There's been a fine tradition of Science Fiction continuity strips in the newspapers. America has given us Buck Rogers, Connie (of which more of in a forthcoming blog), Twin Earths, Star Hawks, Brick Bradford and of course Flash Gordon. Over this side of the pond there have been the long running Garth in the Daily Mirror and the much shorter running Scarth A.D. 2195 in The Sun. Even Mega-City One's top lawman Judge Dredd crossed the Cursed Earth to the tabloid pages. Quite possibly the best of the British strips has been Jeff Hawke. Created and illustrated by Scotsman Sydney Jordon for The Daily Express, the early storylines were fairly run of the mill, featuring the eponymous hero, an ex R.A.F. pilot (as indeed was Jordan), in a series of ordinary science fiction adventures. The arrival of Jordan's childhood friend Willlie Patterson as co-writer took the strip to a new level. Patterson dialogued the sixth storyline 'Sanctuary' (1956) and plotted and wrote the seventh 'Unquiet Island' (1956/7). Jordon then wrote the eighth story with the ninth 'Out Of Touch' being written by famed SF author Harry Harrison, creator of the Stainless Steel Rat and occasional contributor to the American Flash Gordon strip. A few more Jordon written stories followed and then, in 1960, Patterson took on the full writing duties with the fourteenth story "Overlord".
It is this story that leads off the first of two recent hardcover collections from Titan. Hawke and his team have their second encounter with the meglomaniacal Chalcedon (introduced a few years beforehand in the story Sanctuary) and a race of telepathic beetles.
The very nature of humanity is the theme of the second story, Survival, which opens with a collision in space in which Hawke's right hand man Mac MaClean is severely injured. The alien race that inadvertantly caused the accident save Mac's life but in doing so 'improve' the astronaut, pushing him further along mankind's evolutionary path. As Mac becomes more superhuman, he also becomes less than human.
A story trope that appears regularly in the series is that of the myth that has a basis in alien technology. Such is the case with the third story The Wondrous Lamp. As may be guessed by its title, it shows the origins of the Aladdin myth. An absolute delight of a story which opens in the 2nd Century and ends in the present with an attempted alien invasion.
As good as The Wondrous Lamp is, the best is saved for last. The fourth and final story in this volume, Counsel For The Defence, sees the return of Chalcedon as Hawke is called upon to act as his defence in a galactic trial before becoming involved in the alien's escape attempt.
Patterson's scripts throughout this book sparkle with wit and whimsy, while Jordan's artwork is wonderful, in a realistic black and white style. It's easy to see why famed comic artists such as Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland are huge fans of the strip. Curiously Jeff Hawke is largely unknown in his home country, but feted by European comic fans especially in Italy and Scandinavia.
This marvelous hardcover volume also includes the first chapter of a two part essay by Sydney Jordon about his early life, and each of the four stories also includes a brief introduction by the artist. Add to that a gorgeous colour cover by Brian Bolland and you have the perfect introduction to a sadly neglected British classic.
Stay tuned for my thoughts on volume two - The Ambassadors.