"A daring and agile crimefighter, Crackerjack is noted for his theatrical sense of showmanship and for his deep appreciation of his own sense of humor."
-- Astro City Visitor's Guide
Crackerjack's origins are unclear, given that he's told a number of stories to as many people, and it's difficult to tell if there's truth to any of them. Among the tales he told Quarrel were that he was the only escapee from a family of circus performers abducted and trained by aliens, that he was an Olympic hopeful sabotaged by a rival, and that he was from a cult of international spies who had been genetically engineered not to appear in government records. He once told Current magazine that he was a Polio-stricken child who overcame his illness (this actually describing the childhood of the Silver Agent).
In general, his early years are a mystery with details not yet recounted in the pages of Astro City comics. According to Mr. Bridwell's reconnaissance data, Crackerjack first "debuted" in 1991. A few years later, at the time of Mr. Bridwell's reconnaissance work for the alien race known as the Enelsians, Crackerjack had already established himself as a popular if not brash public defender. But Mr. Bridwell's overall assessment of him was not flattering.
"He depends on luck, he is jealous of others, he does sloppy work, he steals credit for the achievements of others"
-- the Enelsian, Mr. Bridwell
In 1994, Crackerjack invited himself into the fracas on his first team-up with Quarrel. She was about to take out the Techsperts when he burst onto the scene. During the battle she was keeping her eye on him as much as she was the villains. At the end of the fight, they both had a smitten admiration and attraction for each other. That was the starting point for their hot, then cold, then hot again, romance and battling partnership. It was mostly physical, a combination of crimefighting and lovemaking. The two seemed to work well together, each capable of dealing with one another's rough edges and annoying habits because they were both so focused on pushing themselves, and one another, to their limits in order to stay at peak performance levels. They also possessed a similar brashness and a need to constantly prove to the world their worth and position.
For a time, his private identity was that of a struggling actor named Eugene Wallace. In his boarding room residence, he kept a number of accouterments, wigs and fake IDs, indicating that he has concocted several private identities, some possibly in use concurrently. The Eugene Wallace identity was abandoned when the housing complex was destroyed in a fire.
On one occasion, after Quarrel seriously injured her hip and ankle, Crackerjack arrived at Honor Guard headquarters to push her into more active rehabilitation therapy, suggesting she would lose too much of her edge if she allowed the bones to heal while remaining bedridden. Naturally, he pushed Quarrel to her limit, and she reacted in kind--an iteration of the cyclical nature of their relationship.
In the twenty years or so following his encounter with Mr. Bridwell, Crackerjack had developed a more committed relationship with Quarrel and established a slightly stronger reputation among his fellow super-heroes, even receiving a personal invitation to the Black Rapier's retirement party at Butler's.
Even as Crackerjack aged, he refused to admit--even to Quarrel--that his physical abilities were beginning to slip, although he did acknowledge that he needed increasingly potent treatments for his injuries (including Kelueki liniment and K'ntari medicine provided by Starwoman at some point in the past). Crackerjack's primary hope for continued healthy activity was in a "vitali-serum" once used by the Black Rapier, even though everyone he talked to about it confirmed that the serum would not work for anyone else, especially not an individual so old.
Not much later, Crackerjack came home absolutely beat after fighting Demonhead and decided that he really needed the Black Rapier's serum to stay ahead of his enemies rather than retire or spend his days teaching newer heroes.
While Quarrel slept, Crackerjack hacked into her laptop for information about the Black Rapier's security system so that he could sneak in and steal the remaining vials of his vitali-serum. Crackerjack then sought out clients--or intermediaries for clients--of the Black Lab, including Bio-zord, the Killer Elite, and Phero-man. It was Crackerjack's hope that the Lab would be able to engineer the Rapier's serum to work for him.
Unfortunately, Crackerjack was captured and savagely tortured by Gormenghast, who cloned Crackerjack and used the clones--still in their physical prime--as an army to fight Honor Guard when they arrived to rescue their colleague. He later revealed that he'd initially provided only a small sample of the serum as proof that he had it, and that he would have supervised a drone squad for the Lab (which he'd later betray) in exchange for assistance with the serum. Gormenghast learned from Crackerjack where he'd hidden the serum, and then incapacitated him only moments after the hero was able to activate his rescue beacon.
During the Guard's rescue mission, Crackerjack was found left for dead in the Lab's garbage dump. Evacuated in a life-support rig developed by the Assemblyman, Crackerjack was treated for significant injuries (including breaks in his spine, arm, both knees, and skull). It was uncertain whether or not he would ever be able to walk again, let alone recover more fully.
