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The most important aspect of any superhero isn't necessarily their origin story or whatever fantastic crime-fighting abilities they possess. What really makes a hero super, one could argue, is their costume. So, it's understandable that when Netflix got to work making Jupiter's Legacy, a new superhero universe — one that hadn't yet been adapted for a movie or TV show — making sure the costumes looked good was a top concern.
"I, uniquely, was brought into this project directly after the showrunner," Jupiter's Legacy costume designer Lizz Wolf tells SYFY WIRE. "Netflix and the showrunner saw value in the costume designer being an integral part of this world's development. It just makes sense on a show like this, where costumes play such a major role that we were involved."
Jupiter's Legacy, an adaption of a 2013 comic of the same name by Mark Millar with art by the great Frank Quitely, follows a group of individuals who travel to a mysterious island in 1929 and obtain fantastic superpowers (and costumes to go with it). They form a team called The Union, and 90 years later, they're still attempting to save the day — but times have changed, and their kids, the second generation of heroes, might disagree with the old guard's way of doing things. Although you can see familiar superhero tropes and archetypes, as one might expect, Jupiter's Legacy is a totally original tale. That posed a bit of a challenge for Wolf.
"This is not like inheriting a Marvel or a DC project where you've got things very much mapped out for you, and you lean into that," Wolf says. "This had to be developed literally from the ground up."
There was a template for Jupiter's Legacy in the original comic, but bringing the drawn costumes to three-dimensional life wasn't a simple translation. Quitely, the artist behind the comic, has a very distinctive style — a combination of extremely detailed fine lines with wider, more minimalist use of color. The Utopian, the leader of The Union (played by Josh Duhamel in the show), wears a costume that's almost all white aside from a flat red cape and chest emblem. It's a classic, Golden Age sort of costume that's beautiful on the page, but might not translate to live-action quite so well.
"That character really offered a particular challenge for us. He's this archetypical comic books silhouette, and he's all in white and it was really daunting," Wolf recalls. The Utopian needed to come across as a powerful, indestructible force and like "an Oracle," given that it was his vision that led his fellow would-be heroes to the island in the first place, and it's his vision of what heroism looks like that's still the ideal.
"That's hard to do with, you know, an all-white dude," Wolf admits. The solution? Add texture to what comes across as flat-white fabric in the comic — but it can't just be noise for noise's sake. Anything Wolf added to the original costume design still had to come from a character-based place. "We developed graphics that were like inspired by celestial and nautical maps that really corroborate who Sheldon is. It's Sheldon's Odyssey to the island."
The costumes on Jupiter's Legacy are full of details and embellishments like this. A viewer probably won't fully notice them or appreciate how specific they are, but they make the costumes feel authentic. Wolf says she was inspired by black line tattoos, mathematics, somatics, and amateur micro-photography of ice crystals and other natural patterns, among other things. She took these inspirations and crafted "distinctive totems that were integrated to each one of the Union members' suits."
Wolf explains that each of these motifs "basically became each one of the characters' sacred geometry, if you will."
"We felt like, because these heroes experience an event in which they are imbued with these superhero powers, that was really vital to making sure that what was ever on their suits made sense that it was some kind of alien technology," Wolf adds.
Even with the complexities, many of the costumes in Jupiter's Legacy feel slightly more "classic superhero" than more modern live-action costumes might. That makes sense — these heroes are intentionally in the mold of a classic, Golden Age superhero found in comics from the late '30s, '40s, and early '50s, and the show's core tension comes from how these old-fashioned heroes operate in a modern world. Plus, in the fiction of the show, the original members of the Union did get their costumes in 1929.
"These costumes had to last a lifetime. They then inspire an entire new generation," Wolf says, explaining that that just increased the stakes for her as a costume designer even more. "So there's a lot of work that has to go into all of that because you can't just riff off what's been done before."
Wolf has done costume design for other big genre titles in the past, including The Expendables movies and Pacific Rim: Uprising. But, this was her first time tackling superhero costumes.
"Knowing that the seminal work of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely was being bestowed upon me, I really felt like not only did I have to strap myself in for the ride of a lifetime, but this was a big responsibility," she recalls. "I just knew that we had to bring our A-game. You know, go big or definitely go home."
Wolf, who was involved in making Jupiter's Legacy from almost the very beginning, did not go home. As a result, all six members of The Union — along with every other hero on the show — were dressed to the nines.
Season 1 of Jupiter's Legacy is now streaming on Netflix.