Lost Opportunities and Wasted Potential: Thriller

If you weren’t there at the time, you won’t know what I’m talking about. And even if you were there’s a better than even chance that you still won’t know what I’m talking about or that, at best, you’ve completely forgotten. Thriller was an unsuccessful comic book series published by DC Comics between 1983 and 1984, running for twelve issues and never to be revived. It was a sales failure, only making it to twelve issues in order to have it wrapped up as a complete series although, as I will explain due course, it might have been better if it were not. It retains a loyal fanbase to this day, who hold it in higher esteem than its co-creator does. I’m amongst the fans. Thriller had its moments, good ones as well as bad. It was both cliched and original, but what it had of the latter was vivid enough to wish that it had had a better chance. The writer who originated it all but will never go back to it, remains convinced it would have stood a better chance if it had all happened five years later. Let me tell you its story.

thriller 1

In 1983, Robert Loren Fleming was working for DC as a proofreader. He had an idea for a series that would contain pulp elements, terrorism, quasi-superheroes, an idealistic leader who he described as ‘a cross between Jesus Christ and my Mom’ (Fleming came from a Catholic family: it showed) and a setting that was generally said to be ‘fifty years into the future’. Having worked his idea out, he took it to Dick Giordano, DC’s then-Managing Editor. This was the DC that was rebounding from the still recent ‘Implosion’, that was settling for second place to Marvel in commercial terms but which was aiming to outdo its rival artistically, by broadening the boundaries, taking chances, doing things differently. This was the DC that had recently hired an anarchist from Northampton to completely transform one of their established if never, until then, commercially successful properties: you know, Swamp Thing.
So, at that time, it was almost inevitable that Giordano would take a chance of a fresh take, a new direction brought to him by someone with no writing credit or experience (prior to Thriller, Fleming had sold only one story, to a late issue of House of Mystery). And Fleming was to team up with new hotshot artist, Trevor von Eeden, to create this new series. Which was to be printed in the ‘Baxter Paper’ format, signalling better paper stock, whiter and thicker, with brighter colours, not to mention being sold in the direct market only. In short, prestige.
Thriller was advertised under the intriguing tag-line, ‘She has seven seconds to save the World’ (also ‘You cannot read this fast enough’, though I never saw that). First question: who was ‘She’?
She was Angie Thriller, Angeline Marietta Salvotini Thriller. We were introduced to her in issue 1 as a face filling the sky, though that was all we got of Mrs Thriller in the introductory episode, which was about throwing in the whole cast at high speed, creating impressions. Which was fitting because von Eeden’s art was all about the same thing, subjective experience, experimental layouts intended to evoke the feeling of the action depicted instead of merely depict it for you.
So who, what and why? We saw the opening of the story, and most of its first act, through the least member of the cast, self-proclaimed ‘third rate newsreel cameraman’ Dan Grove. Dan is son to and twin brother to War Correspondents, heroes who got in there where it was dangerous and brought the story back. Dan, by his own admission, is nothing but a nobody, a tag-along. His Dad is dead and at the start of the series he and brother Ken are on a mission to Mecca, threatened by Molluskan terrorists, under a leader code-named Scabbard, because he carries a double-edged sword sheathed in the flesh of his back, which he uses to cut off Ken’s head.
Two other characters also briefly appear, Malocchia Lusk, a woman with hypnotic eyes, and a shadowy, unseen figure who distracts Dan’s attention at the moment of decapitation, thus saving his life. All we know of this person is that he is known as Quo, though we’ll eventually learn that his full name is Richard Quorum.
So here we have Dan, a weakling, a nothing, a nobody, all alone in the world and standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, about to throw himself off when he looks up to see the night sky full of a woman’s face: Thriller. She has seven Seconds now, only her Seconds are not increments of time but assistants, specialised, one might almost say super-powered family and friends, and that now includes Dan Groves, though one might well ask, the hell why? Certainly Dan wouldn’t disagree with you.
The rest of the issue is about introducing, succinctly, each of the other six. These are, in the order in which they appear, Data, White Satin, Salvo, Beaker Parish, Proxy and Crackerjack. Edward Thriller, scientist and husband to Angie in a manner not entirely conventional, provides a base for the Seven Seconds at a tower/laboratory known as the Trinity (nothing to do with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but rather a pertinent religious joke: remember your Bible). Why Dan? Because Angie sees pieces of the future and he is in hers: it is time for him to grow up.
So who are these mysterious strangers? Data is Freddy Martin, an enormously corpulent black man, who lives in and operates by computer interface to his mind, a massive Rolls Royce connected to what we would now call the internet: he is the Information Specialist. He’s also the son of the President, William Martin. White Satin is Janet ‘Jet’ Valentine, daughter of a massive Charitable foundation, airline pilot, a beautiful blonde possessed of a kind of nerve touch that can make people sick or drunk: all she needs is bare skin. She’s also the girlfriend of Salvo, or Tony Salvotini, dishonourably discharged Special Service Soldier, brother to Angie. Tony’s an almost supernaturally brilliant marksman, but he won’t kill: ‘Only flesh wounds, only out-patients, I won’t kill a fly so don’t ask me’.
Beaker Parish is a 25 year old Roman Catholic priest who’s nine feet tall, an artificial man created by two renegade scientists and raised by an entire parish. He provides spiritual comfort and pilots a helicopter, a literal deus ex machina. Proxy is ex-actor Robert Furillo, Tony’s best friend, who burned his flesh off free-basing cocaine and, thanks to the synthetic flesh created by Edward Thriller, can look like anyone in the world for 24 hours. Lastly, Crackerjack is Jack, no other name given, Edward’s 14 year old Honduran ward and a genius pickpocket, safecracker and escape artist.

thriller angie

You might think I’m going into much more detail than is necessary for a failed 12 issue story, but there’s a lot to tell, and I want you to understand the ways in which Thriller differed from everything else around it at DC, and the potential it held to be absolutely fascinating.
For the rest of which, see issue 2, labelled Special Origin Issue. It was a beautifully told, intimate, multiple-level story, about life and death and sacrifice across two generations but above all about family. Remember Fleming’s line about a cross between Jesus Christ and my Mom? We learned that Angie was dead, in a way, that she had stumbled into an experiment by Edward that seemed to be about to kill him, that just as her father Peter, a clown, had hurled himself into a burning building to save her as a girl, losing his life out of his love, she sought to save Edward only for both of them to be changed. The two incidents were correlated symbolically: Marietta Salvotini had been blinded and so too was Edward in the one area most important to him. He and Angie merged into one, his the body, hers the soul. He cannot touch her.
And to pile Pelion on top of Ossa, the fire had been started by Tony, the only one to get out unscathed. Angie can merge into his flesh, can alter things around him to assist him.
One more thing. Edward Thriller was renowned for curing cancer. He had a partner who shared equal credit, Moses Lusk (Molluskan?), who had a daughter, Molly, who’s nanny to Edward and Angie’s baby Scottie. She’s also Malocchia. And Scabbard’s about to kidnap Marietta.
Which is where and how we learn why Dan? Scabbard wants Tony to assassinate President Martin and takes Marietta hostage to force him. He also wants Dan as the sole media representative: that’s why. But Dan’s scared and won’t do it, until he goes to confession and learns the true circumstances of his father’s death, through reliving it and learning from it. There’s also a telling moment, when von Eeden’s deliberately crude and blocky style suddenly cuts through. The Seven Seconds are preparing, their plan is detailed and dovetailed, they are all professionals. But what of Dan? Can he cut it? And Tony says, ‘He has to,’ and you feel every fear crowding in on him just from how tightly he is wound around himself.
Which brought everything together to complete the first arc in issue 4, as the plan is carried out, ‘Down Time Part 4, Happiness (bang bang, shoot shoot)’ one of my favourite titles ever. The plan worked, but it also didn’t work, because of that random thing called chance that stopped the train. Marietta suffered a fractured skull. Angie merged with Beaker to melt part of his artificial flesh to seal the fracture. Quo appeared to confront Malocchia/Molly, and to force her eyes from her head, into Beaker where, as natural flesh and unbearable to Angie, she flung them from her, into her mother. Who gained hypnotists’ eyes. And you know how dangerous that can be in the, uh, hands of an Italian mother…
It was good, but unfortunately that was about as good as it was going to get.

