Handsome Jack as presented in Borderlands 2
|First appearance||Borderlands 2 (2012)|
|Created by||Gearbox Software|
|Voiced by||Dameon Clarke|
Handsome Jack is a character in Gearbox Software's Borderlands video game franchise. Jack is the President of the Hyperion Corporation, which takes control of the planet Pandora; in his mind, he is the protagonist of the story, the heroic savior of everyone and that the world revolves around him. Created to be the main antagonist of the "villain-centric" Borderlands 2, Jack was conceived early on as a fellow Vault Hunter "frenemy" before being changed to an outright villain to make Borderlands 2 clearer. As the main antagonist, primary concerns fell on making him balance both the seriousness and humour of the game. Dameon Clarke was chosen as the voice for the character.
After his introduction in 2012's Borderlands 2, Jack appears again in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! and Telltale Games' Tales from the Borderlands. The Pre-Sequel! revolves around Jack's rise to power, while Tales features Jack as a hologram who gets injected into the mind of one of the game's protagonists.
Handsome Jack has received critical acclaim. Clarke won "Best Performance by a Human Male" at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards for his role.
Introduced as the president of the Hyperion Corporation, in his first appearance Jack and Hyperion have taken over the planet Pandora with Jack becoming a dictator, putting up propagandist posters of himself around the planet. Dialogue in Borderlands 2 establishes his past as a "code monkey", before taking credit for the Vault Hunter's actions in the first Borderlands. The character is depicted with two differently-colored eyes, giving him an asymmetrical design, as well as a mask of a face that covers his own.
Focused heavily on bravado and looking good, Handsome Jack considers himself "the hero" on Pandora, with everyone else being a "bandit". Jack is framed as believing everything he says, even his own lies, including those regarding his treatment of his daughter, Angel, whom he essentially enslaves. Anthony Burch commented, "I think in Jack's mind, he's the protagonist in the cop movie where his daughter is killed and he goes on a rampage." Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! establishes the character as initially having possibly good intentions, though ultimately becoming a villain.
Conception and creation
Borderlands 2, in contrast to the first game, was created as a villain-centric story in the vein of System Shock 2, Portal and BioShock in order to both give the player a clear goal and a greater driving motivation. Gearbox hoped Jack would be a "one-stop-shop" for the narrative, being both the endgoal and a way to remind the player of it, while still also entertaining them. Anthony Burch originally wrote Jack as a fellow Vault Hunter, a "frenemy" who would alternately help or hinder the player as they raced towards an ultimate goal, capitalising on "moral ambiguity" to help make Jack a more interesting character. Mike Neumann suggested cutting this aspect, turning Jack into an outright villain. Jack's name was originally intended as a placeholder, and was a reference to Doctor Who.
The choice to make Jack a "self-styled hero" came in an attempt to underline the anti-heroic nature of the Vault Hunters, though the developers still wished for the Hunter to be "the good guys" by comparison. Bringing in Hyperion specifically was done due to a desire to tie Borderlands 2 with the original Borderlands, which ended with an image of Angel's Hyperion-branded satellite. Similarly, making Angel Jack's daughter allowed the stories of both games to have relevance to Jack and the current events of Borderlands 2.
Being Borderlands, Handsome Jack had to both be funny as well as be hated, needing to balance the seriousness and humour in the game. Jack's personality was initially based off a Nathan Fillion interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where Fillion acted "charming and funny, but also slightly arrogant in a down-to-Earth kind of way".
In the first draft, Burch wrote Jack as joking constantly regardless of situation, including during the deaths of his daughter and girlfriend. Feedback from creative director Paul Hellquist, Neumann, and art director Jeramy Cooke led to rewrites, as they felt Jack seemed one-dimensional and his humour quickly grew tiresome. Neumann and Burch each did a pass through Jack's dialogue after Angel's death, now rephrased as Jack's "breaking point", removing some of the more silly lines Jack aimed at the player and making his dialogue angrier and darker with a "vengeful streak". In doing so, it was also hoped to give Jack an arc throughout the game, growing from treating the player characters as irrelevant to hating them.
