By Ben Hatke
Respinning fairy tales to work in different ways, is a precarious position to place yourself in. Here, in Mighty Jack the latest from Ben Hatke, it plays both ways. To his credit, he’s working with a lot of Jacks: Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the beanstalk, to name just two. To his detriment, the same could be said. By focusing on an idea that has apparently been around since 2006, Ben comes out just under the five star rating radar, infusing his own take on a timeless tale told in modern times,
Storywise, as a self-contained unit, Mighty Jack holds its own, giving a modern day Jack a magical realm to work in while at the same time catering to modern sensibilities. While this is a great approach in theory, in practice, it often falls short of the mark – a ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ syndrome all over again. Luckily, there is enough emphasis placed on the magical aspect of fairy tales that save this from spiralling out of control. The beans Jack gets (in exchange for his mother’s car keys) provide that bridge that saves this graphic novel from drowning (he gets the car and keys back). Within the garden, anything is game, and the sheer adventure of it all pushes back the intrusion of the mundane. This is also, to my knowledge, the first multi-part graphic novel that Hatke’s embarked on, so the verdict is still out until the final installment.
As far as characters are concerned, this is one of the largest casts I’ve had the pleasure of watching Ben Hatke engage in. From Jack, to his ‘special’ sister Maddie, to Lilly – the “next door neighbor” – to Jack’s mother and more, it’s hard to get a good read on any of the characters, especially as they cross from the magical to the mundane; even the dragon appears out of place (not that, outside of a fairy tale, dragons are to be expected). All of the characters are given a voice, but when it comes down to the “voice” of fairy tales, they somehow fall flat. Mind you this is the first, I believe in a series (as it ends rather abruptly), so there will be more opportunity to explore the characters in more depth in later installments. In terms of the relative set-up it’s there, just not fully inflated.
The artwork, on the other hand, is atypical of Ben Hatke recent works. Taking a more “realistic” look at the world, he draws on more mundane facets of the scenery, like gas stations, and household meals. Only in Jack’s garden, does the familiar playful line work grace the page, bringing it all back home. In fact, the dualities in style are remarkable, and well deserved of praise. After all, it must be difficult to go from a two job mother taking care of the kids to a frenzied battle against the denizens of the garden (the nasty onions are a favorite of mine). As I’ve said, this is the beginning of an epic, and it can only get better from here !
Overall, fans of fairy tales, modern reinterpretations of such tales, and fans of Hatke’s earlier work, will find themselves a gold mine here, just not a complete one. As with most beginnings, this deserves the readers careful attention as the series will most definitely pick up. This is new ground for Hatke and his followers, a series, and I for one am in for the long haul, as should you.