thriller seven

At this point, let us step back. Fleming had sold his story whilst a proofreader, leapfrogging several much more experienced writers to do so. He had sold it to Dick Giordano, who was Managing Editor and who thus would not have any direct editorial responsibility for the series. Though issue 1 credits Karen Berger as ‘Editorial Co-Ordinator’, the series would actually be edited by Alan Gold, newly-hired by DC and with no experience of the comics industry.
Fleming didn’t know what he was doing and neither did Gold. That’s not necessarily a bad thing when it means you don’t know what you’re supposed not to be able to do but that wasn’t what was happening here. Fleming now admits he simply wasn’t ready to write a full-time series. As for Gold, he was just another among many editors to have passed through DC’s doors and move on have done nothing to distinguish their stay. He was simply wrong for Thriller in the first place, wanting the books under his control to be simple, commercial and clear, almost the exact opposite of what Fleming was aiming for.
Nor did DC’s office culture of the era assist. There seems to have been little collegiate structure and a lot of hazing went on. Someone who could be seen as having got above his station was an obvious target. Fleming has spoken of von Eeden being scheduled to begin drawing the series once he’d completed his existing series, and then being assigned to draw Batwoman (not that one) instead of Thriller, whilst Fleming himself was told that an entire script was unacceptable and would have to be re-written before it could be drawn, then receiving von Eeden’s completed art and having to re-work his new script to fit it to the art.
Bear this interference in mind whilst I go over the next phrase. And if you’re tempted to wonder why everyone was being so pathetically juvenile, do remember that this is comics we’re talking about.
There’s often a moment of holding your breath about issue 5 of a new series. The first four issues are where a lot of work has gone in to impress. The writer has worked and polished this. Sometimes it was actually commissioned as a mini-series, cf. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, but it’s caught on. Issue 5 is a bit of an acid test, the ‘what else has he got?’ moment.
What Fleming had was Elvis Presley, which was not the greatest idea as far as I was concerned. Actually, this was ‘Kane Creole’, who looked, sounded and sang exactly like Presley, they just couldn’t use the name, not without paying Colonel Tom Parker the usual extortionate sum. Kane was a bank-robber and it was in that capacity he ran into half the Seven Seconds and was captured.
However, more of the issue was about personal things, the family. Angie appeared to baby Scotty. She had to help Tony and Beaker explain her problematic status to their mother. She conveyed on Dan the blessing of restoring all the photos of his mother, who had died when he was three, and who his grieving father had ripped out, loving her too much to bear seeing her.
And in response to Edward’s misery in being separated from her, in being alone in being unable to sense her, Angie reminded him that she did indeed still love, and forgive him, the proof of which being her heartbeat in their body, alongside his. It was short on action, but long on feeling. And Dick Giordano had taken over inking von Eeden, smoothing things out a bit.
But then Fleming, for want of any information about editorial interference, blew it utterly, by making issue 6 a practically issue long repeat of Creole’s bank robbery, this time in battle with the Seconds, the only element of any depth being that convoluted revelation – in the Confessional, where else – that this Creole was a clone of the original Creole, himself a clone of Presley. The older Creole had murdered his Promoters when they wanted to replace him with the younger version: not because of that but because, having realised he effectively was Presley, they had robbed his grave.
Von Eeden returned to full art on issue 7, which would be Fleming’s last issue. A lot of it was again passive and personal: the Seven Seconds invited both Creoles to dinner by way of an apology for the previous issue’s misunderstanding. Some of it was explaining who Quo was, which was that he was a martial arts trainer who was married to Janet Valentine, teaching her the nerve pinch, before evolving to become a concept rather than a person: the Balancer.
The rest of the issue was set-up for what would be the next major arc. There were tensions with the USSR over an accidental American passenger jet incursion into Soviet airspace on a flight to Seoul. Coincidentally, or rather not, that was Janet Valentine’s next flight. Meanwhile, the mainframe START computer – State of the Art Corporation – was reprogramming the flight path of her jet to repeat the incursion.
And with that just starting, Fleming left the series he’d created after only seven issues, never to return.

thriller page

According to Wikipedia this was due to interference from DC management. At the time, I heard rumours of disagreements between Fleming and von Eeden, on one occasion at least resulting in a fist-fight, though Fleming denies that utterly, calling the relationship completely harmonious, though at the time I assumed DC had simply sided with their hotshot artist instead of their novice writer. I’m not going to castigate Alan Gold, not without any real knowledge of the part he played in this but, given his approach on the other titles he edited, I will never doubt that he was the wrong choice on Thriller. Let me quote him from issue 8’s lettercol: ‘Let’s just say that risks are taken only in the face of unusual difficulties, that risk-taking for the sake of risk-taking is just showing off. I personally dislike obfuscation in my entertainment. (emphasis added)… An unusual page layout to convey mood, tension or movement is what we’re sometimes after. Sometimes (more often than not, I suspect) a “standard” page layout tells the story better.’
Ipso fatso, my case rests.
Von Eeden only lasted one more issue as Bill DuBay, a veteran at Warren but who, so far as I can determine, never wrote anything else for DC, was brought in to take over, and finish off the series, in more ways than one, paired with Alex Nino for the last four issues. I cannot recall any greater disaster in undermining and destroying everything that came before.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that. DuBay, either off his own bat or under editorial direction, set out to smash practically everything that had come before, in a comprehensive manner that demonstrates it could only have been deliberate.
The impact wasn’t immediately felt whilst von Eeden was present to keep the visual continuity but the atmosphere changed rapidly. Whether it was Fleming’s intention or not, issue 8 suddenly went very Cold War, with ignorant cliched Russian military roaring about American military plots. White Satin’s plane entered Russian airspace and was challenged. She joked wearily about being a spy so the Russians took her at face value and shot her down. Despite a multi-missile aerial explosion at cruising height, she survived and was taken prisoner to attract the Seven Seconds to rescue her. It was all a plot by them, you see, but actually it was all organised by Infant, the world’s first bio-sensitive computer, built for Russia by START, but who arranged everything to get Mrs Thriller’s little mob there to kill him.
That was the first sign. Salvo – ‘Only flesh wounds, only out-patients, I won’t kill a fly, so don’t ask me’ – and DuBay coerces him into killing. The Russians refer to Tony as a protege of Colonel Bishop Fortune, retired. Hang on to that nugget.
It’s confused and cheap. White Satin has been kidnapped to draw the rest of the team out to rescue. Gagged and bound, she’s shot at point blank range. But then she turns up dumped at the airport, having been shot with a tranquiliser gun. But why was she dumped so she could be found? Because DuBay was a shit writer who didn’t know how compose a decent story.
Nino’s debut issue was on the immediate sequel, as the Seven Seconds tried to escape from Russia, only for Angie to divert them to a super-secret military complex on which all their budget for over half a century had been spent keeping up a bluff that they were as powerful as the US. The Seven Seconds were here to destroy it and everyone in it including the genocide of an artificial race of dinosaur-like monsters that Tony had to kill, again. It was ugly in all aspects. The previously well-knit team that planned and rehearsed its operations was stumbling around haphazardly, arguing among themselves and even slanging Angie – ‘the ever manipulative Mrs Thriller’ and that was Beaker – for dropping them in it without consultation.
But if you think DuBay has already done serious damage, wait until the double-sized issue 10.