One of the earliest concepts for Jack's design was that he'd look like the hero of a different game.
Dameon Clarke voices Handsome Jack. Clarke was asked to audition "by chance" after he finished recording session for Dragon Ball Kai in the same studio Okatron5000 and did as a favor to Chris Sabat. Clarke was initially intended to voice secondary characters in the game, but was asked to try for the role of Jack. Burch has said Clarke grasped the character "immediately", and soon began ad-libbing and improving lines.
—First Handsome Jack taunt, of many in the game
In September 2012 Handsome Jack debuted in Borderlands 2, as the main antagonist of the game and the center of its narrative. The character is introduced blowing up the train the Vault Hunters, the player characters, are on after luring them to the planet Pandora, with the ultimate goal of finding the next Vault and the power within. Throughout the game, Jack will taunt the player with the radio messages, interacting with the player in a manner Burch called similar to GLaDOS. His arc throughout the game is growing to hate the player, while the player's intended arc is to vice versa grow to hate him.
After surviving the train, the player is guided by a voice called Angel to Sanctuary, the last refuge of the resistance against Jack and Hyperion. The player is initially intended to take Jack as "a funny, but ultimately harmless dick", evidenced by his early goofy taunts. Over the course of the game, his "dickishness" is further and further heightened. Eventually, Mordecai, a player character in the first game, reports that he's found a power core that could allow Sanctuary to fly safely in the air. The player retrieves it and with the help of Angel installs the core, but Angel is revealed to have been working for Jack, and the core instead sabotages Sanctuary's shields. Angel continues to help the Vault Hunters afterwards, however, betraying Jack and revealing the Vault Key is with her. As the Vault Hunters prepare to raid the base Jack keeps Angel in, he kidnaps Mordecai's pet bird Bloodwing, mutating her and then killing her after the player beats the bird in a boss fight. This moment is meant to be the first time Jack becomes a serious threat in the game.
The Vault Hunters find Angel's chambers, where they find out Jack—revealed to be her father—is using her Siren powers to charge the Vault Key, keeping Angel locked up and injected with a substance called Eridium to power her. With Angel's help, the Hunters destroy the Eridium injectors and in the process kill her. Jack swears vengeance on the Hunters, who in turn do the same after he kills Roland and kidnaps the Siren Lilith to continue powering the Key. Eventually, Jack is faced in the Vault, who takes control of the monster within it to fight the player. Jack, defeated, may then be killed by the Vault Hunter; otherwise, Lilith will do it.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!
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The Pre-Sequel! explores Jack's rise to power. Jack is introduced as a low-ranking programmer who, despite the animosity of Hyperion CEO Harold Tassiter, has managed to obtain command of the Helios Space Station orbiting Pandora. Jack intends to unlock a Vault on Pandora's moon Elpis, and to this end hires six Vault Hunters: Wilhelm, Nisha, Athena, Claptrap, Aurelia, and one of his own body doubles. However, Helios Station is invaded by the Dahl Corporation's Lost Legion, and Jack and the Vault Hunters are forced to evacuate to Elpis. The leader of the Lost Legion, Colonel Tungsteena Zarpedon, takes control of the Eye of Helios, a weapon of mass destruction aboard the station, and uses it to begin destroying Elpis, claiming that it is for the greater good. Jack begins a campaign to retake the station; he destroys a jamming signal disabling Helios' defense systems and confronts the corrupt Meriff of Concordia. Although Jack initially spares the Meriff, the Meriff attempts to kill him when his back is turned, leading Jack to decide that mercy is a weakness. Jack then raises a robot army, using the AI Felicity as its core, but the Vault Hunters are forced to destroy her when she becomes unwilling to be used as a weapon. With the aid of Roland and Lilith, Jack and the Vault Hunters then invade Helios Station, kill Zarpedon, and retake the station. However, Roland and Lilith betray the group at the behest of Mad Moxxi, who believes that Jack is not the hero he claims to be; they destroy the Eye of Helios and nearly kill Jack and the Vault Hunters. The group heads to the Elpis Vault to exact revenge, despite the Vault Hunters' concerns about Jack's increasingly violent behavior. They enter the Vault, kill the Eridian guardian, and discover an ancient artifact. Jack uses the artifact and gains knowledge of a powerful Warrior sealed in Pandora that will obey whoever unseals it. Lilith arrives and punches the artifact into Jack's face, severely disfiguring him; Jack proclaims his intention to take control of the Warrior and raze Pandora. He murders Tassiter, takes control of Hyperion, and renames himself Handsome Jack. Wilhelm and Nisha remain his top enforcers; Claptrap is betrayed, shot, and left for dead; Athena, Aurelia, and the double become disgusted with him and leave his employ.
