Whenever we think of Britain’s best-loved spaceheroes, Dan Dare flies into orbit from the 50s, with Judge Dredd blasting his way over two decades later. But one gallant hero of the spaceways – Jeff Hawke – has phased from memory, along with the Daily Express newspaper strips that were his regular daily haunt when he first appeared in 1954. Titan’s latest volume of collected nostalgia brings together four of Hawke’s consecutive adventures from 1960-61.
Jeff Hawke was the brainchild of Scottish writer and former RAF pilot Sydney Jordan (have you noticed how many of comicdom’s great imagineers originally hail from north of the border – John Wagner, Pat Mills, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar?) and illustrator, fellow Dundonian Willie Patterson. They created Hawke as a kind of debonair galactic secret agent with an apartment in Kensington with a regular team headed by Laura and Mac, and a hotline to Whitehall. He acts as a galactic ambassador/adventurer, preferring to negotiate with aliens rather than enter into battle with lasers blazing. A thoroughly decent British hero.
Each story reads like a developing drama which advances by two or three panels a day. The pace may seem slow in comparison with weekly or monthly comic books, but Jordan is telling a more measured tale, often full of detail and depth. He captures the feel of a novel and his own experiences help add an authentic flavour to the setup.
He’s helped by the technical expertise of Patterson’s skilfully rendered illustrations. His aircraft designs look realistic but sufficiently futuristic to be visionary concepts of Tomorrow’s World rather than overtly fantastical. Equally, his tales feel grounded in realism and are often surprisingly ambiguous in their morality, where interpreting the intentions of each alien race becomes more a matter of what perspective you take.
In the first story, Overlord, Hawke and his team encounter the meglomaniacal amphibian Chalcedon and a race of beetles who only communicate through telepathy. But who’s controlling who?
The second tale, Survival, explores the notion of what it may be like to be temporary superhuman as an alien race gives one of the crew extra powers following a crash.
Wondrous Lamp is a delightful re-imagining of the Aladdin story, with a touch of Von Danekin, long before he penned anything about the Chariots of the Gods, as an alien artefact passes from the 2nd century through generations to modern-day London. It turns out to be a communications device for the start of an unusual alien invasion by the dreaded Klahrid.
The final story, Counsel For The Defence, brings back the scheming Chalcedon as Hawke is called on to defend him as a galactic trial before being caught up in his daring escape attempt.
Each of the quartet has its moments of tension and action, but nothing is brought to a neat conclusion. They all read with the same imaginative intelligence of writers such as Jules Verne, Larry Niven, and Robert Heinlein, but also scattered with humour and satire.
Whilst Titan has been making concerted efforts to collect adventures of the long-forgotten artform of newspaper strips (itsearlier volumes of James Bond and Modesty Blaise are testament to that), Jeff Hawke remains an interplanetary jewel even though his last stories appeared in 1975. After nearly 50 years, it feels both old-fashioned but at the same time, sophisticated, with his future running prophetically close to our present at times.
Even if he never gets revived for the 21st century, Jeff Hawke and indeed Sydney Jordan, deserve to be remembered as true pioneers of the final frontier.