Springheeled Jack is an English urban legend from the Victorian era, a creature that has become something of a bogeyman over the years. Scores of descriptions of the creature were published in the newspapers of the time, but the mystery was never solved. David Hitchcock has taken these legends as the starting point for his gothic tale of an extraterrestrial threat to the people of London and all of Earth, and what he has created from these fragmented tales is great piece of writing.
The main character of the piece, Sir Jack Rackham, is the “sole benefactor of Bethlehem Lunatic Asylum.” Jack’s wife, Evelina, abducted by a sinister creature nearly a year ago, and since that point he has collected tales of the weird and unexplained from the press, somehow sure that they are not sensationalized works of fiction but actually statements of fact that will lead him to his wife’s kidnapper. He has become obsessed with this quest and his servants and friends fear for his sanity as a result. All too soon it becomes apparent that Rackham is on to something when his friend Dr. Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll) finds something sinister wrong in the royal family: Prince Albert is suffering from unusual symptoms and Queen Victoria is deathly afraid for her royal consort. Rackham and Jekyll’s hunt begins in earnest, and in their pursuit of the truth they find out that the problem is far greater than they imagined.
The story takes off a little slowly, and doesn’t really reach full speed until halfway through the book. I think this is partly due to the presence of Dr. Jekyll. I appreciate how Hitchcock uses the alien threat to explain Jekyll’s conversion into Mr. Hyde, but the character never really comes into his own: it feels like Hitchcock fell in love with the idea of Jekyll but wasn’t really able to use him to his full potential. As a plot device, Jekyll is more of a stumbling block for the action and the other characters. It’s not until he is gone from the story that we really get to know Jack Rackham and understand the threat that’s facing Earth.
Whatever is lacking from the storyline is more than made up for in the artwork. Hitchcock is an excellent artist who not only has a keen eye for portraiture but also appears to have some training in architecture—his drawings of Victorian England are nothing short of amazing. The black and white drawings evoke the feel of an old movie about Jack the Ripper, with possible threats looming in every shadow. His eye for detail is incredible, and in some of the panels I found myself as fascinated by the minor details in the background as I was with the action going on in the foreground. Like a gothic Where’s Waldo, the longer you look at these images the more you find. I loved the sketchbook section in the end; it was an added treat that affords a look at Hitchcock’s fascinating artistic process.
Although the story took a little long to get where it was going and the ending didn’t answer all my questions, the captivating artwork more than made up for it. I give Springheeled Jack 4 out of 5 Lightning Bolts.
Writer/Illustrator: David Hitchcock
Publisher: Titan Comics
Format: Graphic Novel
Release Date: 9/9/14