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Jupiter’s Legacy and the Imagined Burden of White Guilt

Apparently Stan Lee told Mark Millar, the brain behind Jupiter’s Legacy, to leave Marvel because he was destined for greater things. If the main character, Utopian/Sheldon Sampson (Josh Duhamel), is any reflection on Millar himself then I understand why Lee would have told him to strike out on his own – he is clearly not a team player. I have spent days inside of this universe and I never know if I’m inside Capitan America, Smallville, Treasure Island, or a Hallmark movie. That last one could be just because Josh Duhamel looks like a composite of every male lead in every Hallmark movie ever.

I will begin to list my large list of complaints now, spoilers and sarcasm ahead!

Seriously, let’s contemplate for a moment why super hero movies are so lauded in this country. What’s the deal, America? Is it because our society digs itself into such a deep, self destructive hole that we have to create superheroes as the only people we can look up to? Do we truly believe that only someone imbued with powers at random knows right from wrong? I do not understand why we need white men in capes in order to feel safe and secure. The one thing that this movie has going for it is the hard knock life honesty that’s missing from other mainstream comic stories. While others spin tales of people with above average character, Jupiter’s Legacy creates a tribe of super people at random and the fallout from that is the entertainment.

The show tells stories in two different timelines, jumping between the 1920s and present day, simultaneously showing the viewer how the super people were created and the struggles they face today. I hate this method of storytelling, two timelines running parallel. It’s a device that creators use when the story isn’t compelling enough on its own. It’s clear why the show jumps back and forth – because no one would watch three chronological episodes of young Sheldon Sampson losing his mind and gathering followers. They had to sneak it in there a few minutes at a time.

Sheldon’s entire story drips with white male privilege, from the fact that he gets to claim ignorance about his father’s misdeeds to the way he gets sympathy because he didn’t know about it. When he and his father wanted to expand their steel company, his brother Walt/Brainwave (Ben Daniels) warns them of the impending crash but they don’t listen. They expand and end up completely shit out of luck. Their father used the worker’s pensions to fund the expansion and when the market crashed he lost all of the worker’s financial security. But the Sampson brothers and their rich friend George claim destitution yet they still manage to get a crew of people together and get a ship out of Morocco to the mystical island of powers. Proving that in an economic crisis in which the average person can’t afford food or rent, the rich can still live large. The three of them could have paid out the pensions from their own pocket, but god forbid George won’t have 100 differently boiled eggs to choose from every morning.

Throughout the early storyline, Sheldon is bat shit crazy. He’s traumatized by seeing his father commit suicide and he hallucinates Papa Sampson’s mangled body. He’s clearly not in his right mind, but people follow him anyway! At one point Sheldon goes into the home of Fitz, a Black man who was laid off from the Sampson Steel Mill with no safety net because of the rich man’s gamble, to go to Morocco with him. Sheldon just waltzes into his house and asks this Black man to go to Africa with him, where they will get on a boat and sail to a mysterious location in the Atlantic Ocean, for the chance to earn some money to keep his family from starving. SERIOUSLY. And then they all go on this little adventure, following Sheldon as he talks to his father’s partial face.

Whatever timeline is playing, Sheldon is always the most unlikeable leader. If he’s not exhibiting signs of severe mental illness, he’s holding fast to an outdated ethical system while refusing to listen to any counsel from his peers. In both timelines, he has intense tunnel vision focused only on “the greater good” which, as I’ve written about previously, is the WORST ethical code anyone can have. While I can appreciate that it’s tough to be a super hero, I don’t have sympathy for a man who tells his wife that she can never disagree with him in public or it will undermine his leadership. If the role is as heavy as he makes it out to be, it should be shared.

In the present day timeline, Sheldon’s white privilege melts into white guilt as he wonders if he did the right thing by dragging all of those people on a journey to the middle of nowhere so they could be imbued with powers that they didn’t ask for and begin a life they never wanted following Sheldon’s orders for all of eternity. The only thing more awful than that run-on sentence is the meaning behind it. And the only thing in the show more offensive than that narrative is the fact that only super people of color get killed and the “bad guys” are comprised of people of color and lesbians. Representation though, right?

This show is a cautionary tale for what happens when you don’t adapt or allow for change. When they’re about to get their powers on the island it’s made clear that the group has to set aside their personal differences in order to receive them. George, Walt, and Sheldon all say they put aside their differences and they can coexist now. They promise to change, and they get their powers and then Sheldon makes up “the code”. But in the end, they are who they are. The places between two people that rub are likely to always rub, and a code of ethics must be flexible and considered carefully in each situation. We need counsel and advice from our peers in order to sustain a good path but Sheldon unilaterally decided how the rest of them would live for eternity, and never bent. In my experience, any leader who refuses to buckle because they say they can’t under the strain of leadership…is full of shit.

There’s a lot to be unpacked about the whole “should superheroes kill” dilemma presented in the show, but that’s been beaten to death on the internet already. And to be honest, I’m so exhausted by trying to muster up some sympathy for Sheldon that I don’t have it in me to write anymore. If I say Team Walt, does that make me a psychopath? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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