Jack Zero was a hero; he was a legend. The mythical tales about him were written for the dime novels, which were avidly consumed by the passionate readers of the early 20th century. Jack was an unbelievably great shot, able to shoot the end off of a cigar from across a room and able to kill a fly hovering above a person's head. But all the shooting prowess in the world couldn't make Jack Zero, the Crackerjack Shot, into a hero. Jack may have become a legend, but he was a deeply flawed man — callow, easily manipulated, and inept at pretty much everything but his actual shooting ability. Reality and fiction collide in these stories, as we watch Jack Zero very reluctantly become a legend.
One of the great things about the Internet circa 2012 is that even some of the most obscure comics of the past are resurrected, rereleased, and made available to fans to consume and enjoy all over again — or for us to find works that they never even knew existed.
The latest very welcome comic to add to this resurrection trend is Joel Blumsack and Arnold Pander's Jack Zero: Crackerjack Shot, which originally ran as a five-part series in Dark Horse Presents a dozen or so years ago. Now available in digital form as individual downloadable self-published chapters, this series delivers a story that is full of action and adventure, with a compelling and deeply flawed lead character, and set in a wonderfully vivid classic Western setting.
Jack Zero is indeed a crackerjack shot, but that well-honed ability does nothing to help his life. In fact, that amazing shooting ability is really the gateway to all the problems that he experiences. After Jack is recruited to be a member of a Wild West Show — despite the fact that he's never been west in his entire life — our hero is dragged into a series of events that would try the soul of any man.
After a breathtakingly horrible incident at a lynching, Jack falls under the influence of a manipulative woman and soon finds himself on a train to Oregon, where he finds that everything that he expected to find in that remote location was very much a lie, and the events placed him into a life-and-death battle with some very mean men.
Jack's story could only end in tears, as a 19th century tragedy, and a lot of what makes this collection of stories so compelling is how the stories relentlessly, and quickly, march towards the tragedy. Each chapter is dense with incident but moves in a nicely patient forward motion. Though a lot happens in each chapter, the book moves at a calm and intelligent pace, rich with incidents that give the reader a lot to chew on.
It's in the small incidents that this story really comes to life, as Arnold Pander's vivid and intense artwork gives the story a real sense of inevitability and intensity. The scenes that take place on the train traveling west to Oregon, for instance, have a gritty and dirty Old West field that reminded me of the best revisionist Westerns of the late '60s onward. I loved the way that Pander draws the desperately clueless attitude of the men shooting buffalo out the window of the train just for fun — they're so much of their time, so vividly relics of an old way of thinking, that they're absolutely fascinating to see.
The most exciting and beautifully drawn scenes take place in chapter five. Pander's sepia-toned shading emphasizes and deepens the intensity of the villains' attack. There are some moments in that section of the story that wonderfully accentuate the intensify the drama of the scenes, as the brightness of the flames from the fires places the faces of our heroes and villains in vivid intensity. That, combined with a page layout that does still more to intensify the scenes, makes the final chapter a real seat-of-the-pants drama that concludes with a shocking bit of business and an inevitable but terrible ending.
I'm really excited that this intense and tremendously entertaining Western is now back in print and available for fans at a very reasonable price. Though each chapter is only eight pages long, the energy and intensity, craftfulness and thoughtfulness of each chapter shines through. Jack Zero is now available as a digital download at a very reasonable price per issue.