Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media–books, comics, movies, and television–to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
If you love horror and hate politics, then Sam Humphries (writer) and Tommy Patterson (artist) have got you covered. Collecting all six issues of the 2016 series from Image Comics, Citizen Jack tells the tale of a politician’s chaotic ride to the White House with the help of a little demonic influence.
If that sounds like a book that’s bending over backwards to make a statement about the Trump presidency, then…well, yeah. But stick with me here, anyway.
Whether you’re liberal, conservative, or just don’t care, Jack Northworthy is a wonderfully paradoxical character. On one hand, the dude is every corrupt or sleazy politician trope you can think of shoved into one disgusting, narcissistic package. That being said, Jack is still fascinating to watch, due in no small part to the character’s inexplicable ability to elicit sympathy.
Some of that is just plain good writing from Humphries. If you’ve ever watched a show like The Americans, then you know the feeling: Every so often it hits you that you’ve somehow been rooting for the Soviets over the good guys by virtue of wanting the story’s protagonist(s) to succeed.
But that sympathy also comes from the all tragedy we see in Jack’s life via his awful past and current meltdowns. None of it excuses any of his behavior, but it does help explain things a bit.
If all that sounds a bit too sad/serious, don’t worry. Humphries also does a great job bringing plenty of humor and horror to the proceedings, particularly through Jack’s demon benefactor, Marlinspike.
The demon is a near perfect blend of impish destructiveness and pure, focused evil. Unlike many stories in this vein, Marlinspike’s toll on Jack’s life and soul isn’t relegated to a reckoning at the end of their bargain. Instead, he endeavors to give Jack what he wants via the worst possible methods influencing his life in ways both large and small–all of which are ten different kinds of terrible.
Patterson’s art is excellent throughout most of the book, but the supernatural scenes–especially the ones featuring Marlinspike–are where he really shines. The demon’s intimidating form/stature and smug demeanor are a huge part of the aforementioned (and undeserved) sympathy Jack is able to garner.
Patterson’s art is also able to somehow toe the line between horror and comedy in a way that you don’t see very often. I’m honestly not 100% sure how to describe it, but it pretty much comes down to things looking both scary and funny at the same time without either mood intruding on the other. Imagine if the cinematography and effects in Shaun of the Dead were much scarier while everything was just as funny–Citizen Jack is the comic version of that.
One of the unsung heroes of Citizen Jack is Donna, Jack’s campaign manager. She’s gives us a more rational lens to view Jack’s insane behavior from, but the image is distorted by her own unbridled (and at times admirable) ambition.
Oh, and there’s a newscaster named Cricket who’s a talking dolphin. Don’t ask me how that works, but it totally does.
What Doesn’t Work
As good as Humphries is at blending horror and comedy, there are more than a few times that the tone shifts so abruptly that it might give you whiplash. It also makes you wish that he and Patterson had decided to make Citizen Jack a truly great story in one of those genres instead of simply a very good one in both.
Along those same lines, Citizen Jack can sometimes feel surprisingly grounded for a book involving a politician making a deal with a demon to be president…until the story spins completely off its axis into surreal territory.
I can accept a talking dolphin (because that’s both adorable and hilarious), but the narrative’s effectiveness deteriorates quite as bit once Jack heads into territory that even our current president would find appalling. Humphries did such a good job showing Jack’s rise in the polls via believable factors that it’s a shame he decided to portray most of the latter half of Jack’s campaign in a manner too ridiculous to even be considered satire.
There are also a few times where Patterson’s art doesn’t feel quite as crisp and polished as it does for the majority of the book. Although the entire book is gorgeous, it’s clear he enjoys drawing demons and supernatural nightmares more than campaign meetings (but you can’t really blame him there).
There’s also a scene near the end of the book where we get an inside look at the world Marlinspike inhabits when he’s not messing with ours. What should have been a tantalizing glimpse into another aspect of the story ends up feeling like a frustrating missed opportunity. I would have been fine with Marlinspike operating as an independent agent. Once I found out there was a much bigger story at play, however, I wanted much more than a few panels to elaborate on it.
One of the many reasons I stopped watching House of Cards was that it felt like politics in this country had become crazy enough to surpass the fiction of the Netflix series.
Citizen Jack is still far too outlandish to scratch my political entertainment itch, but it’s still a fantastic story that’s equal parts tragic, horrifying, and hilarious….
….and no matter what your political persuasion is, I think we can all agree that we’re better off without Jack and Marlinspike running the country.