Jeff Hawke: Overlord

By Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-597-2

Have you ever heard of Jeff Hawke? If you’re a hard-science Sci Fi and comics fan, your horizons may just have expanded exponentially…

Sydney Jordan began his saga of the thinking man’s hero in the Daily Express on February 2nd 1954, devising and scripting the first few adventures himself. In 1956 his old school friend and associate Willie Patterson moved from Scotland to London and helped out with fifth adventure ‘Sanctuary’.

He wrote follow-up ‘Unquiet Island’, whilst sorting out his own career as a freelance scripter for such titles as Amalgamated Press’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law and eventually Fleetway’s War Picture Library series.

Patterson continued to supplement and assist the artist intermittently as Jordan was never comfortable scripting; preferring to plot and draw the strips. Another confederate of the time was Harry Harrison, who wrote the ninth Hawke tale ‘Out of Touch’ – running from October 10th 1957 through April 5th 1958.

With the fourteenth tale, Patterson assumed writing chores on a full-time basis and began the strip’s Golden Age. He would remain until 1969.

Presented in Titan’s spiffy Deluxe hardback format, this superb collection of strips from the only serious rival to Dan Dare in either popularity or quality, not just in Britain but in the entire world, offers a tantalising glimpse at a transitional period in Britain and a fondly missed view of a Tomorrow that never was…

‘Overlord’ began on February 10th 1960. Here British Space Scientist Jeff Hawke meets for the first time a character who would become one of the greatest villains in pictorial fiction: Chalcedon, galactic criminal and would-be Overlord of Space.

When an alien ship crashes into the Egyptian desert, it reveals that two huge fleets of spaceships are engaged in a running battle within the Solar System and the Earth is directly in their path. After interminable babble and shilly-shallying at the UN, Hawke convinces the authorities to let him take a party to the warring factions in the hope of diverting them from our poor, endangered world and its potential future as a collateral casualty.

What Hawke finds is not only terrifying and fantastic but, thanks to Jordan’s magical illustration and Patterson’s thrilling, devastatingly wry writing, incredibly sophisticated and very, very funny.

Running until June 20th the saga was followed by a far more traditional and solemn yarn. ‘Survival’ (21st June to December 12th) follows the events of an interplanetary prang that severely injures Hawke’s assistant Mac Maclean.

Repaired – and “improved” by the penitent extraterrestrials who caused the accident – Mac rejoins the Earth crew, but is no longer one of them. Moreover, they are all still marooned on a desolate asteroid with no hope of rescue, and must use all their meagre resources to save themselves. This gritty tale of endurance and integrity was mostly illustrated by fellow Scot Colin Andrew as Jordan was busily preparing art for a proposed Jeff Hawke Sunday page, which tragically never materialised, although that art was recycled as 18th adventure ‘Pastmaster’.

It was a return to Earth and satirical commentary with the next tale. ‘Wondrous Lamp’ (13th September 1960 to 11th March 1961) opens in second century Arabia when an alien survey scout crashed at the feet of wandering merchant Ala Eddin, briefly granting him great powers before his timely comeuppance.

Nearly two thousand years later the ship – which looks a bit like a lamp – precipitates a crisis when its teleportation circuits lead to an invasion by a couple of million of the universe’s toughest warriors…

This brilliantly quirky tale, like all the best science-fiction, is a commentary on its time of creation, and the satirical view of Whitehall bureaucracy and venality, earthbound and pan-galactic, is a wry, dryly cynical delight, as as telling now as it was in the days before the Profumo Affair.

Chalcedon returns for the final tale in this volume. ‘Counsel for The Defence’ (13th March -August 2nd 1961) sees Hawke and Maclean press-ganged into the depths of Intergalactic Jurisprudence as the Overlord, brought to Justice at last, chooses interfering Earthman Hawke as his advocate in the upcoming trial. Naturally the villain has a sinister motive and naturally nothing turns out as anybody planned or expected it to, but the art is breathtaking, the adventure captivating and the humour timeless…

Jeff Hawke is a rightly revered and respected milestone of graphic achievement almost everywhere except its country of origin. Hopefully there will be more attempts to reprint these graphic gems – at least digitally – that will find a more receptive audience, and maybe we’ll even get to see those elusive earlier stories as well.
© 2007 Express Newspapers Ltd.