Jack of Hearts is one of those characters that snuck up on me back in the day. In my original collecting window, he could be seen in the background on a couple of panels in the January 1983 "Everybody Loves a Parade, Right?" story on the pages of Incredible Hulk #279, and then co-featured with Spidey in the "The Boy's Night Out!" story from October 1983 for Marvel Team-Up #134. Then came the Jack of Hearts four-issue limited series in 1984. I remember loving this saga as a 13-year-old then, and I had a blast rereading it 25 years later. According to Comic Book Database, the character then sort of fell off the Marvel Universe map until the '90s.
I rediscovered him when I read the trade paperback of Avengers Disassembled, where he is the catalyst Wanda Maximoff uses to signal the beginning of the end for her sanity and the Avengers. I don't know what happened to Jack Hart between 1984 and Avengers Disassembled, but the Bill Mantlo limited series holds up fantastic.
I love the way the first issue of the miniseries is so firmly rooted in and interwoven with the Marvel Universe. Mantlo does a great job taking a somewhat fringe character and making him a part of the mainstream continuity by immediately involving S.H.E.I.L.D. and Nick Fury. Series editor Bob Budiansky calls out references to Spectacular Spider-Man and that great Marvel Team-Up, along with the Vision and the Scarlet Witch miniseries in the first issue alone! And that issue sets the table for some great origin story retcon for Jack, turning him from a hero-by-accident into a Cosmic Marvel character.
Turns out Jack Hart's mom was a Contraxian who was sent out into the universe to find a habitable planet that doesn't currently have life on it. You see, Contraxia's sun is a dying star, so they have to find a new home, but their honor code forbids them from displacing or destroying an existing life to save their own. Hart's mother came to Earth and was monitoring Hart's father's work on the Zero-Fluid in the hopes that it might save her planet's dying sun. She fell in love with him and they had Jack. Years later, Jack falls into a vat of Zero-Fluid giving him his powers, or so we thought. In this version, though, the Zero-Fluid doesn't grant him his powers, but rather activates his dormant Contraxian abilities.
Now as an adult, not only is the Jack of Hearts being unknowingly monitored by Kaina, a Contraxian love interest in the human form of Marcy Kane, but also by the morally ambiguous Survivalist sect of Contraxia. This sets up some great lessons on right and wrong, the good of the many versus the good of one, a redemption arc for one of the villains, and a heartbreaking ending.
I love that Marvel was granting characters like the Jack of Hearts, Rocket Raccoon, Machine Man, and others a chance to shine in their own limited series back in the day. I don't know what's happened to Jack since Avengers Disassembled, but it was worth digging this limited series out of my collection for some Retconned Cosmic Marvel '80s fun!