(2008) Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson, Titan Books, £16.99 / US$19.95 / Can$22.95, hrdbk, pp unnumbered, ISBN 978-1-845-76597-2
Jeff Hawke, if you did not know it, is a kind of Dan Dare for a more older readership. It is Britain in the near future; or at least a near future as was predicted between the mid-1950s to mid-1970s when this comic strip was written. Concord-like supersonic jets carry folk around the globe while in space there are space stations, a base on the Moon and expeditions across the Solar system. Aside from this the future portrayed is rather 1970s - '80s (which itself is not bad considering the stories began over a quarter of a century earlier). Britain, of course, has its own astronauts and Jeff Hawke is one of these. As such he is among the front line to have close encounters with passing aliens, to discover alien artefacts, to confront aliens seeking refuge within the Solar system (and on Earth), thwart alien invasions (without alarming the rest of humanity), and so forth. Above all he is very British - stiff upper lip, sense of decency, duty and loyalty - and has to get around Britishness - the establishment, jingoism, bureaucracy - not to mention that bane of SF protagonists everywhere, short-sightedness and an inability of the political classes to see the really big picture. All of which is not surprising, not only because of Dan Dare but, because Sydney Jordan studied at Mile's Aircraft Technical n School in the 1940s and flew for the RAF.
These stories are hard SF and mainly space opera. They are adventure but adventure with a decided touch of humour that in places could even be Douglas Adams (though these stories were written well before Adams). In short they are hugely enjoyable.
They were first published in newspapers such as the Daily Express in a black & white, one-line format that largely (though not exclusively) adopted a three picture frame format. You might think that this daily burst of short comics would not facilitate the telling of a really good story but you would be wrong. These stories work surprisingly well in a collected format. (I know because, when younger, for many years I collected them.)
This Titan hardback is therefore a real treasure and to my knowledge the first time the collected stories have been published in the UK in hardback format.
Two of the four stories reprinted here relate to the alien rouge Chalcedon. In the first story he is found in the Solar system in a stand-off with Galactic law enforcers around him. In the second Hawke inadvertently helps to spring him from jail prior to his trial. The other two stories concern an expedition having to survive on an asteroid following a crash with an alien craft, and an alien invasion of Earth that came about though a series of happenstance beginning with Aladdin's lamp.
I should point out to longstanding collectors that for them the selection of stories is a little disappointing. This is not because the stories are bad - quite the opposite - but because we had them before (along with a few others) when Titan published them in paperback format in 1986 and 1987. Back then there was the promise of a third volume (The Ambassadors) but alas I do not think that ever came out. This time around I see that the way Titan have written the inside cover blurb in such away that the same copy could be used for subsequent volumes. It really would be terrific if they could reprint the entire body of work. This volume does contain a list with dates, story writer (including for one adventure Harry Harrison) and artist. There is also an introduction by Jordan himself.
I heartily recommend this to anyone who considers themselves a bit of an SF buff as these stories encapsulate so much, if not the best of, the characteristics of that body of work that is post-WW II British space opera and that appeared in book, comics and audio (radio) form. Absolutely spiffing.
See Tony's take on this Jeff Hawke volume.
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