Take flight in Olympic Heights.
At first glance, Jupiter Jet may seem like just another superhero book in an industry that has far too much of that already. But with a premise that combines equal parts The Rocketeer and Robin Hood and throws in a healthy dose of steampunk sci-fi to boot, this series has little trouble standing out from the crowd in the end. The fact that it also happens to be very all-ages friendly is just one more point in its favor.
Jupiter Jet is, among other things, a strong showcase for how to world-build without losing sight of the narrative. The first issue introduces a well-realized, retro-futuristic world without beating readers over the head in an attempt to establish that world and its history. Writers Jason Inman and Ashley Victoria-Robinson are content to drop readers into the story and let the rest handle itself over time. The dynamic between teen heroine Jacky and her brother is charming, with their tenuous financial state giving the story plenty of weight and a clear sense of stakes. Jacky isn’t just a freedom fighter trying to save her city, she’s also an orphan doing her best to care for her family in a world that never quite seemed to escape the Great Depression.
The series also strikes a winning balance between telling a good, old-fashioned tale of good overcoming evil and something with more shades of grey. As well-meaning as Jacky is, she’s not above a little casual thievery and poor decision-making. Is she justified in stealing from the wealthy just because others need that wealth more? Is it really wise of her to focus on handing out cash to her neighbors before worrying about her own precarious financial position? The series doesn’t offer any easy or simplistic answers. Despite the often happy-go-lucky tone of the series, Jupiter Jet is surprisingly thoughtful and restrained in that regard.
The art proves to be a bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately. Artist Ben Matsuya and colorist Mara Jayne Carpenter gives this world a clean, colorful, energetic quality. The tech designs and architecture help give Jupiter Jet a flavor all its own. On the other hand, the inconsistent character designs can be distracting. Character proportions are often in flux, with heads and limbs dwarfing bodies and often making it difficult to discern the relative ages of various characters. Jacky herself looks anywhere from 12 years old to 40 at various points.
On the plus side, there is a notable improvement over time when it comes to the level of detail in the art. As a Kickstarter project, the first issue was produced well before the rest of the series, and Matsuya’s growth is apparent as his panels and environments become more refined detailed in subsequent issues. It also helps that backup strip artist Jorge Corona balances out the energy of the main story with a more restrained and sentimental look back at the Johnson family’s past.
Jupiter Jet winds up telling a fairly traditional over the course of these five issues. It’s a formula that works well, particularly when it focuses on Jacky’s inner fears and growing reluctance to keep putting herself in the line of fire for dubious rewards. However, by the end of the final issue there is a sense that the series downplays some of the more interesting elements of the universe. For one thing, the origin of Jacky’s jetpack and the resistance cell opposing villain Praetor Pluto is good stuff, but the series only really delves into that material via a series of short backup features. The final issue also drops a significant twist that probably deserved to come along earlier in the story. It certainly makes the prospect of a Vol. 2 more appealing, but why wait?