This week, instead of looking at a miniseries, we’ll take a look at a single issue of a series starring one of comicdom’s greatest adventurers of all time: Jack Horner!

“The devil gets a kickback every time you purchase a copy of…”

JACK OF FABLES #16
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Matthew Sturges
Published by Vertigo Comics (Dec. 2007)

Jack O’ Lantern: In which we take a short time-out between our last epic arc and the next one to tell you a spooky little tale just in time for All Hallows’ Eve is how the title page reads for this issue where Jack recounts the time he was Jack O’ Lantern and was doomed to walk the earth, neither dead nor alive.

The stories before and after this issue don’t matter, so I’m not going to get into the overall of what was happening at the time. All you need to know is Jack was the lovable jerk in the Fables Universe. He cares only for himself and what he can do to make himself better in fact or fiction and it doesn’t matter who gets burned along the way.

In this story we go back to the Homelands of the Fables where a younger Jack meets Old Scratch, a guy in a devil outfit who isFables trapped in a tree surrounded by Christian Crosses.  Old Scratch asks Jack to remove some of the crosses so he can escape the tree. Naturally, Jack doesn’t think it’s a good idea but Old Scratch makes him an offer: remove enough crosses to let him escape and no matter what evil deeds Jack does during life, he will never enter Hell for them.

Jack thinks this is a great idea because if you aren’t allowed in Hell, then Heaven is the only place you can go, right? Well, not really. After years of being Jack, he’s finally caught and beheaded and goes to Heaven where he learns that he isn’t allowed in there either. Seems Old Scratch didn’t make the deal Jack was hoping. He won’t go to Hell but can’t get into Heaven. He returns to the land of the living neither dead nor alive.

This is where a new legend begins. Old Scratch give Jack a piece of hot coal to light his way back to the land of the living. Once there, he decides he need something to hold the coal because, well, it’s bloody hot! Being in the right place at the right time, Jack liberates a carved pumpkin that some guy on a horse was using for a head, he puts the coal inside the pumpkin and becomes Jack Of The Lantern!  Being neither dead nor alive, it becomes difficult to do any drinking or womanizing on any day but Halloween, when people think he’s wearing a costume.
It was on one specific Halloween that Jack learns that there many versions of the devil, Old Scratch was just one of them. This begins a long quest of bartering his soul over and over to many different devils. Each would take the curse of the previous devil, add more centuries to Jack’s life in exchange for getting him when his time finally runs out.

Something that might be touched on in later Fables stories is the deal Jack made with the Devil of Bald Mountain. On top of the regular gross stuff devil’s want to make you do, he also offered up the soul of his first born son. Jack readily agrees not realizing he had a son with the Frost Queen.  And so it goes. Jack has hundreds of years added to his life but also added many tortures in many hells when his day of doom finally arrives.

While re-reading this I was quickly reminded how much I enjoyed this character. He’s a jerk, a total knee-biter*, but so much fun. When his series ended he was killed….makes me wonder which hell he’s in now.

Anyone who likes Fables needs to check this series out. It ran for fifty issues and has been completely collected in trades. This issue was one of many that tied this one guy into the myths and legends of anyone named Jack. The fun is how he just walks into it without any forethought  or desire to create a new legend surrounding his name.
Check out the last installment: Supernaturals
*bonus points if you get the reference!