Jupiter’s Legacy: The Burden of the Hero

“Jupiter’s Legacy” is a comic-book series and now Netflix series about a group of people who become superheroes through some kind of alien intervention. The leader of the group, The Utopian (real name Sheldon Samson, er, Sampson) is a Superman-like figure with super strength and hearing and the ability to fly and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Shel knows the temptation that faces all superheroes to become–often with the best of intentions–a tyrant, to set themselves up as above the law. He insists that the superheroes form a Union with its own rules that they swear to live by, known as the Code. The first law of the Code is that they may never use their powers to take a life.

Although the series never explains how, more people turn up with superpowers later on, and some of these become villains. This causes a moral dilemma for the supes. As long as they clearly outgunned evildoers, it was easy to knock them out or otherwise disarm them and haul them away to be locked up in ordinary jails. But winning battles against people who are just as powerful–and who feel no compunction against killing–calls the Code into question, particularly for the younger generation, and especially after several of their number are killed. After all, soldiers and police are allowed to kill people in self-defense or if they have or are about to kill others. Plus, it’s very hard to keep the supervillains locked up, and the chances that they’ll escape and cause much more harm are great.

But Shel sees the Code as a black-and-white thing. There’s no arguing with him: the Code is always right. As the leader of the Union, he enforces his will on the others. He never stops reiterating that the Code must be followed no matter what the circumstances–even after his own son Brandon, the next-most-powerful supe, kills a bad guy who seems about to kill both Shel and Grace/Lady Liberty, Brandon’s mother. Instead of being grateful, Shel berates Brandon for violating the code.

He also rides Brandon and Brandon’s sister Chloe for every lapse in presenting a positive image to the world. He dins into them their responsibility to uphold the reputation of the Union and himself and Grace. Chloe rebels and becomes a drug addict and party girl, doing everything Shel abhors. Shel can’t see that she’s just acting out against his too-strict rules and his refusal to see her as a person in her own right, and never fails to take the bait and castigate her for her failures, which just drives her farther down her path. The family seriously needs some good counseling.

Shel isn’t acting just out of a rigid paternalistic mindset. He feels, more keenly than anyone else, the real burden of being a hero. He feels responsible for everything–crime, the state of the nation, the state of the world. And that includes the behavior and thinking of other people, because the hero can’t fix everything by himself. Shel is constantly aware of all the problems that need fixing, and he knows if they are ever to be fixed, he needs the Union. He needs other people to step up and help him in his great cause. And so he’s constantly enlisting, constantly proselytizing, constantly trying to get more people on his side.

He thinks problems can be solved through force and through sticking to the correct mindset. But the problems are never solved. Villainy and crime persist despite all his power and efforts. His insistence that the Code is the answer rings hollow with those who can see that the Union has not, in fact, made a difference in the world.

This is what happens to most people who take up a cause or a religion. Over time they become less concerned with what they personally are doing to change things or how they personally are following the teachings of the religion, and more concerned with convincing other people to join the cause or become fellow believers. Shel can’t see that he’s become a zealot, because to him the cause is more important than anything else, including his relationships with his own family. He doesn’t see that his zealotry is counter-productive and drives away more people than it attracts; he cannot open his mind enough to allow a real conversation about whether there might be another approach to the situation. He cannot see that it is him, not the villains, who is really the one bringing the Union down.

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