Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 127 (6/10) -- Calamity Jack by Shannon & Dean Hale and Nathan Hale

This is a sequel to Rapunzel's Revenge, by the same team -- written by novelist Shannon Hale with her husband Dean; illustrated by non-relation Nathan Hale (who isn't the famous dead Nathan Hale either, obviously) -- though it actually begins before the character of Jack appears in Rapunzel, to give him some background. (I reviewed Rapunzel at the beginning of one of my comics round-ups early last year; I read it as part of the massive pile of stuff I plowed through as an Eisner judge -- and it was a wonderful discovery.)

Calamity Jack is another retold fairy tale, like Rapunzel; Jack is the giant-killing beanstalk-climber, though here the story didn't unfold precisely as the legend would have it. Jack is a Native American-looking young man -- though that's never explicitly remarked on, remaining as an odd bit of subtext here -- in a steampunky city somewhere slightly more civilized than the wilderness where Rapunzel grew up (and met Jack, and overthrew the wicked witch posing as her mother). There are a variety of fantasy races here, most notably pixies (like Jack's partner-in-crime Prudence) and the giants (about fifteen feet high or so, led by the malevolent and bone-chewing Blunderboar).

Jack is a mischevious child, and grows into a scheming and law-breaking young man -- generally with the aim to raise enough money to get his widowed mother's bakery out of debt, but also generally without enough planning acumen to bring those schemes to fruition. And so he does, at the end of the first, introductory, section, raise a beanstalk, sneak into Blunderboar's floating mansion, and steal a goose that lays golden eggs, but the beanstalk ruins his mother's bakery (among much else) along the way, and he's forced to light out for the territory.

Between chapters, the events of Rapunzel happen, and then Jack returns to the city, with Rapunzel, to use a supply of golden eggs to help his mother and make everything right. But they find that Blunderboar has found a fiendish new way to tighten his grip on the city, and that Jack is a wanted fugitive. They do find a few allies, though, and, as heroes must, do find a way to confront evil.

The adventure-story aspects of Calamity Jack work perfectly well, though the budding romance with Rapunzel -- which proceeds almost precisely as the same element did in the earlier book, as if that book hadn't happened -- is more cliched and obvious. Jack is also somewhat more generic as a lead character than Rapunzel was, and without the "girl power" aspect of the first book, Calamity Jack is just a good fractured fairy tale. That's nothing to sneeze at, of course, but the first book was more special and interesting than that -- so I hope the Hales light out for an entirely new story the next time out, and find some other fairy-tale heroine who they can make more active and strong in the pursuit of her own destiny.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Titus Andronicus - Upon Viewing Bruegel's Landscape With The Fall of Icarus
via FoxyTunes

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