Hardcover, 208 pages
Expected publication: September 6th 2016 by First Second
Mighty Jack is Ben Hatke’s first foray into fairytale retelling and if Mighty Jack is anything to go by, I reckon I want to see Hatke retell all stories. I have been a fan of Hatke’s art and stories for a while now so I was reasonably confident that I would like this one but the graphic novel surpassed all my expectations which makes me super happy.
The secret to a successful fairytale retelling is in infusing the narrative with contemporary (or modern, whichever you prefer) elements and subverting problematic tropes or plots in a way that gives the story a freshness it didn’t have previously. In Mighty Jack, the protagonist belongs in a family containing his autistic kid sister and his single mom who is now working two jobs to make ends meet. Even though he’s a kid himself, circumstances collude to have Jack be the sole caretaker of his sister when his mother is at her jobs. School is out and hiring professional caretakers is more expensive than they can afford so Jack, a bit grudgingly, accepts responsibility for his sister.
His sister, Maddy, doesn’t speak as a rule but one day when they’re in the market looking around, she tells Jack to trade their car for a box full of seed packets. Jack is so surprised by her speaking that he does just that much to the anger (and consternation) of his mother. They get the car back but the seeds stay with Jack and Maddy. They make a garden one day and plant the seeds without their mother being aware of what they’re doing.
Their neighbour, Lilly, comes to help them garden and pretty soon they realize that the seeds they planted have yielded plants unlike any others they have seen before. There are huge gourd like fruits with actual teeth, vines that snake around your ankle, leafy hand-shaped plants that grab you and try to drag you somewhere you surely don’t want to go. Mandrake plants that move and other weirdness that make gardening a dangerous activity. Maddy is at her most animated and happiest in the garden and Jack fights his growing certainty that the garden may have been a bad idea.
Then he comes upon a dragon in the garden who tells him that this garden is going to place everything he knows and loves in danger. So Jack has to decide what to do before things get even more dangerous.
This was a fun ride and I enjoyed Mighty Jack immensely. Maddy is a mysterious character and I cannot help but feel that there is more to her than meets the eye. Lilly is also an interestingly flawed character who, rather than a sidekick, is a fully formed character. Jack could have been a stereotype but Hatke manages to make him an older brother trying to do the right thing even though he is far from the adult everyone seems to want to treat him as.
There is so much goodness in this graphic novel. So much life and story and I am glad it’s a series because Hatke has created a fascinating world with a compelling story that deserves a lot more than just one volume. Strongly recommended.