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Cover to Jack Staff #3, artist Paul Grist
|Publisher||Image Comics, was Dancing Elephant Press|
|First appearance||Jack Staff (vol. 1) #1 (2000)|
|Created by||Paul Grist|
|Alter ego||John Smith|
|Abilities||longevity (maybe immortality), energy manipulation|
Jack Staff is a British superhero created by comic book writer/artist Paul Grist. Billed as "Britain's Greatest Hero", it is known for being in the style of an anthology title and for its multi-linear plotlines.
He first saw print in comics published by Paul Grist's Dancing Elephant Press, and is now published by Image Comics. Comics International began exclusive publication of a monthly four-page strip featuring the supporting character Ben Kulmer (the Claw); this started in #185 of the magazine and was set to run for twelve episodes. These strips have since been reprinted by Image Comics in a special.
Grist created Jack Staff basing on a story which he had written to make use of Marvel's Union Jack character, only to be rejected. He reworked the story to make it more of an original, self-contained comic that Grist published through his own press, Dancing Elephant Press. After twelve issues in black and white, Grist restarted the title with Image Comics, now with colour provided by Phil Elliot. Jack Staff comes out roughly three times a year.
What has also made the character very popular is Grist's use of many popular characters from British comics, some taken wholesale, others inspired by them. (See Supporting cast in Jack Staff)
A crossover is planned between this title and Invincible, with Grist drawing and Robert Kirkman writing, but their schedules have not yet allowed it. Jack Staff himself has already appeared in a cameo in an earlier issue of the title, at the memorial service for the slain Guardians of the Globe, and later appeared helping to defend the Earth from an army of other-dimensional Invincible doubles during the globe-spanning Invincible #60. A crossover with Savage Dragon was also planned, in which Dragon would have visited Castletown as part of a storyline in which he searched the world for his missing wife.
Fictional character biography
Jack Staff, Britain's Greatest Hero, has been active since at least World War II. While he has revealed he has been around since the Victorian Age and gained his powers there, its unknown if he was active as a superhero or similar adventurer. In his civilian identity, he works as a builder by the name of John Smith and has done since the 19th century.
During World War II, he was active with the Freedom Fighters, a group of American and British superheroes: Sgt. States, Blazing Glory, and Tommy Twister. During the war they defeated a vampire, Templar Richard, but not before Sgt. States also became a vampire (unknown to the rest of the team at the time). They also battled villains such as Kapitan Krieg and Brain Head.
After the war, Jack continued as a superhero in the UK. By the 1960s, he was helping a group called Unit D fight several menaces. After working to stop a British weapon of mass destruction, the Hurricane, in the early 1980s, Jack quit being a superhero. It has only been recently that Jack has come back as a superhero, fighting alongside Q, Commander Hawkes of the now defunct Unit D, Tom Tom the Robot Man, Becky Burdock: Vampire Reporter, and others.
Jack Staff was also an ally of the mysterious Mister Green, an entity working for/leading a cosmic force called "the Green", but severed his ties after the Hurricane incident. A slow-building subplot concerns an upcoming war, with "the Green" on one side and "the Red" on the other, and several of the comic's cast being recruited for it. Green has previously recruited Jack, and was recently revealed to have recruited Helen Morgan as well (and possibly more of Q through her) and taken Becky Burdock's old toy rabbit — or perhaps, in so doing, chosen Becky herself — to serve as a champion; a figure called the Man of Shadow is trying to recruit Becky. It's been hinted the Shadow and similar forces want to keep Becky & Jack apart. In The Weird World of Jack Staff #4, it was revealed Becky was indeed the prophesised champion who would save the world, and that Jack Staff's destined role was to keep her alive until then.
It has been noted by various characters (such as in Jack Staff Special #1) that Jack's record of success is a bit iffy; he often gets battered by supervillains and ends up in embarrassing or dangerous situations, such as being set up to be arrested by the Spider. In the future visions shown in Weird World, in the final battle he will be battered by the adversary; when the seers Professor Fate and Morlan the Mystic watch this battle, Morlan notes that Jack is incapable of defeating such a foe "but he's going to try anyway" (#3).
Powers and abilities
Agile and acrobatic, the only clearly defined power of Jack Staff is his ability to move energy. This has been shown by his moving energy into his staff to break through solid walls, or move the anger from Hurricane. This ability is never clearly defined with regard to where the energy is moved from, or what kind of energy is involved.
Jack appears to be either immortal or very long lived. He reveals that he has been around since the at least the Victorian era. He was active as Jack Staff during World War II up until the 1980s when he retired after the Hurricane incident. He looks no different today then he did during World War II. No further background on him has yet to be revealed, although in the twelfth issue of the second Image volume, there were hints of a connection with the "Eternal Warrior".
He has had dreams of some future threat, most recently in Jack Staff Special #1 — Becky Burdock is plagued by the same thing, though more frequently.
References in Jack Staff
Throughout the series, many characters appear that are based on other comic book characters, especially those from Britain. This may be confusing to those not familiar with them.
- Freedom Fighters, Sgt. States, etc. are loosely based on Marvel Comics World War II team, the Invaders. Sgt. States (America's Fighting Foot Soldier), is based on Captain America (with bits of Baron Blood added later), and his sidekick(es) Steve, the Star Spangled Kid is based on Bucky. Blazing Glory is either based on the Human Torch or Spitfire or a combination of both.