thriller 10

In all the times I’ve read this issue over the near forty years since it was published, I still have not been able to comprehend what DuBay was on about and long ago I concluded that was because he couldn’t comprehend what he was on about. Issue 9 was messy, but issue 10 an utter mess. Let me advance one tiny example to begin with: two issues ago, DuBay proffered Tony Salvotini as the protege of Colonel Bishop Fortune. Herein, at much greater length, he is shown to be the protege of Colonel Mosse Trench. No comment.
The first two-thirds of the issue is primarily the extended ‘origins’ of Beaker Parish and Tony, set against the backgrounds of world tension in the wake of a Yemeni/Omani War in 2009, a crisis defused by the negotiating skills of UN Secretary General Mrs Faith Verity. DuBay has already demonstrated his sloppiness (and Gold his lack of oversight) and now he loses control. An International Conference on complete Nuclear disarmament is taking place now, i.e., in 2035 and Mrs Verity is still Secretary-General, unchanged after twenty-six years. President Martin, Data’s father, was President then and is President still, despite the US Constitution limiting any President to an absolute maximum of nine years, 364 days, and then only in exceptional circumstances that have never yet occurred.
This Conference is taking place against the threat of a nuclear warhead being detonated in New York to destroy the city, precipitate global conflict and total destruction, organised by Middle-Eastern terrorists led by the newly-introduced Iskariot, who is ‘brother’ to Tony and Beaker. The bomb’s been created by START but the plot is by Moses Lusk and both Tony and Beaker are supposedly acting for the wrong side though what the hell they’re actually doing, especially Beaker, and in the end the bomb goes off and everyone is killed and everything destroyed. Deep breath.
At which point real Moses and ghost Angie meet up, she confesses that she’s been blind and that Moses was right all along (of course he was) so now they push the sun back across the sky, reversing everybody through Armageddon, which is no better from being done backwards. All of this starts a new age for humanity, which can now enter puberty (bullshit). Amidst all of this, DuBay has the bulkier than morbidly obese Data get out of his car, for no better purpose than to fuck further with anything Fleming had set up, and if you still don’t believe me when I say that, he sets up Mrs Verity as the uber-Angie, with her own earlier Seven Seconds (Edward, Angie, Tony, Iskariot, Moses, Beaker and Quo). Oh, and Tony kills again, one terrorist deliberately (only flesh-wounds… sigh) and Mrs Verity accidentally.
In terms of perverting a series beyond all recognition, Thriller 10 stands unchallenged.
Personally, I’d have killed it off there or, preferably, after issue 9 but though sales had fallen below the danger point, Gold got two more issues to ‘finish’ the overarching story. No. 11 continued the atrocity. ‘Enlightenment’ lasted two hours. Tony told off Angie and Quo for manipulating them all with something they knew wouldn’t work, Moses decided to try things his way, seeming to forget that last issue had been ‘his’ way and on page 9 the ultimate glob of shit was the revelation that baby Scotty’s father wasn’t Edward Thriller but Moses Lusk. Still think DuBay wasn’t going out of his way to render everything into crap?
Then it got real confusing as Lusk was revealed to be Angie’s real father. Remember when she was supposed to be a cross between ‘Jesus Christ and my Mom’? And Moses had in some fashion kidnapped Angie. At least there was only one issue left with complete nuclear Armageddon on the table again, already.
I’m determined to kick every little bit of DuBay shithousery I can so let me point out that, after he’d destroyed the entire military capacity of the Soviet Union in issue 9, he started the last issue with Russian ICBM’s launched at America. The end result was even less comprehensible than what had gone before. In some manner not explained all the nuclear warheads on Earth were not just launched but exploded way about the atmosphere with no fallout (making as much sense as anything), with the exception of the non-existent mega bomb that DuBay has pulled out of his arse, which baby Scotty teleported into the Trinity, causing his grandmother Marietta to faint.
Oh, and just in case you thought you had any grip on where this little tale was going, the last page featured Moses and Malocchia Lusk (who had recovered her sight without anyone noticing it, least of all the editor who was still sneering at the audience for liking the book the way they did: great look) walking away, he asking her want she wants to do next and she, sounding like a ten year old, asking him to dream up something new, ‘a really different game’. What the hell was that about?

thriller 12

I thoroughly enjoyed Thriller, the first seven issues at any rate, and I remain to this day one of those fans that hold it in higher regard than Robert Loren Fleming. I’m not blind to the flaws Fleming perceived, both then and subsequently, the one that he and Gold ‘agreed’ upon being the slow pace of the first half dozen issues, and given my antipathy to Elvis Presley, I could have done without those two issues. It had lots of potential, all of it wasted. Fleming and von Eeden did discuss a prequel miniseries about Salvo, but neither he nor anyone else ever reappeared.
Fleming believes that, five years later, post-Crisis, from a DC very different from the company of 1983, Thriller would have stood a better chance. I always believed it would have stood a far better chance as a creator-owned series published by one of the burgeoning Independent companies, Eclipse or First. Free from editorial interference, set a lower bar in terms of commercially viable sales, not having Alan Gold within a million miles of it, the chances had to be better. Of course I have no knowledge of actual sales but if it had been selling so badly that an independent company would have cancelled it, it wouldn’t have lasted anything like as long at DC.
For the truth about such things we must once again repair to Earth-2, and pick up copies of issues 41-50, or thereabouts. In the version we got on Earth-1, Thriller is a forgotten failure, waiting for someone to come along with a proposal to revive it because, as we all remember, there is no such thing as a bad character, especially if she’s a cross between Jesus Christ and any of our Mums.