Tales from the Borderlands
Handsome Jack appears again in Tales from the Borderlands, an episodic game released between November 2014 to some point in 2015 which follows on from the events of Borderlands 2 and Jack's death. He first appears at the end of the first episode, as a hologram behind Rhys, one of two player characters in the game. The next episode explains his presence: Rhys, having uploaded a datafile by Professor Nakayama who had hoped to revive Jack, has absorbed a data copy of the dead Hyperion leader. Jack appears only to Rhys and cannot act physically except through the use of Rhys's cyborg arm. At the end of the second episode, Rhys may either trust Jack or Fiona's plan to get out of a dangerous situation—if Jack is chosen, in the third episode he gets everyone out safely but has further control of Rhys. During episode four, "Escape Plan Bravo", Jack helps Rhys and the rest infiltrate the Hyperion station and tells him that a Gortys upgrade, which will help them find the Vault of the Traveller, is in his office. Once there, Jack asks Rhys to plug Jack into the Hyperion computers, allowing him to take over again and for them to rule Hyperion together. The player may choose to "Rule Hyperion" or "Reject Hyperion"; if the former option is taken, Jack will name Rhys President of Hyperion, while if Rhys refuses Jack will forcibly takeover, stop Rhys from warning the rest of the protagonists, and plug himself in. In "The Vault of the Traveler", he attempts to kill the protagonists before Rhys stops him and crashes the station. Afterwards, Rhys finds a desperate Jack in the wreckage and is forcibly reconnected with him. Rhys then removes all of his cybernetics and either destroys Jack or leaves him trapped inside the last piece of his cybernetic eye.
Clarke found voicing Tales a change from usual voicing, due to the different versions of lines that could be given depending on player dialogue. Clarke was not informed of plot details in advance of recording.
Handsome Jack has been received well as a villain. The Escapist's Ron Whitaker listed Jack as one villain who "steals the show", praising his humor and taunts, as well as his fall to villainy in The Pre-Sequel!. The character was similarly placed twelfth on GamesRadar's list of top 100 video game villains, complimenting him as a "classic" villain. IGN's Seth Macy considered Jack one of "gaming's most crazy, diabolical villains", noting his "text-book narcissistic psychopathy" and how he blurred the line between "a shareholder's dream and a murderous sociopath with delusions of grandeur", while Sam Stewart of Game Informer likewise listed him seventh on a collection of "top 10 deranged video game villains". Also writing for GamesRadar, Lucas Sullivan placed Jack sixth on a list of top seven "villains we liked better than the hero", noting the build-up to killing him as he becomes "increasingly nuttier and deplorable", as well as how his remarks "grow on you". GamesRadar also included the character as the twelfth best video game character "of the generation". GamesTM listed the character as one "misunderstood" villain in gaming, calling him "just another example of what happens if you let your ego get the better of you." Clarke won "Best Performance by a Human Male" at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards for his voicing of Jack.
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- Gearbox Software. Borderlands 2. Scene: Get to Know Jack optional mission.
Hyperion President: Get out of there at once, you hideous little code monkey! And shut off that satellite! / Handsome Jack: Yes, sir - I'm sorry, Mister Tassiter, it won't happen again, sir.
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