- "Alfred Chinard", also known as The Spider, is Grist's elderly version of the classic 1960s British comic book villain, The Spider, who starred in IPC Fleetway's weekly comics anthology Lion. "A. Chinard" is an anagram of "Arachnid." Once IPC Media became aware of Grist's unauthorized use of The Spider, they allowed him to continue but requested that Grist's version only be referred to as Alfred Chinard in future appearances. IPC Media publishing director Andrew Sumner stated (in an interview with comics news website Down The Tubes) that he is such a fan of Jack Staff and Grist's treatment of The Spider that he has incorporated Grist's portrayal of the ageing Spider into the official Spider canon (see The Spider checklist in Titan Books' archive collection, The King of Crooks).
- Captain Gust, also known as the Hurricane, is based on the classic British comic book hero, Captain Hurricane. The character also has much in common with Marvel's Hulk, and the military programme that created him, Project H, is reminiscent of the similar organisation associated with Marvel's Wolverine.
- General Tubbs is based on the classic British comic book hero, General Jumbo.
- The Claw, Ben Kulmer, is loosely based on the Steel Claw, another classic British hero. As the Steel Claw was a thief before becoming a secret agent, a major subplot for Kulmer deals with his criminal past from before he joined Q and the danger of him reverting. The Steel Claw was partly created by Ken Bulmer.
- An unnamed Adam Eterno made a cameo appearance in one issue, as the "Eternal Warrior" (later renamed "Cosmic Warrior"), lost in the timestream. He reappeared at the end of #11 (vol.2) and played a role in the next storyline through #12. He later reappears a number of times, including in January 2008's Jack Staff Special and his own The Eternal Conflicts of the Cosmic Warrior special in October, 2009.
- Charles Raven, Britain's Greatest Escapologist of the Victorian Age, is based on Janus Stark.
- Helen Morgan, a member of Q, mentions that she has a shard of something called the "Valiant Stone". This stone is based on the Eye of Zoltec, used by Tim Kelly in the Kelly's Eye comic strip, which appeared in Valiant between 1963 and 1971.
- Morlan the Mystic is loosely based on Alan Moore ("Moorealan").
- The mystery/thriller writer Iain M Angel is based upon (and an anagram of) Neil Gaiman, and his name is reminiscent of Iain M Banks.
- Maveryk's partner Detective Sgt. "Zipper" Nolan is a reference to Zip Nolan — Highway Patrol from Lion. The nickname Zipper was recently revealed to be from his childhood, where he was recruited by the Druid (an analogue of Marvel's Doctor Strange) to "zip in" and free the captured Lord Nod, ruler of dreams (who is a reference to Sandman's Dream).
- Maveryk himself is very much in the style of old Seventies television cops such as the characters from The Sweeney — he even refers to John Thaw, an actor from the show, as being ideal to play him in a hypothetical show of his life. His relationship with Zipper tends to play into a common dynamic in those shows with him as Thaw's character Jack Regan and Nolan as George Carter.
- The vampire hunters Bramble and Son are based on characters from the sitcom Steptoe and Son, one of whom was played by actor Wilfrid Brambell.
- Similarly, some of the soldiers shown in the World War II era episodes are based on characters from the sitcom Dad's Army.
- Becky Burdock's employer and publisher, Gerald Skinner, may be based, in part, on British comics personality and publisher Dez Skinn.
- The cover to #3 (Vol.1) was designed as a tabloid front cover, in homage to the covers of TV Century 21, while Paul Grist has noted #4's cover is advertently similar to Invaders #9 ("though obviously Captain America isn't a vampire").
- Characters who are important to the plot, but in a minor way and who are unlikely to appear again (such as a murder victim who kicks off an investigation), tend to be given the surname Noone ("no one").
- Becky Burdock, Vampire Reporter has a highly similar name to Marvel character Betsy Braddock.
- John Smith (the lead character) is also a well advertised brand of beer in the UK 'John Smith's Yorkshire Bitter'.
- John Smith is also the most commonly used pseudonym of British Science Fiction hero The Doctor of the long running television show "Doctor Who".
- Jack Staff is a nautical term for a flag pole at the front of a ship used for displaying the 'Union Jack'.
- Jack Staff (vol. 1) #1-12 (Dancing Elephant Press, April 2000 – December 2003)
- Jack Staff (vol. 2) #1-20 (Image Comics, February 2003– October 2009)
- Eternal Conflicts of the Cosmic Warrior #1 (Image Comics, October 2009)
- Weird World of Jack Staff #1-on (Image Comics, January 2010- on)
The comics have been collected into trade paperbacks:
- Yesterday's Heroes (collects Jack Staff (vol. 1) #1-4, Dancing Elephant Press, April 2002, ISBN 0-9542264-0-2)
Image Comics has also collected the comics:
- Volume 1: Everything Used to be Black and White (collects Jack Staff (vol. 1) #1-12, 352 pages, March 2004, ISBN 1-58240-335-X)
- Volume 2: Soldiers (collects Jack Staff (vol. 2) #1-5, 160 pages, November 2005, ISBN 1-58240-392-9)
- Volume 3: Echoes of Tomorrow (collects Jack Staff (vol. 2) #6-12, 200 pages, January 2007, ISBN 1-58240-719-3)
- Volume 4: Rocky Realities (collects Jack Staff (vol. 2) #13-20 and one-shot Special, March 2010, ISBN 1-60706-148-1)
There is a one-shot collection of shorter stories:
- "The Weird World of Jack Staff King Size Special" (collects Jack Staff strips from Comics International #185-191, 193-199, one-shot, Image Comics, July 2007)
- 2001: Won "Favourite British Small Press Title" Eagle Award
- 2004: Nominated for "Favourite British Small Press Title" Eagle Award
- 2007: Nominated for "Favourite Colour Comicbook — American" Eagle Award