The Webcomic Overlook #96: Jack
Oh, Lord, the things I do for this site.
Inevitably people ask me, “I you hate a webcomic so much, why don’t you read something else and leave this poor comic alone?” The question is usually phrased less fluently, and the spelling is usually more atrocious, but that’s the gist of it. The answer to that question is rather complex. I, in fact, wrote an entire essay on it, cover such things as increased readership, a verbalization of what to look for, and, my favorite, revenge.
There’s one other reason that I didn’t cover in my essay: the triple-dog double dare.
Not too long ago, a loyal reader of The Webcomic Overlook suggested that I ransom my mental sanity by actually reading and reviewing Jack. I won’t reveal his name, but he does write a comic I like where a green haired girl runs around totally starkers. (And it’s pretty good, too … surprisingly.) This reader was quite likely Lucifer himself. I swear I smelled the faintest whiff of brimstone as I was reading his e-mail.
However, against my better judgment, I decided to take him up on this challenge. To quote Nathan Rabin: “I was motivated by the purest, most powerful impulse known to man: the need to prove myself intellectually to an anonymous stranger on the Internet.” So I did some stretches, a couple deep breaths as prescribed by my sexy lady trainer on the Wii Fit, and plunged into the world of Jack.
The following is a sordid recollection of what happened next.
WARNING: The content below is definitely not kid-friendly, and is most likely not safe for work. Let’s just say if you click on any of the links, and your boss decides to send you straight to a company licensed psychiatrist, then it was your own damn fault.
The comic, written by David Hopkins, has evolved to be the webcomic shorthand for the worst comic ever. When I hinted that I was reviewing one of the most awful comics in history, a few of you correctly guessed that the comic in question was Jack. The entire oeuvre is daunting for even the most ironclad of stomachs. Before going on hiatus, Reconstructing Comics had considered mocking it, yet the content was so maddeningly distasteful that she opted to joke about a less offensive (yet still terrible) comic with the same title. (“Originally I intended to tackle the “famous” Jack but reading the archives was like pouring boiling lead directly into my brain, painful and confusing….”) Posting Jack is right up there with goatse.cx and Two Girls One Cup as really nasty tricks you spring on your Facebook friends. Even furries likes to pretend that this webcomic does not exist.
Still, Jack has its defenders. Among its staunchest are the commentors on The Webcomic List. Here’s a smattering of testimonials:
“This comic made me cry, which is an accomplishment since I don’t really cry except for really REALLY sad movies.”
“Its astonishing with the story line and how he draws characters in the dark. Its horrific beyond anything I’ve ever read, and quite shocking. This comic really inspried me to start drawing furries because his work I noticed was very detailed.”
“One of the best comics, I have ever read.”
“I got hooked on the whole thing and was almost in shock when I reached the middle of a story only to find out that was as far as the author had got so far. Excellent artwork, great story..”
I must be reading a different Jack, because the one I read is goddamn revolting. It is the HMS Abomination setting sail upon the Sea of Loathesomeness. I want to rip my brain out of my skull and stomp out the memory of ever having read the epic repulsiveness that is Jack.
Jack, the star of the webcomic, a large, brooding fellow who wears a big burlap sack. He looks like 90’s video game hero Jazz Jackrabbit if he were rolled around in the dryer for too long. He also lives in Hell, one that is populated exclusively by furries (save one).
The immortal, multitasking rabbit has two main jobs. First of all, he serves as his universe’s Grim Reaper. As per the typical Reaper modus operandi, he neither inflects death nor prevents it. Once someone shuffs the mortal coil — and in the world of Jack, this is usually through the most violent means possible — our Big Green Carpet Sample shows up, often with a forlorn expression usually reserved for sad unicorn posters. He then accompanies them to their not-so-final destinations. (The Jack theology allows for both a way out of Hell and reincarnation, which a surprising amount of characters opt for. Despite the Judeo-Christian trappings, Jack‘s world is really based on the Church of Pseudo-Bullshit.) Being the Grip Reaper comes with perks, by the way: despite being doomed to Hell, Jack enjoys a comfortable rapport with angelic beings.
Jack’s second job is as a sin. In the world of Jack, the Cardinal Sins (a.k.a. The seven deadly sins) are anthropomorphized. It turns out they were all people who were unspeakably terrible in the world of the living and must now spend eternity wallowing in their sin and tormenting others guilty of the same sin. Which, frankly, is pretty much living the good life in Hell. Jack is the sin of Wrath. How the personification of anger scores the Grim Reaper job, which I imagine demands some people skills, is never explained. Of course, this is a universe where God is a “whimsical” (i.e., insufferable) little sheep who prances around like Alanis Morrissette in Dogma … which probably explains why a lot of the rules regarding the afterlife make absolutely no sense.
