Comic - Spring Heeled Jack

Susan Omand revisits a few old friends in new guises as she reads Spring Heeled Jack from Alterna Comics...

Spring Heeled Jack seems like an old pal to me, since I’ve encountered his story in several different formats before, such as the audio dramas from The Wireless Theatre Company and the beautifully pencil drawn graphic novel by David Hitchcock and Titan Comics, but I knew that, with Alterna Comics envisioning of the tale, I’d get something wonderfully different.

The story opens in Victorian London and a young woman answers a night-time knock at the door as the visitor claims to be from the police. Of course it is Jack at the door, not the police and, replete with red eyes and a flowing cape redolent of early Dracula, he chases the girl through the house before setting it ablaze.

Next morning, the real police attend the scene along with a consultant, one Mr Arthur Conan Doyle. The police officer tells Conan Doyle that the girl has survived but is very badly hurt and, together, they have a look at the crime scene. Having looked at the blood and scratches on the wall, conan Doyle visits the girl in hospital, to find she is barely clinging on to life. He asks her if she knew who did this and she whispers one word, “Jack”.

Cut to a station platform and Conan Doyle meets a friend off the train, whom he had messaged to come and assist on the case. Thus we are introduced to Doctor Joseph Bell, inspiration for Conan Doyle’s literary creation Sherlock Holmes, and the scene is set for an exciting and intriguing investigation. The myth of Spring Heeled Jack does not sit well with the blunt deductive logic of Dr Bell but still more vicious murder cases appear that he seems to have committed and they soon have a real suspect in mind...

I really liked the concept of Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Bell working on a Spring Heeled Jack case because it is well known that they are purported to have helped out the police on the Jack the Ripper case and the final showdown had a real action/adventure feel to it that I hav e come to expect in Spring Heeled Jack tellings. The written characterisations too were spot on, with Bell being Sherlock Holmes, all about observation, evidence and deductive reasoning, and Conan Doyle taking on the mantle of Watson, a voice of common sense when Bell’s logic fails.

This story was first presented as four separate comics which have been gathered into a single comicbook. The problem with this is that, even though the story by Tony Deans flows beautifully throughout, a change in artist for parts 3 and 4 (Seth Kumpf) from parts 1 and 2 (Martha Laverick), with such a radically different artistic style and approach to the characters, really took me out of the story for a while and it felt like I was setting forth to read something completely separate for the second half. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that any of the art was by any means bad, far from it, and it would have been fine in comics form with a month gap in between, just that the shift from the almost monochrome pinky/blue palette and sparseness of Laverick to the detailed bright colours and much older looking characters (even though there was no time differential in the story) of Kumpf on immediately adjacent pages made the story difficult to process for me, as the change was a real distraction although the level of background detail dropped again for the fourth part, which definitely helped.

If you’re a bit of a geek like me and know the legend of Spring Heeled Jack and understand the dynamic and history between Conan Doyle and Bell, you will pick up on the depth of writing in this collection as it all “makes sense” within its own internal logic and, even if you’re not, it’s a rip roaring adventure tale from Victorian London. In either case, just be prepared to accept the change in artwork midway through and you will enjoy it.

Image - Alterna Comics

Available from Comixology

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