Hecatae Comics: James Robinson’s Witch Craft

witch 1

When a new writer in comics emerges, who enthrals on one series, if you’re like me you tend to assume that his voice and his approach is infinitely translatable to anything else. So it was with Tom King, when I discovered him on Batman. And, a couple of generations earlier, so it was with James Robinson. His Starman was fantastic, so everything else he wrote would be.
Some of it was, if not fantastic then very good. But it’s significant that, apart from the earlier The Golden Age, there is practically nothing of what I bought then that I’ve kept. Recently, I reacquired the short graphic novel of his Witch Craft mini-series, featuring the Three Witches, which reminded me of its sequel, La Terreur, which I’d somehow never bought or read, and which was never collected.
So as part of that last plunge, I requested and got the two series on DVD – I was not prepared to burden myself with actual comics when I didn’t need to – to review the series as a whole.
The Witches were the Three Witches, the story-telling hosts of The Witching Hour, Maiden, Mother and Crone, Cynthia, Mildred and Mordred. Neil Gaiman had integrated them into Sandman as the Furies, the Erinyes, the Kindly Ones, but Robinson used them in their aspect as the Hecatae, Goddesses of a Greek ritual, and set them up in a centuries-long story of revenge, of repayment of disrespect.
Mike Kaluta drew a superb tryptich, split into a composite cover across all three issues of the first story, though different artists drew the interiors of the individual issues, Teddy Kristiansen and Peter Snejberg on issue 1.
The story starts in Second Century Londinium, a group of Roman wives who worship the Hecatae, one among a plethora of religions but the one that is more hated, more underground than Christianity. They gather in the woods to follow their rites but are attacked, raped and killed by a roving band of northern barbarians. Ursula, the worshippers’ leader, appeals to the Hecatae for revenge, on her own and their behalf. Despite Mordred’s indifference to the slight, Cynthia and Mildred agree that there must be a response, no matter how long it takes. It will be devised by the three, for whatever future time will bring Ursula’s spirit and that of Cooth, the barbarian, into the same place and time together.
And a fine plotted revenge it is. The orphan Faith Armatage, whose father was murdered by a greedy carter called Caulder, is raised in a convent west of Fourteenth Century London, raised to eventually be the bride of Caulder, the Constable, and bring about his death. For the Convent, despite the presence of ‘Nuns’, including one blonde-locked Sister Cynthia, are witches worshipping the Hecatae. Faith exacts punishment on all Caulder’s friends who helped in his father’s murder, draws spells that cause him to love her instead of merely wish to fuck her, and intends to reveal all of both revenges, her personal one and that of her deities.
But things do not go as planned. On the night before his wedding, Caulder rapes a young woman, a chaste woman, a virgin and a Jew. And troubled by so many deaths, Caulder finds out that the Convent houses witches, attacks and destroys it. The time for subtlety is gone: Faith intends a simple killing, but she is robbed of this by the brother of the Jewess, who claims his own revenge, for his sister and his kind. Robbed of her revenge, having the other context to it revealed to her by the Witches, instead of rebuilding the Convent, Faith kills herself to speed along the next occasion Ursula and Cooth’s spirits re-convene, seeing her life as Faith as having been nothing but manipulation, like all women’s, for another’s purpose.
This has been Cynthia’s scheme: the motherly Mildred will control the next phase
The second issue was drawn by Kristensen and Michael Zulli and was set in early Victorian London. Ursula was reincarnated as a man, a famous man, headstrong and prone to anger, the famous explorer Richard Burton.
The issue was presented as an unpublished writing by the aged Burton, written the night before his death and burned along with so much else by his widow. Robinson certainly has a high regard for Burton, the story being almost a love-letter to him and his accomplishments. But the respect with which writer holds writer only damages the instalment of the story, blurring the point of the series. Burton’s only young, expelled from Oxford, thinking himself a free-thinker, adept and wild man, but shocked and enraged when he gets home to find his mother naked and in bed with a gypsy. This is Ithal Loveridge, Cooth and Caulder returned, but Burton sees none of that. He sees Loveridge as a defiler, refusing to acknowledge his mother’s willingness, and intends to restore his family’s honour by killing him.
Frankly, he’s an unpleasant and self-centred idiot at this point. Blind to reason, especially any talked by housekeeper Mildred. She makes him a special tea to calm him, warning him not to mix it with anything else but of course he has to go down the gypsy encampment after Loveridge, drink rum, smoke hemp, poison himself by his own pretence at being full gypsy. He just makes himself vulnerable to Loveridge who, contemptuous of Burton’s rantings, rapes him anally.
As a consequence, Burton can only be saved by first sucking milk from Mildred and then, when that doesn’t work quickly enough, having passive sex with the Hecatae. There’s a lot of sex in this story, not strictly gratuitous, though this last bit comes close given the number of pages devoted to it. It’s an irony, given that Burton was also a famous sex pioneer. Whilst they’re grinding on him, the Hecatae are laying out Burton’s fabulous future, unlike the mistake they made with Faith.
And this in turn wrecks their revenge again. Burton finds Loveridge with his mother again, duels him and is about to kill him, but gives up his revenge to have his future. Just like a man, but the Hecatae forgive him, for no seemingly consistent reason.
So how would Robinson wrap things up, with the aid of Kristensen and Steve Yeowell? We were in contemporary times, with Ursula’s new incarnation an elderly widow named Irene Cobb, whose little granddaughter Fiona is snatched from her garden and killed. Irene goes into a decline that is unarrested when her daughter Gaynor becomes pregnant again, this time by her second husband, Martyn. Who is a warlock, Fiona’s killer and, of course, Cooth.
Martyn’s a misogynist, an even worse one than Dave Sim, not an isolationist but a brutalist. How can I rise if you don’t fall? Basically, he’s evil through and through, and only Irene, old, worn out, overlooked and of no account, can defeat him, improbable as it seems.
The underlying nastiness of the story, and the equally nasty fate at its end left a dark taste in the mouth. The masculinist Martyn had his cock shot off, to live sixty years gelded and then be reincarnated over and again, firstly as each of the Roman ladies of the original brutality and then as a victim of sex crime after sex crime, always knowing in the last moment what and why. I don’t say it was unfitting, but there was a vastness to that revenge that seemed, somehow disproportionate, emphasised by a gratuitous coda in which Irene lives another twenty years and becomes a very skilful witch.
It seemed somehow formulaic, too much of a look-at-me-I’m-a-Feminist ending than anything organic.

witch 2

However that went, it was four years before Robinson wrote a sequel, Witch Craft: La Terreur, set, as I expected, during the French Revolution, in 1792 to be so precise. As before, it was published under a tryptich cover by Kaluta, though not this time making the same distinction between each of the Three Witches. And instead of multiple artists, Michael Zulli and Vince Locke drew the whole thing.
But La Terreur was infinitely less impressive than its predecessor, suffering badly from sequelitis, a story done to duplicate the previous success instead of being one that demanded to be told in its own right. Whereas the over-arching story was plain, straightforward and, in its way, quasi-mythic in the first series, I found myself wondering for a very long time just why Robinson was writing this effort.
It seemed possible that it might have been to educate readers as to the reality of the most bloodthirsty period of the Revolution, which it certainly did to an impressively faithful degree, but that wasn’t the story, and what was the story seemed sorely inadequate, concerning as it did two very unprepossessing characters neither of whom I had any sympathy with.
This pair were Jean-Pierre Roland, a minor aristocrat on the run from the Committee, who takes refuge with a cousin, and Isadore Hibbert, the beautiful and naïve seventeen year old daughter of that cousin, who he promptly seduces and, when her father turns him in, she, the besotted, love-sick, no-longer-a-virgin follows him to Paris determined to do everything she can to free him.
In Paris, Isadore falls in with two women, Maude and Miro, who make potions using herbs. One is motherly, the other much older (wink, wink, though having regard to Zulli’s first drawings of her, I spent half the series under the impression Miro was a man). Jean-Pierre is a whining, self-centred tosser, demanding Isadore get him out as if anyone can do it, when she’s having to resort to letting the guard fuck her just to get in to see him. And she’s stuck-up and insulting to her friends because they’re not him.
So Isadore decides to learn magic to save Jean-Pierre (and if you’ve worked out that he’s not worth saving in the end, good for you but not for the story).
That’s where La Terreur really falls down for the most part of it. The story is an historical and a personal one but what have the Three Witches to do with it? And the answer, when it comes, is that they’re leading Isadore and her coven sisters, Maiden (though well-fucked), Mother and Crone, to learn magic, even if it takes a male magician to save their asses for them.
It’s hardly surprising that this series has never been collected. Zulli’s art is, as usual, excellent and solid, almost sculpted, but Robinson’s story falls well short of it being worthwhile. I began this piece by comparing my enthusiasm for him then with my more recent enthusiasm for Tom King, but the parallel extends even further, for ultimately both have, for me, written one long and excellent series and little or nothing that remotely matches up to it.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge’s Fictional British Spacemen of the 1950s and 1960s: R.A.F. Wing Commander (Robert) Jeffrey Hawke (Part 3)