(I seriously doubt that John the Baptist implied that God was an imbecile when he called Jesus the Lamb of God , but who knows?)
Naturally, as the hero of his comic, Jack is portrayed as sympathetic. As a result, he’s largely antagonistic toward his fellow sins — which, mind you, are pretty much only doing their jobs when they’re wallowing in their perdition. On the other hand, Jack, despite looking like a pile of seaweed, is the object of affection of at least two angels. Farrago, in particular, takes a keen interest in trying to reform Jack into heaven by exposing him to some long lost memories. (Just like a dame to try to change us men, amirite guys?) This serves two purposes. First, you achieve redemption by acknowledging that the bad things you did in life were wrong, and by completing that step you get to at least go to Purgatory. Second, like Superman, memory blocks can be manipulated via kissing… so Farrago had an easy excuse to get some quality time with her mangy hero.
I should mention that one of Jack’s flashback memories did throw me for a loop. Jack is apparently the Adam of the furry race. He’s a genetic creation of human scientists, created some time before mankind mysteriously disappeared. That was a pretty original twist to a webcomic that’s basically one giant morality play. Sure, Hopkins totally ripped the idea off the Planet of the Apes, but turning the first furry into both the Grim Reaper and a sin?
Pretty sneaky, sis.
I can understand why Jack doesn’t like hanging around the sins, since they’re all pretty gross. Drip (a.k.a., the sin of Lust) is probably the worst, what with his habit of laughing and defecating at the same time. Also, he’s often depicted with a bloody and shriveled up member, and apparently no one in Hell makes pants his size. There are other sins: Vince (Greed) gets to run some sort of empire; Bob and Lisa (Gluttony) sneak into the mortal plane to gobble up unsuspecting victims; and Kane (Envy) is a filthy, filthy human. (Boo!) Drip gets all the ink, though — the Joker to Jack’s Batman, only much, much lamer and more rapey.
However, the good guys are hardly the National Honors Society, either. For some reason, a mentally challenged little brat called Fnar stars in a good number of the stories. My guess is someone out there finds the guy and his babbling about peeing his pants to be cute. Me, I find the the beady-eyed little bastard the very definition of “odious comic relief.”
(Upon further reflection, a huge portion — not all, but a sizable amount — of my distaste toward Fnar is due to his eyes. In a later storyline, Fnar’s eyes get big and dewey, and he appears far less creepy. Ironically, this only happens after he’s molested by his dad. A fountain of joy, Jack is.)
Outside of the “mythos” stories, Hopkins includes unconnected tales about people in the world of the living who have to deal with death. The remind me of those cheap, badly acted 1980’s horror anthology series that used to air on HBO. All the characters are extremely one-dimensional. The good guys are righteous Mary Sues. They also tend to spend a lot of their timecrying in the most melodramatic fashion imaginable. On the other hand, the bad guys have their villiany ramped up on ludicrous levels. In one case, a doctor is not only sexually molesting his child patients, he also murders them, makes it look like an illness, and blackmails his assistant by refusing to cure his cancer-stricken wife unless he followed along. Man, Frank Miller would write that off as being too hokey.
These self-contained tales are also very, very tedious. One particularly painful 81 page story (which was also some sort of Better Days crossover) treated us to a bunch of characters getting offed one by one by hordes of aliens. Yes, despite everything else in Jack somewhat resembling the modern day, Hopkins takes an ill-advised foray into Starship Troopers territory. Slowly but surely, my braincells began to shut down. Other story arcs may be worse from a standpoint of taste, but it’s particularly excruciating to have to follow a bunch of nobodies who have no impact on any further story arcs.
Compounding the problem is that Jack is 1,325 pages long. Let me tell you, dear reader, that is a whole lot of crap to read through. A. LOT. OF. CRAP. More than once, I cursed my lot after finishing a chapter, only to have a longer, more turgid chapter waiting for me up ahead. Jack is the Bataan Death March of webcomics.
By the way, the art here is an eyesore. I’m surprised that the David Hopkins self-insert wasn’t an anthropomorphic chicken, because the pages are filled with chicken scratch. The action scenes are woefully inept, like this one where Jack’s supposed to be rising dramatically and ominously but instead looks like someone drew his head on a lunch bag. The lettering, which I should never, ever notice, are crooked and inconsistent. The vehicles look like there were drawn by someone who’s never even seen a car before. The only thing that can make this worse is if it were colored in crayon … wait, there it is.
