Saturday, 29 October 2016

Review: Spring Heeled Jack

Spring Heeled Jack

Anthony, being the awesome guy he is - his words - bought me a little Halloween present this week: David Hitchcock's loving take on that stalwart of Victorian folklore, Spring-heeled Jack.

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Who was Spring-heeled Jack?

Although there were a handful of proto-sightings, Spring-heeled Jack first made his true mark in October 1837, jumping out at a young servant girl on her way home through Clapham Common, half scaring her to death. Over the following weeks the strange, clawed man was seen in various parts of London, at one point jumping over a 9ft wall while laughing manically.

Spring-heel'd Jack - The Terror of London, 1867
From 'Spring-heel'd Jack: The Terror of London' (1867)

By January 1838 the creature - or those inspired by the stories, kind of like today's clown craze - had caused enough havoc for Sir John Cowan, the Lord Mayor, to start receiving complaints. Women were being frightened into hysterical fits by men in cloaks with devil red eyes, and sightings began to come in from across the country, helped along by the widespread press coverage of Jane Alsop, who was clawed by a man claiming to be a policeman on her own doorstep, and Lucy Scales, who had the dubious honour of being almost blinded by a man in a cloak who spouted blue flame.

Spring Heeled Jack in the Evening Express, 1906
Not all Jacks were as nimble - The Evening Express, 24/03/1906

Sightings, though infrequent, continued to be reported throughout the Victorian era. Not least because Spring-heeled Jack was the bogeyman of choice for our Victorian cousins. Seriously, he was everywhere. He was on the stage and in the Penny Dreadfuls, he was terrorising Punch and Judy and he was peering in through naughty children's bedroom windows. In fact, he could be looking in yours, right now...

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Springheeled Jack

Originally a three part mini series, Anthony got me the 2014 collected edition in hardback. It's great quality, and shows off Hitchcock's awesome gothic inspired art. I was especially impressed by his rooftop views of Victorian London; this one deserves to be in a frame or something:

Springheeled Jack by David Hitchcock

The story follows Sir Jack Rackham, chief benefactor of a lunatic asylum who is bring driven to madness himself. He is a near recluse when we first meet him, discredited and pilloried in the press for his claims that his beloved wife was snatched by a hideous clawed monster. But, with the help of some steampunk inspired gadgets and his good friend Dr. Jekyll, Rackham attempts to track down the monster - only to uncover more devilry along the way...

I really liked that Hitchcock turned the tale on its head by making Rackham's Springheeled Jack the hero, for all that the police believe he is their foe.

Springheeled Jack by David Hitchcock

If you're into Victorian horror, this story has it all. There are the sci-fi elements; the strange lights in the sky, and the mad scientists. It has the haunted asylum patients and the uncaring asylum attendants. It even has Prince Albert commit suicide rather than succumb to the monstrous transformation, followed by a royal cover-up with newsboys across the country calling out the horrors of typhoid fever. I love all the little nods to horror tropes and legends too, and there is a really cool little scene where Rackham's butler suggests he looks like a giant bat, to which he responds: 'Now that IS ludicrous... No one would ever take me seriously!' :D

My only real quibble is with the pacing. Towards the end it feels like it loses its way a litte, with plotlines left unresolved in the race to the finish line. Then again, you could chalk it up to Rackham's faltering grip on reality and just enjoy the gloriously illustrated ride!



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