The two-parter “S.O.S.” and “Rescue Party” (1969/70) featured a Sphinx spaceship landing at Gaza, Egypt; John and Jane Seaton as an archaeologist in a wheelchair and his sister – who Mac dates, but that too never goes anywhere: that could have had potential also. The ancient Egyptians learnt architecture and wisdom from a space traveller, whose planet – Altair IV, 16.7 light years away – is now threatened by an anti-matter comet. Those comets! The Jeff Hawke strip keeps them busy, wiping out civilisations, destroying planets, There is an assemble of totally unnecessary, scantily-clad ‘dancing girls’ to distract our rescuers, plus some delightful silicon-structure villains – the glass-like Crystalogs from Vega. If not seemingly named the same, almost identical aliens appeared in the much later Lance McLane/Jeff Hawke story “Star Maker” (1979). Unfortunately the only version I have is in Italian!
“The Book of the Worlds” (1970/71) has a huge ancient amphitheatre of stone symbolic carvings – a sort of I Ching writ-large in stone – in the forests of Peru, together with a space battle taking place at what looks like Machu Picchu – supposedly from a million year old civilization that later migrated into space, but really an Inca royal palace from the 15th century A.D. Even by Jeff Hawke standards, it made no sense, still less that of the silly-looking, rather sultry, princess eventually returning to her home planet as Queen – the bad guy dead, all his armies switch sides! – and with Hawke’s progeny in her womb – all after one quickie in the long grass!
After that it would get worse: subsequent stories would feature the Mona Lisa (Chacondar!”, 1970); giant bees, more sex and naked ladies (“The Bees on Daedalus, 1971); the Loch Ness monster (“Someday I’ll Find You”, 1971); wee folk in a spaceship (Here Be Tygers”, 1971/72); the Great God Pan (Sitting Tenants”, 1972); a Jeff Hawke döppelganger (“On the Run”, 1973); and Lilith – the Babylonian/Jewish female demon, and a war of the sexes, between naked Amazonian women and downtrodden men on a ship in the rings of Saturn! (“Shorty’s Secret”, 1973).
One of the few – at least interesting – stories from this period of decline, is “Time is Out of Joint” (1971) – yes, another story involving time travel, with the twist at the end that sets everything almost back to how it was, with one important exception. This story opens in 1989, on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, 400,000,000 miles away and one light-hour from Earth. Hawke is in command of the ‘interplanetary research ship’ Kepler, making the “first human scrutiny of Jupiter’s many mysteries at close range.” He and Mac, together with a computer expert, Drew Lockett, are in an inflatable living dome on the moon’s surface. Spaceship Kepler is a series of huge connected cylinders with solar-panel ‘wings’. It would appear that in the Hawke future, manned missions have taken priority over unmanned probes, the very opposite of both the Soviet/Russian and American space agencies’ agenda. Mission updates are being broadcast back to Earth and streamed onto television. Key to this achievement is the giant computer Aries – the Accumulator of Research Information by Electronic Storage, designed and developed by Lockett, and located on the Chelsea bank of the Thames, opposite Battersea Power Station.
Things go up a gear when Hawke thinks he sees movement out on what should be an barren, uninhibited moon. When he goes out to investigate, he encounters a ghostly female in a spacesuit. Upon his return to the dome, Hawke sends Lockett off to run checks on possible cause and effects, but Mac immediately challenges him, why is he mentally disturbed. Hawke then confesses the female had pleaded with him to kill Drew Lockett! Meantime, Lockett concludes the strange events are linked to the alignments of Jupiter’s moon, the gravitational pull of which “effects fluids in their bodies and brains.” They make ready to leave before the next alignment, but instead (following a brief distortion of their surroundings) are intercepted by armed space-suited men from a saucer-like craft, silent but menacing, and with the ram symbol of Aries on their suits. They are transferred to a bigger spaceship, located at the scene of a fierce battle, dead figures, wrecked space-craft. To the crew on Kepler they have disappeared. Left isolated within the ship as it takes off for Earth, they meet Leila, the woman Hawke had encountered earlier. Out of her spacesuit, she wears only a clinging body-suit, legs bare, nipples visible through the thin material. Mac’s response is “Ph-e-e-e-w!” Her first response, is Lockett still being alive. Jeff then confesses what she had requested of him. They then learn they have time-warped into the year 2021, and Lockett’s Aries computer has developed into a self-willed entity and become malevolent. It is now the All-Mind, on its way to complete world domination.
In the few hours it now takes to fly back from Jupiter to Earth, Leila explains Aries controls Europe, straddling London with a huge dome structure, drawing on human and atomic energy. Southern Middlesex has been flooded to provide cooling water for its atomic power source. As they fly in, they see the round keep of Windsor Castle protruding above the waters of this huge artificial lake. Massive spacecraft circle the Earth, waging war on what opposition still resists, but Aries has moved asteroids into Earth orbit to bombard cities. As for his human servants, they were promised power and riches; instead reduced to zombie-like living dead, their minds destroyed. She herself was one of those given to Aries for its pleasure. The population of London are either off fighting in the wars, or slaves working underground.
After they land, Mac attempts to intervene to stop Leila being manhandled away, and is briefly rendered unconscious. They then find themselves in a typical Jordanian super-chamber, at the heart of the computer. Aries – seemingly unaware of their true origins – is curious and puzzled by their minds. They are forced to witness a – now naked – Leila being absorbed as energy into its higher cell banks. Of passing interest, I have two versions of this strip – one with her nude body semi-concealed by a speech-bubble, another, apparently uncensored, where the speech-bubble is moved slightly sideways. Lockett, who has accepted his responsibility for events, taunts Aries, calling it “A computer that plays at God.”, and defiantly says “I made you.” Aries retorts that Andrew Lockett died in 1989 after returning from the Jupiter mission, and therefore he cannot be Lockett. Lockett goads Aries to search its records and compare voice-prints, telling the computer to “Reject the error! Kill me!” Aries promptly does so, but the consequence is it, thereby, changes time. The three astronauts find themselves back on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, but Locket is dead, apparently from heart failure, so before he can make the upgrades to Aries that gave it self-will. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the men from the Ministry decide to pull the plug on Aries, saying, “It’s too unwieldy. It’s specialist computers we want now.”
So, perhaps the last good Jeff Hawke story, as scripted by Jordan, shared artwork with Nick Faure. This also see Jordan himself became the narrator of the story prologues, rather than the more fun-like Mephisto character.
One of the now curiosities of the Jeff Hawke future was the turbodyne, the ground vehicle propulsion that had apparently mostly replaced the conventional internal combustion engine. To my surprise, I found virtually nothing about it on Wikipedia (it is, however, a trade name), but I have a memory of it featuring in a Daily Express science annual (alas, gone) from the 1960s, and talked up as the ‘car of the near future’. Once the Hawke stories had quietly moved from an unlikely contemporary 1950s into the future 1980s and 90s, the turbodyne became Jeff and Mac’s vehicle of choice, featuring in many of the Earth-bound stories, in various different designs and appearances. Indeed, they went from an almost circular shape (rather impractical, one would think, for parking, especially in our type of multi-storey car-park) in “The Gamesman”, where Jeff and Mac are driving along a motorway “from London to York” (reason unstated), when the front tire explodes – so much for the M.O.T., Jeff! – and it slewed across the central barrier, out of control….only to be – oh, so conveniently! – snatched out their time and space, and dumped on the planet destined to be used for the (never clearly specified) ‘Great Game’! Afterwards it turns out the planet’s atmosphere has a corrosive effect on metal, producing a disabling ‘metal sickness’ for anyone in contact. Hey, Gamesman, not good! Pick your planets better!