And then there’s the dialogue. First off, there’s the tendency to use words like “fur” and “yiff” the same way the Smurfs interjected “smurf” for everything:
And then there are the attempts at edgy dialogue, which, frankly, are clumsy and laughable at best. These choice lines, for example:
“You know Drip was a fucking faggot? True story… swear to God. He even told me that fucking guys in the ass was better than fucking girls in the ass because hetero guys are more violated or some shit.”
Frankly, I’d like the see this dialogue show up in the mouth of a serial killer on CSI: New York some day. Just to see if Gary Sinise can hold a straight face through the entire exchange.
Now, when you’re doing something Hell themed, it only makes sense to include tons of gratuitously violent imagery. Heironymous Bosch did it. Dante Alighieri did it. And Metalocalypse does a pretty kick ass parody of how metal bands do it. David Hopkins also does it. So it sorta makes sense for him to indulge in some gruesome flights of fancy. Hopkins, however, has no clue how to reconcile his macabre imagery with his preachiness.
The violence is shamelessly pornographic. (And also regular pornographic, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.) Characters get mutilated in elaborate fashion. We get extended scenes where characters plea for mercy before they’re shot in the head. On one hand, Hopkins moralizes on how he’s only showing gruesome fates for serial killers, rapists, pedophiles, and hypocrites. On the other hand, he really knows that people are tuning in for the gratuitous violence, and he’s more than happy to deliver. By the time he gets to the conclusion — which is usually, “The guy was a creep so he got what he deserved” — you sorta gotta wonder whether the guy who spent pages drawing mutilations for the masses might, deep down, be siding with the dude suspended on his own intestines. (Also undermining any effort at being “dark”: everyone laughably looks like a badly drawn Tiny Toons reject.)
It’s no surprise, then, that Jack stories rank among the most repellent webcomic stories ever written. Everybody has a Jack story they hate. For some, it’s the comic about Columbine incident, which ends when a guy called the “NRA Preacher” (so Heaven is Libertarian, huh?) shoots the killer in the head, after which we are treated to a triumphant final panel where the killer is mercilessly sodomized. (Concluding tagline: “To be dedicated to the idea that everyone eventually gets what they earn.”) For others, it’s the suicide bomber story, a mystery where we have to sit the perverse secrets of five different people until we find out who the killer is. (SPOILER! It’s the Muslim pretending to be a peaceable refugee. Never trust those foreign bastards.) Yet, for others, it’s the one about a killer who not only mutilates a poor closeted lesbian, but also did quite a number on his own John Thomas.
But the one that gets me most is “Games We Play in Hell,” or, as I like to call it, the Rape Arena. It’s the kind of story where Hopkins is just daring us to be offended. (Or, more likely, turned on.) We start off on a good note, where our heroine, Silverblue, has breakfast, after which she rapes and kills a prisoner. Then she jacks off a huge demigod to get him in a good mood. After which she is then the victim of tentacle rape.
Ah, but we’re only getting started. It turns out that there’s a huge arena in the middle of Hell where the participants must perform for Vince, the Sin of Greed. Want to guess what happens there?
What can I say? Hopkins sure likes drawing rape.
(By the way, I suppose you can argue that the Rape Arena is Hell for the competitors. But it’s depicted as a spectator sport, where the stands are packed. If your skeezy lifestyle doomed you to Hell, how is watching a Rape Arena any sort of punishment?)
So is Jack the worst webcomic of all time?
Perhaps it’s the Stockholm Syndrome kicking in. Perhaps it’s because I’m hesitant to say that Jack is ever number one in anything, including at being terrible. Don’t get me wrong. Jack is awful, awful, AWFUL. I fully understand how the comic mentally fatigued and However, some of the stories, like “Those That Run,” were pretty tolerable … despite featuring a bunch of ghosts who try to look up a little girl’s skirt and a plot where people fly around like it was Dragonball Z. (Yes, I understand that’s analogous to saying leprosy is pretty tolerable if it wasn’t for all your limbs falling off. Still.) Hopkins is a far better storyteller when he isn’t trying to be edgy or plotting out the Tales from the Darkside episode of the day.
Besides, I think the Jack character himself isn’t that bad. (Checking… yes. Definitely Stockholm Syndrome.) Imagine this theoretical scenario: a murderous and particularly hirsute and lupine serial killer who ripped off his crotchfruits has a gun shoved up my ass, and he demands an answer as to which character I’d rather spend all of eternity with: Jack from Jack or Fisk from Better Days (reviewed here). For me, it’s Jack every time. Hopkins actually succeeded in making him an interesting character, with a backstory worth exploring. He is, at last, not an infallible John Galt. Jack deserves better than the comic he was doomed to appear in.*
You might say that Jack is Jack’s personal hell.
Rating: 1 star (out of 5)
* – In other words, your status is safe for now, Shredded Moose.