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Calamity Jack

Review

Calamity Jack

written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

Jack has always been one for his schemes, but they never seem to go the way he wants them to. When his biggest scheme of all --- getting back at the giant Blunderboar for a slight to Jack’s momma --- goes terribly awry, Jack hightails it out of town. Anyone who has read the Hale crew’s first graphic novel, RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE, knows what happened to Jack next, when he met up with a certain spunky girl and her braids. This story, though, is what occurs after their adventures in that book. Jack and Rapunzel decide to head into the big city to locate Jack’s mother, but they soon find that the troubles Jack ran from have only gotten worse. Now is the time for Jack to decide what kind of man he is going to be if he ever wants to be worthy of his Rapunzel.

The Hales’ world-building is a thing of wonder. Part steampunk and part fairy tale, their characters roam through a world that resembles the western United States in the late 1800s. Alongside the pixies, brownies, giants, Jabberwockies and such are a multicultural mix of humans, with Jack recast as Native American. (That casting is a particularly apropos touch when you think of the host of Native American trickster stories. Fairy tale Jack has more than earned his place alongside such luminaries as Coyote.) There is a prototype radio (called an “omniphone”), a train (“iron horse”) and other details that nicely flesh out the stage upon which the action occurs. And action there is aplenty. From an invasion of ant people to a train-car-to-train-car escape from danger to a mid-air struggle on the nose of a dirigible, the Hales serve up a lot of action, keeping readers eager to see what scrape Jack is going to land in next.

For those who haven’t read the first book, there isn’t much development of characters except for Jack. In some respects, that is a good thing. This is his story, and his worries, doubts, fears and mistakes take precedence. A realistically flawed character, he wants what he wants and doesn’t always know the best way to get it --- or how to deal with not getting it. His affections for Rapunzel are touching, especially as he worries that he isn’t good enough for her. Unfortunately, if you haven’t read book one, then not quite enough of Rapunzel’s character comes through in this book to allow you to know why Jack loves her and yet is also awed by her. Two other secondary characters --- Jack’s pixie friend Pru and a newspaperman’s overeager son --- are also not developed enough to make them truly stand out as distinct people, which makes Pru’s actions later on harder to believe. But fans of Rapunzel’s first story will like the budding romance between her and Jack, and will appreciate that “happily ever after” sometimes takes more work than the fairy stories would have you believe.

Readers will still be caught up by Shannon and Dean Hale’s terrific use of language and good sense of pacing. They know when to allow humor to appear and when to allow a character a moment of self-reflection. They understand the comic medium and use it to its fullest potential, never making the mistake of allowing their words to say too much at a time in which Nathan Hale’s art could be doing the work. For his part, his art walks the fine line of being terrific for younger readers and yet not too young for older ones. He takes his characters seriously, even the fantasy ones, so they all come across as actual people. Children in grades 5 and up will thrill at Jack and Rapunzel’s most recent adventures, though librarians should be sure to have volume one ready just in case their readers haven’t seen it. Together the two novels are a great start to a terrific series, and readers will be eager to see what mishaps befall Jack and Rapunzel in books to come.

Reviewed by Snow Wildsmith on January 5, 2010

Calamity Jack
written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

  • Publication Date: January 5, 2010
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
  • ISBN-10: 1599900769
  • ISBN-13: 9781599900766