At the beginning of “Counsel for the Defence”, Jeff and Mac are driving on the M30 ‘Cornish Motorway’ to Redruth, in a much more ‘space age’ turbodyne, in shape and appearance not unlike a sleek hovercraft with central rear fins and hinge-up, ‘gull-wing’ doors, DeLorean-style. In “The Changeling”, the eminent medical expert Sir James McGoldrick drives a Rolls Royce, recognisable, but with sleek front headlights. Hawke’s turbodyne is also aerodynamic and sleek, with a raised double tail-fin. We see them on the motorway-like Great West Road, “eighty miles from London”. “Rip Van Haddow” being set in Canada, Mac has hired a left-hand drive turbodyne, sleek and low, with conventional (if slightly angled) doors, headlight set into the sloping front bonnet. In “Faery Land Forlorn”, Hawke and Mac borrow a typical 1960s family “vintage car” to drive from Boscombe Down to London from an R.A.F. transport pilot. “My jalopy,” he says, “It’s old, but the wheels still turn.” I thought it an old Austin, but without a front radiator grill.
The story “The Helping Hand” (1964/65) featured a number of ordinary individuals fitted with robot hands, arms, legs and an eye, seamlessly grafted onto their flesh and blood bodies, apparently at a ‘private hospital’ in the West Country, but which is now just a ruined abbey and a shack. Following an accident at London’s Docks, a doctor alerts Hawke to investigate. Despite presumably being set in the 1980s, the working Docks are still immediately beyond Tower Bridge, and still using old-fashioned cranes and wooden packing-cases. Patterson and Jordan did not foresee the container revolution, or the decline and closure of the old Victorian Docks for newer, larger facilities at Tilbury or further east.
The story then shifts to one specific individual, the one remaining ‘Abbot’ still at the ‘hospital’, ex-racing car driver Jim Cordway, who officially died in a massive fireball pile-up at Le Mans, twenty years previous. Instead, he – like the others – were rescued and ‘repaired’ by benevolent extraterrestrials. Thus, by its narrative, this story features Hawke’s turbodyne, a sleek, twin-exhaust ‘Rover’ (the name is on the bonnet), but very much in the style of a Jaguar ‘E’ type. Again, this is rather Mac’s story. He recognises Cordway, who was one of his boyhood motor-racing heroes. (In the much later story “Selena”, set in 1995, Mac is himself racing ‘vintage’ cars – he has an old 40-year-old ‘D’-type Jaguar – on a circuit at ‘Silverstone Air Park’.) Mac lets Cordway take the turbodyne for a drive along the ’Exeter Motorway’, accelerating from 60 mph on the approach road, to 200 mph. After being pulled over by a traffic police patrol in a helicopter, Cordway does a runner in the turbodyne, and is driving at over 275 mph. The pursuing cops remark to Mac, “The turbodyne isn’t meant for these speeds – nor is the motorway.” Sure enough, Corday loses control and crashed into UD (United Dairies) truck, the turbodyne (as Mac subsequently put it, rather nonchalantly, to Jeff) a write off! Write off! It is smashed to pieces! Another wrecked car. The last one (in “The Gamesman”) inconveniently ended up on another planet, but, even so, I hope Hawke had a good insurance company.
At this point, perhaps, it is worth noting that many of the sleek, aerodynamic cars featured in the Hawke stories of the 1960s, would not look out of place on today’s roads, in appearance or performance. For instance, a Lamborghini, with a V12 engine, and with 700 hp, can clock 217 mph. Given that in the story the police helicopter is keeping pace with the turbodyne, I thought to check the real world possibility of a helicopter actually matching that speed. In 1986 (so, within the Hawke story time-frame) a helicopter speed record of 250 mph was set by a Westland Lynx. But by 2013 the competition seemed to be between a Sikorsky X2 and a Airbus Eurocopter X3 hybrid, designated “the world’s fastest helicopter”, with a top speed of between 267 mph and 293 mph on a stable and level flight. So, yes, it is possible – just!
For most of the remaining stories – for instance, “Made in Birmingham”, “The Engine That Worked on Grass”, and “Daughter of Eros” – Hawke drove a variety of low, sleek, two-door turbodyne, not unlike the two-seater aerodynamic sportscars we have in our modern 21st century (real) world. In “The Engine That Worked on Grass” story, the school teacher inventor uses an ancient Sunbeam, but still achieving speeds of 140 mph racing along the ‘Great Arterial Motorway’ in Sussex, although actually slowing down and turning was, apparently, still an unresolved engineering problem! Again, what is apparent, Hawke’s future Britain had no 70 mph speed limit. The biggest problem for Corday was he had no driving licence and only a death certificate as proof of ID. For the grass engine inventor, he had no motoring insurance!
Of course, there are anomalies, things that Jordan or Patterson could not have predicted. For instance, in “The Immortal Toys” story (1962/63) there is still an ‘East Pakistan’, which became the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 1971. In “The Venusian Club” (1967/68) it was still possible for the public to access Downing Street, and even for Mr Partington – the supposed retired bee-keeper from Bucks – to leave his peddle-bike next to the railings. That all changed in 1982 when railings were erected to restrict entrance from Whitehall, and finally the current steel fence and gates were put up in 1989.

hawke-test case

Naturally, given the time, and perhaps even the newspaper Jeff Hawke featured in, there are aspects then, that now would be regarded as non-politically correct – Hawke’s attitude to the equality of women, for instance. Mac, perhaps being from a North American culture, or just with – in these early days before the newspaper comic strip sexual revolution – something of an eye for the ladies, was often more tolerant. Africa is depicted as either a 1950s primitive culture stereotype, or part of a British, neo-imperial protectorate, like the R.A.F. base in Libya (in “Wildcat”). The same is true of India (again, in “The Immortal Toys”), they fly to Calcutta (now Kolkata), and the ease with which they enter Burma (now Myanmar), to locate the source of the ‘Shiva-jewels’ in a Buddhist temple on Mount Victoria – again now known by its native name, Nat Ma Taung, in the Chin State of Western Myanmar. The mountain is 10,016ft high (3.053m), and since 1994 was declared a national park, although apparently any protection or enforcement of rules are virtually non-existent.
It is inevitable that Jeff Hawke often featured the Daily Express newspaper, seemingly the chosen reading for Mac (as he sits in the first class on his semi-orbital flight from London to Vancouver in “Uncanny Deep”), or the newspaper that Raymond Parker chooses as he issues his threats and proclamations to the British government in “A Test Case”. Later, in that same story, he is holed up in ‘Bert’s Café’, off Shoe Lane, next to the then Daily Express Fleet Street building, apparently based, in part, of a real café and location well known to Jordan and Pattison. Repeatedly, throughout the series, any front page newspaper headlines are those of the Express. In Hawke’s world the print media rivals never got a look-in, not even The Times. Given that the Express was paying their wages, we can forgive Jordan and Pattison their blatant advertising propaganda.
It must also be said that, at that time, the Express – while always Conservative in its politics – was still a comparatively serious newspaper with a significant readership, and reputation. Prince Philip, apparently stung by some salacious article concerning his royal personage, might have famously called it “a bloody awful newspaper”, but throughout this time it was still under the stewardship of Lord Beaverbrook (William Maxwell Aitken, 1879-1963) and his son, ‘Max’ Aitken (1910-1985) – Could that have influenced the occasional inclusion of Canada, and regular presence of the Canadian Mac MacLean in the Hawke stories? The Express newspapers (more so than its sister publication, The London Evening Standard, home to the Peter O’Donnell comic strip “Modesty Blaise”) were unswerving in their right-of-centre, conservative political stance – always hostile toward Labour, Britain joining with Europe, communism, many of the more progressive ‘liberal’ issues of the day. It is, therefore, surprising that, for instance, it tolerated the Carl Giles cartoons, which often poked fun and ridicule at the Tories, and the Establishment in general. Perhaps, given their popularity and Giles’ status almost as a ‘national treasure’ (in today’s parlance), it was reasoned better to keep him on-board than let some rival poach him instead. Even so, one must wonder how many of the Express readership appreciated the bizarre flights of fantasy of Jordan and Pattison’s science fiction stories. But again, perhaps the editors know, in Sydney Jordan, they had a draughtsman more than capable of depicting the latest marvels of science and space fact, alongside science editor Chapman Pincher’s articles.
Although never actually stated outright, the British government ministers and prime ministers were obviously Conservatives, but the ministers especially were often depicted as being rather dim and incompetent to their brief. In “A Test Case”, although a serving officer of the military, Hawke is secretly delighted the Secretary for War (another anachronism) is unable to profit from Parker’s ‘infernal machine’, the levitator and death ray. In “The Wondrous Lamp”, we met ‘government minister’ Sir Egbert McColl (he has a bust in his office that looks suspicious like that of Winston Churchill), but whom Hawke tried to convince the scientific and technological advantages of a matter-transportation device. His initial response is that it is an “interesting toy”, to which he couldn’t see any practical use. Even when Hawke points out the possibility of instant space travel between the Earth and Moon, he is still unconvinced and dismissive. Afterwards Hawke laments to Mac, “Why are people like that in positions of public responsibility?”
The Minister, meantime, confides in a colleague who suggests it could be used to offload cargo ships without a crane! “Hadn’t thought of that,” Sir Egbert replies, “You’re an imaginative devil…Just think of the union trouble we would have – stevedores out of work…” He thereupon orders the devices to be filed away! Even later in the story, when he is pleased to have packed “the tedious fellow” Hawke on his way, and he can get on with more serious work – which transpires as dictating a letter to civil service secretary (British tax-payers pay their salaries, remember) addressed to his bridge club secretary, concerning Sir Egbert’s dismay at the inclusion of “Mrs Thorrup-Wimple as a member…”
One cannot help thinking this is Willie Pattison’s opinion of politicians in general, and this was in 1963. What would he have made of their successors in the 2010s and 20s?


