Mighty Jack: Exciting action and sensitive presentation of theme and character

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke children's comic book reviewsMighty Jack by Ben Hatke comic book reviewsMighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack (2016) is YA/MG graphic story by Ben Hatke, author of the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy (highly recommended. btw). Here Hatke has a lot of fun with the Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale, though fair to say you’ve probably not seen a version like this.

Mighty Jack is set in modern times, with Jack the young son of a hard-working single mother. His little sister Maddy doesn’t talk (she’s presented as on the autistic spectrum), at least, she didn’t until one day at the local flea market when she prods Jack to trade the family car for a box of seeds from a strange individual. As one might imagine, mom is none too thrilled when she hears about this, and after filling out a stolen car report with the police (their car is later found several counties away), she tells Jack she needs more support from him, more of a sense of a responsibility, and more help in taking care of his sister.

That last task becomes more difficult thanks to the bizarre garden that grows from the seeds Jack and Maddy plant. Mighty Jack by Ben HatkeIt’s not just that the plants are funny looking and often huge, but they’re also mobile and, as days pass, grow more dangerous, moving from flinging mud to chomping on legs. A new girl down the street, Lily, gets involved; there’s a dragon, and something mysterious at the garden’s center that is coming to the surface. All of which will challenge Jack, his sister, and their new friend in unexpected ways.

Mighty Jack moves quickly and has lots of action, though the chase/fight scenes are nicely balanced with quieter, more intimate and emotional moments between brother and sister, mother and son. Hatke gently explores coming-of-age themes centering on responsibility, family obligation, dealing with the consequences of one’s actions, and making hard decisions.

The artwork, meanwhile, is delightful, with Hatke richly mining the potential of the fantasy plants, giving us stalks that look like hands reaching for the moon as they grow high, little onion-shaped creatures, and melons with gaping maws.

Young readers will eat up the fast pace and brightly colored (coloring done by Alex Campbell and Hilary Sycamore) illustrations, while hopefully internalizing some of the deeper themes. Parents will be well advised to have book two (Mighty Jack and the Goblin King) on hand, as Mighty Jack ends with a cliffhanger.

Published in 2016. Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk―to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made. In Mighty Jack, what starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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One comment

  1. This looks very good. I’ve never heard of it, and while I’ve heard of Zita the Space Girl, from your reviews actually, I’ve never read them.

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