, and that it’ll appeal to audiences through its distinctive features.
Those aspirations are ones that Millar holds, too. Jupiter’s Legacy is just the first of his company’s properties due to arrive on Netflix over the next few years, and Millar believes that, now that superheroes have become such a large part of modern-day culture, viewers are ready for more stories beyond those based on Marvel and DC properties.
“We couldn’t have told these stories without what came before,” he muses. “There’s been great work from Marvel and DC for 20 years, and it’s got audiences in such a sophisticated state that they can handle an ensemble of 40 superheroes told over two time periods in a story as grand and ambitious as this. I think global audiences are ready for this; this is the next step.”
Jupiter’s Legacy is available to stream now exclusively on Netflix.
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