In the series we see at least three prime ministers. The first, in the first “Overlord” story (1960), looks, and even sounds, a bit like Churchill (who actually resigned as prime minister in 1955). Of the three, he seemed the most intelligent. “I may be an old fool – but I am not an obsolete one – and I am still able to grasp a fact, however bizarre or improbable.” he says. By contrast, his successor (I always thought looked a bit like the Tory former minister Selwyn Lloyd) manages to commit an interplanetary diplomatic faux pas in “The Ambassadors” (1962). The third prime minister, in “The Venusian Club” (1967/68) is little more than a puppet to his manipulative secretary, the meek-looking Mr Herbert Hollingworth, who is really part of a secretive extraterrestrial group equipped with hypnotic devices, supposedly on Earth to rescue lost or marooned space-mariners, but really living very nicely, thank you, holding positions of power and privilege.
Perhaps the most satirical and political of Pattison’s story is “The Ambassadors”, which I still, after all these years, regard as something of a timeless masterpiece, for plot, humour, social commentary. The ambassadors of the title are in the Patterson/Jordan mode of aliens sometimes resembling animals or Earth creatures – like the seahorse and giant elephant in “A Test Case”, they are two owls, only distinguishable by silver belts, and armed with a snuffler, a sort of ray-gun device that renders its victims unconscious. Quite how owls, with no hands as such, could develop technology, built interplanetary spaceships or manipulate the controls and dials we see, is not explained, but they are hopeful Earth is sufficiently civilised that it might be “embraced into the great birdhood of universal people” – unlike the Querks, who tried to eat them on Cephas III! Earth, they conclude from orbit, is a “good planet, plenty of air and water, and a moon! Perhaps there are even trees!” And so, leaving their ship to return into orbit, they fly down to London’s Trafalgar Square just as dawn breaks…
The subsequent dialogue is some of the funniest in the series. The owls survey the vista from the top of Nelson’s Column. “I can’t imagine what this peculiar effigy is for.” says one, “Unless it has something to do with punishment. You will note that the pillar is flanked by ferocious beasts…” “It is obviously an important meeting place,” says the other, “I see hosts of people below. Let us go to them…” So they fly down (as a postman goes about his early morning delivery round), and try to communicate with the pigeons. “We are here to extend the wing of universal birdhood…” says one. “Please take us to your leader!” says the other. “Kruuuk – kdl!” is the response.
Disappointed, and rather slighted, they discuss tactics, only to be overheard by a late night reveller, depicted somewhat in 1930s appearance, top hat, cane, long coat, white scarf. Their conclusion is Trafalgar Square is a sort of ceremonial eating area, the machines around them handled by “wingless menials”, therefore society here is an aristocracy, who look on work as beneath them. At that point one owl says “Shoo!” to the reveller who runs off to get a policemen. Meantime, one of the owls attempts a more persuasive means of communication, holding one pigeon down while explaining who they are, that they wish to meet the government, that they understand “you have enslaved the huge white featherless menials…” The pigeon, however, “does nothing but squawk like a moron!” and flutters away. Personally, ever since first reading this story, I have regarded pigeons as very low in the bird-world intelligence pecking order!
Things got more comic when the reveller returns with a police constable. While one owl is “beginning to have the most fantastic suspicions,” the other regards the two humans as “disgusting simians”. “Don’t you see?” says the first, “They are the intelligent ones! There is no such thing as birdhood on this planet. We’ve made a ghastly mistake.” “How could anything like that be intelligent?” says the other, “I ask you – look at it!” There then follows the owl asking the policeman, “Are – you – intelligent?” whereupon the policeman goes, “That owl – it spoke to me!” “Of course it spoke to you, you dimwit,” says the reveller, “Haven’t I been tell you all along that it’s a talking owl!” The policemen then says to the owl, “I suppose I’m as intelligent as the next man…” “Then why did that other creature call you a dimwit?” says the owl. The reveller remarks that the owl not only talks, it understands and responds, while the policeman goes, “Just a minute – did you call me a dimwit?”
The owls retreat again to the top of Nelson’s Column to contempt rethinking their ideas of evolution, while the policeman phones a higher authority, bringing an expert naturalist on the scene, who, in turn, phones Hawke. At that point the police have summoned men from the zoo, with nets – bad move! The owls explode the net and, everyone (by now quite a crowd) flee, except Hawke and the naturalist. That’s when Hawke steps in, immediately realising who and what they are.
The story then follows print media coverage (at least one reporter is female), but, despite Hawke’s plea otherwise, greatly over-dramatized – The Birds from Outer Space! Is it a Hoax? This then prompts the appearance of Mr Bogg and Joe Snyde who want to put the owls on television. They have a habit of saying, “Right, Joe?” – “Right, Mr Bogg!” Against Hawke’s better judgement, the aliens go for the television option – not having television where they came from. Next up was Jordan and Pattison’s little joke, having appeared on a Granada TV science special a few months previous, Jordan then depicted the same studio crew into the alien owls’ rather monumental television appearance. The owls get annoyed with Joe’s rambling, human-centric script and snuffle everyone except the cameraman and the men in the control room. They then broadcast their version of “The Truth About Life by Their Excellencies Ooo and Aaa”, complete with picture images of a galaxy teeming with life, and the promise of inclusion into the vast federation of planets, but also they have a device called the quiggifier, which, they claim, “does away with work!” Even the Prime Minister, watching with his young grandchildren, gets his secretary to phone the studio. When told the owls really are aliens, his response is, “Really? I mean, owls. The trouble with these T.V. people is they’ve never had it so good.” Yes, Patterson was having fun writing this one!
As for Bogg and Joe, thinking their careers are ruined – Joe even contemplating moving to Cornwall and writing plays – “It’s the easier way to avoid work”, but the Chairman of Eurolantic Studios is impressed by their originality – next mice, cats, dogs, he says – make ‘em all talk! The next couple of strips are more political: very familiar firebrands at Hyde Park Corner calling out, “Earth for the Earthlings! If we allow immigration from outer space, where will it end?” Placards: “Weirdies Go Home!” – “Keep Britain Human!” – oh, remember this was 1962! Nigel Farage wasn’t born until 1964. Meantime, at T.U.C. headquarters – panic! What would happen to the working class if the quiggifier did away with work? Even a question in the House of Commons from the Opposition bench (all the faces are male, incidentally!), what can the Prime Minister say about the quiggifier? “Only, sir,” says the P.M., “That it does away with work – so we may soon find most of humanity on equal terns with the members of this House!” Nice little satire there, Willie! Again, 60 years on, nothing much changed then.
Of course, it all goes topsy when the owls, together with Hawke, are unofficially invited to the P.M.’s Highland retreat at ‘Aviemurdoch House’ during Parliamentary recess. Except, the P.M. obviously being a Tory, is enjoying a little ‘recreational’ grouse shooting! Oops! He shoots and wounds one of the owls! Diplomatic mission over! “You are a murderer and a creature of disgusting habits!” says the other owl, after landing the spaceship. Their parting gift – exclusive to Hawke – a quiggifier, to be shared with no one else! “When you are civilised, we will return!” is their last message to Earth. It is now down to Mac – the mechanics man – to take the metallic oval-shaped device apart, concluding it is just a container with a heating unit and thermostat. How can it do away with work? Jeff askes, then suddenly the answer – it’s an egg-hatcher! An incubator to free them from the long brooding of eggs. They assumed humans laid eggs – “most living creatures do”, says Hawke later as he and Mac contemplate the menu in a posh restaurant. The head waiter suggests roast Aylesbury duckling. “Thank you, no!” Hawke says decisively.
In addition to his obvious fascination with myth, legends, pseudoscience, literature and poetry, Willie Patterson was intrigued with law. In 1962 he was the unacknowledged writer for another Daily Express comic strip “Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law”, illustrated by the Spanish artist, Jose Ortiz (Maya), 1932-2013. Did no one think of Ortiz when looking for a replacement Modesty Blaise artist after Jim Holdaway died, or – again, later – after Neville Colvin retired? How much better he was than the dreary Enric Romero.
In the Jeff Hawke world, the law – or rather the Galactic Federation version – is featured often, with His Excellency, the robed reptilian policeman, and, in two stories, “Counsel for the Defence” and the second “Overlord”, the High Court Judge – surely an inspiration for the much later “Judge Dreed” character? Patterson’s Galactic Law is no wishy-washy liberal affair, any more than the hints we glimpse of Galactic politics is, in any way, democratic or even rational. There is still capital punishment. Characters – justifiably or not – are often threatened with being ‘vaporised’. Life-spans are much longer in the Galactic universe. The Judge greets the possibility of a fifty year pilgrimage to the Oracle of Algol as a good opportunity to play chess and contemplate – “A lengthy recess [from the courtrooms] even by your standards.” His Excellency the policeman remarks, as the Judge thought nothing of year recess following a particularly unsavoury case.
Previously, we witness the Judge in session at the Courts of Galactopolis, “capital city of the universe, centre of justice, hub of a thousand peoples”. “Fraudulent tax return – one thousand years hard labour!” “Sucking eggs…What is your plea?” The eggs were future Princelings of the Spronii, says the Judge, “Fifty years in the plutonium mines,” adding, “We cannot have people going around sucking eggs. It strikes at the roots of society.” Incidentally, Galactopolis is a city covering the entire planet, so I would suspect inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Trantor, imperial capital of his Galactic Empire in his early-1950s Foundation Trilogy. All that planet’s land surface – Asimov’s Encyclopedia Galactica say 75,000,000 square miles – was one single, roofed over city, and home to a population of forty billion, devoted entirely to the administration of Empire. Only the Emperor’s Palace was a one hundred square mile oasis of green space, garden and trees.
Hawke had already witnessed Galactic justice in operation in the first “Overlord” story, with The Executioner, also known as “This Apparatus”, the Andromedan Master Robot Computer, Self-Operated, Model 3, programmed only to blindly carried out The Law, even if it means wiping out a yokel planet that happened to get in the way. In “Counsel for the Defence” he discovers that under Intergalactic Law the accused can appoint a defence counsel (to be fitted with a radio capsule to enable access to the electronic files of the Law Library). The counsel then – under the “wisdom of the ruling” – also effectively takes responsibility for the crime. As His Excellency explains: “But you are not guilty of it until found guilty.” – “And then you all go to the executioner together!” added the one-eyed Kolvorok. “Really,” reproves His Excellency, “For a police officer you have a most crude picture of the process of justice.” When Hawke protests he doesn’t want to be counsel or knew nothing of this law, His Excellency reminds him it is right of the accused, and as a policeman he will enforce that right, “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.” he adds. In the topsy-turvy world of the Galactic Federation, it seems like an excellent incentive for defence barristers to try and win their case – you and the accused you represent get punished together.
Willie Paterson’s Chalcedon stories are a joy in themselves, in their devious complexity, plot scheming, and numerous races and sub-races, and in the shifting fortunes and alliances. However, here they serve only to glimpse something of Patterson’s playfulness in matters of politics and law. Our concepts of justice or democracy have no place here. Chalcedon himself of a ‘prince of the galaxy’, constantly plotting to become fraudulent overlord of at least three galaxies. Other characters are similar galactic hereditary overlords – in “The Great Atlantic Crossing”, and “The Venusian Club”. Even in “The Ambassadors”, the owls remark, having learnt that the British Prime Minister is elected, saying. “On most worlds they breed their rulers carefully – and that’s the way it should be!” “They’ve tried that already on this planet.” Hawke replied, “But it didn’t always work.”