Unwilling to accept that, Quarrel decided to take over Crackerjack's rehab, much as he had for her in the past. She threatened to run him ragged and put him through daily hell, expecting him to put in his very best to overcome his injuries.
With Honor Guard's help, Crackerjack and Quarrel were able to get access to a top-notch treatment facility in Astro City, where the two could focus on rehabilitation. Crackerjack even promised that, should Quarrel manage to pull off the therapy successfully, he might even tell her his real name ... which remains a mystery to this day.
His physical skills are impressive and quite acrobatic in nature. He keeps himself in top physical condition, but there is no apparent references to suggest he possesses extraordinary powers bestowed through freaks of nature, radioactive exposure, DNA manipulation, or mutation. At least not to date.
He carries a baton whose round tip can be fired off at the end of a line. It mechanisms behave in a manner similar to a grappling hook. Crackerjack often uses this feature of his baton to line-swing across Astro City.
- Though the super-heroic community has a low opinion of him, he nonetheless has a somewhat impressive track record and is certainly popular with the public at large.
- He has claimed several accomplishments and a wide variety of origins prior to taking up crime fighting. They include being from a Circus Family, being a contender for the Olympics, even that he had been born into a cult of genetically engineered, international spies. None of them seem quite believable.
Partners and Motivations
Over the years he has had an on-again off-again romantic relationship with Quarrel. It's a bit of a puzzle as to why. Even fellow Honor Guard member M.P.H. had a hard time figuring out why women would be attracted to men like Crackerjack. Men that are rather parasitic in a relationship. The comments that Quarrel uses to explain why they are still a couple despite the on and off, hot/cold history is insightful. For her it is more than just feeling she could fix the guy, she actually preferred the freedom and the drama.
During the Enelsian story arc, Crackerjack seemed very much an amateur, just getting started as a super-hero. Still in his early years, and needing someone like Quarrel to smooth out the rough spots. Yet again, things are not what they seem. Crackerjack had been around for several years, and Quarrel was never his mentor. On general observation, it is easy to assume that he is younger than Quarrel, and that Quarrel, having been trained and mentored by Street Angel, was now being the guidance and mentor for Crackerjack. However, according to creator Kurt Busiek, "[while] Quarrel’s had the longer career as a costumed hero, she started younger. And even if she could mentor him, he wouldn’t listen."
He has a hard-driven, opportunistic way of handling situations, along with a surprising amount of discipline riding in the undercurrents of his otherwise boisterous, carefree and borderline careless demeanor. He’s been in top physical shape all his adult life.
The cover to issue #18 suggests traces of extra poundage on his frame, which again leads one to conclude a touch of carelessness physically that also translates into careless mental motivations as well. As a person, its a strain of sorts to like Crackerjack. Even though he has acting experience and exhibits a certain amount of the discipline inherit in that occupation, his personality type is that of a prima donna. Too much ego, too much “just getting by” instead of applying himself to his craft.
But even with the insights provided in the recent four issue Quarrel story arc(Astro City #18-21), it is still difficult to explain Crackerjack’s career motivations. Maybe it’s like his relationship with Quarrel. It provides an excitement, a rush and a lot of extra drama. It comes easy enough, even with all the time spent exercising and training. Maybe it’s a cavalier enjoyment of life, similar to Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon compared to the Patriots’ Tom Brady. An attitude of being good enough to feel fine about what you do and can accomplish, but don’t grind on it in a manner that makes it hard, boring work, when it should be light, fun, and exciting.
That almost seems to fit. But it still feels like there should be something more to it somehow. It is hard to put one's finger on it, exactly. But it sure seems like there is more to understand about this character.
When asked directly about this, Kurt mentioned that he asked Crackerjack why he does what he does, and he said "when you grew up as one of King Louis’ Musketeers, learning ideals and comportment from the best, it sticks with you even when you’re time-displaced into the modern day." But Kurt also concluded, "I’m not sure he can be trusted on that."
Given similar lines that he has fed Quarrel over the years, that one too is probably a fabrication and a con. Crackerjack, who he is, and what motivates him, remains a tough nut to crack. There is a tendency to be repulsed at his ego, his poor social skills and abrasive manners. Yet, there is always this hesitancy, a quiet-inner-nagging casting shadows over this harsh judgement of him.
As Quarrel says, "Not the most famous, not the most respected, not by a long shot. But there are thousands, perhaps millions in this world today who owe their lives to his bravery."