"Springheeled Jack" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Titan Comics
Written and illustrated by David Hitchcock
2014, 128 Pages
Graphic Novel released on September 10th, 2014
There was once a time in this world where it was easy to believe in monsters. Hazy photos of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster spawned countless hours of debate about the origins of these mysterious creatures. It's a little harder to capture that sense of wonder in modern times thanks to things like HD photography and the Internet. That doesn't stop these things from entertaining us and it certainly didn't prevent David Hitchcock from creating a graphic novel entitled Springheeled Jack, looking into the strange monster that terrorized London in the mid-nineteenth century.
Springheeled Jack picks up in Victorian England with Sir Jack Rackham wallowing in sorrow after his wife was kidnapped and presumably killed by a freakish beast resembling a large cricket. The authorities don't believe him and they seem to have given up the search for his beloved. He's set out to find this beast by any means necessary, but that path spirals into madness. How far will he go to avenge the woman he loved?
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This would have been a cool enough idea on its own, however Hitchcock complicates matters by bringing in a number of tangential characters that don't add much to the mix. Dr. Jekyll shows up as Rackham's friend and confidant. His famed serum makes an appearance but doesn't add much to the overall story. There's an alien angle to the monster, hinting at a widespread invasion through the infection of human beings, but this isn't fully pursued. As such, Springheeled Jack spins out of control, picking up on seemingly random events happening in the area until the end (if you can call it that) is almost unrecognizable.
Hitchcock's black-and-white artwork really lends itself to the tone and setting of the comic. At times it feels as if you're reading an old manuscript that you've stumbled upon in a museum. He makes excellent use of shadows, showing just enough to intrigue you.
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Where Hitchcock really excels is in the design for the title character. Every time it appears on the page, it sends a shiver up your spine. It's a giant insect, a cross between a man, a cricket, and a cockroach. It never speaks and it breathes fire. Razor sharp wings shroud its sleek body. Anyone with a fear of bugs is going to be terrified by this thing.
There's a lot going on in Springheeled Jack. If the story was a bit more streamlined, focusing solely on Rackham, it would have come across better. Aside from the alien plot and Dr. Jekyll, there's also Rackham's pair of fake wings, an asylum filled with crazies that may or may not be aware of the aliens, a hero cop with nothing to lose, and Pandora's box. I couldn't tell you what all of those things have to do with the plot of the comic.