Friday, February 1, 2013

Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale

So, back in October, we read Rapunzel’s Revenge, in which Rapunzel is a Wild West-esque, braid-lasso-wielding, kick-ass cowgirl, who teamed up with Jack (of beanstalk fame) and went off on adventures. And in this follow-up graphic novel, the team is back to give us that Jack’s story.

Jack has been poor most of his life. His mother owns a bakery, and Jack has spent most of his young life getting into trouble. He discovered at an early age that he had a talent for developing schemes, and that those schemes could get him things. After his father died and business continued to go downhill, Jack’s schemes became more and more elaborate, trying to do right by his mother by lying, cheating, stealing, and tricking his way through the city.

Now, it so happens that a giant, a thoroughly unpleasant fellow by the name of Blunderboar, likes to terrorize Jack’s mother, specifically by bringing her his own “special” flour with which to make his bread. He then usually refuses to pay for it, which of course incenses Jack. So he decides to come up with a scheme to handle Blunderboar once and for all.

Blunderboar lives in a floating penthouse high above the city, and Jack goes to do some reconnaissance, discovering that Blunderboar has his penthouse guarded by a jabberwock among other things, and they’re going to need something special to get inside.

And so, this Jack sells his “cow” – his father’s calfskin jacket – and uses the money to buy magic beans that are supposed to create a giant beanstalk immediately. So he plants one, but when nothing happens, he’s sure he’s been cheated, so he throws three of the others away in disgust, but keeps one to remind himself of his foolishness.

But then, he’s awoken by a terrible rumbling, and he sees that the bean has grown, it just took a bit of time. He climbs up the stalk that now leads to the penthouse, and slips inside. Once in, he hears the giants talking about the goose that lays golden eggs, and he decides that such a goose will be payment enough for his endeavor.

But as he makes his way back down, the goose is discovered missing, and Jack is caught, and the beanstalk is also till growing, and its roots are destroying his mother’s shop and boarding house. Jack knows he has to do something to stop it, so he grabs an axe and starts chopping away at it, hoping that killing th beanstalk will stop its growth. But there was a giant pursuing him down the stalk. Jack tries to warn him that the beanstalk is going to topple, but Eric the giant doesn’t listen, and is killed.

Things are bad for Jack. Because in this version, that isn’t the end of the story – that’s just all that happened to Jack before he met Rapunzel. He is forced to run for his life with nothing but the goose for company, a goose that refuses to lay eggs, until after his adventure with Rapunzel, at least.

Much like the Rapunzel narrative they told before, the actual fairy tale in question gets split up, with the bulk of it happening in the beginning, then other additional adventures happening in the middle, and coming back to the fairy tale in the end to tie things up. Jack and the Beanstalk as we know it takes up the first twenty or so pages, and then Jack goes off to other things.

But we come back to the narrative because where the original story honestly seems to end in the middle, this one comes back to answer all those unanswered questions. We get the loose ends tied up here. Jack has to answer for the killing of one of the giants, but more importantly, the giants have to answer for the way they treat the humans. Jack’s theft was about justice and about revenge, the murder of the giant mostly accidental, and something he did try to prevent.

Jack returns to the city, and everything is worse than when he left. It becomes the end of his story, therefore, to put things to rights, which is what he was setting out to do in the first place. The giant’s plot is exposed, the people are released from the giants’ tyranny, and Jack does live happily ever after, having learning that he can be one of the good guys despite his past.

So yeah, short review this month, but it’s a short book and I don’t want to bog down in details that aren’t specifically Jack and the Beanstalk, you know?

Anyway, checklist.

Define Jack? Very well. We see here a Jack who grew up surrounded by thieving and less than honest dealings, and so becoming a part of that world was the only way for a kid to survive, and Jack had a knack for it. But we also see his growth, the ways in which he’s trying to change. He realizes that his dealings were the result of truly poor choices, and that’s what I want out of Jack, to be honest. Growth. We get that here.

Tie in the mysterious man? Well, not exactly, but then in this version, we don’t need to. The beans aren’t this random plot device thrown at Jack – magic is an established part of the world, and magic is what Jack was looking for when he went to buy the beans. So because the beans themselves were tied in better with the world, the guy selling them didn’t need to be.

Explore the implications of the giants’ world? Here, it wasn’t really a separate world. It was shared with the humanfolk, and the giants were their oppressors.

Make the ending matter? Beautifully. Jack grows and the issues I have with the original story were all addressed. In fact, that’s what the bulk of the novel was for! Really well done, all the way around, and a lovely companion to Rapunzel’s Revenge.

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