Of our four fictional 1950s/60s British Spacemen, Jeff Hawke is the closest to our world in time-period and general appearance.  Spaceships and space stations aside, for the most part it is an Earth we recognise, inhabited by ordinary, everyday people.  In that middle period, Hawke isn’t always the hero.  Mac sometimes gets equal billing.  If we ignore the ridiculous Martian stories of the early period, and the darker threats of “Time is Out of Joint”, “Sitting Tenants” (1972), and “Moratorro” (1975) in the last phase, life in the Jeff Hawke world was actually quite good, aside from the apparent lack of gender or ethnic equality.  The United Nations is not the post-imperial world government of Dan Dare, but there are no I.R.A. bombers, or Mrs Thatcher crushing the trades unions or decimating communities, or everlasting wars in Africa and Asia.  It was a future in which progress – certainly scientific progress – was upward, not sideways, or in decline.  In that retrospect alone, it might have been the best of our alternatives.       

Thank you Glenn Hauman

In the absence of an e-mail address to say a private thank you, I’m putting this up as a post.

In September 2018 I pledged a Kickstarter created by Drew Ford of It’s Alive Comics, to suuport the collection and printing as a Graphic Novel of the 1960s Charlton Comics series, The Lonely War of Captain Willy Schulz, written by Will Franz and drawn by the superb War artist Sam Glanzman. I had never seen any of the series but was aware of its reputation. The chance to get it was irresistible.

That was September 2018. The Kickstarter was pledged but the book did not appear. It’s Alive was going through terrible financial problems. It seemed the book would never appear and I resigned myself to writing my money off. The final srtraw came last October, with the sudden illness and death of Drew Ford.

But a number of people, primary among them Glenn Hauman of the website Comics Mix, stepped it to resolve the matter, to honour Ford’s commitment, to assist his widow. It’s been a long time and there have been set -backs, not least an email this past week reveaing a Court Action commenced for Garnishment of anything that could be said to be the late Mr Ford’s assets. And not having been outside my pokey little flat at all yesterday, this morning I discovered an unexpected package waiting for me. I am awaiting a kickstarter book, as it happens, but that is from Studio Foglio, and will be a softback book. This was a hardback. It was in truth The Lonely War of Captain Willy Schulz, as promised.

So, lacking a means to say thank you to him personally, I want to thank Glenn Hauman and everyone who has worked alongside him to achieve this. Thank you for honouring Drew Ford’s wishes, thank you for fulfilling his promises, thank you for doing such a bloody good job of producing something worthy of his name, and thank you and I honour you for taking on something that was not your responsibility, simply to see things made right. Thank you, sir.

To Read or not To Read: Denny O’Neill’s The Question


I didn’t know much about The Question until DC bought the rights to various of the Charlton characters, including all the ones created by Steve Ditko, just in time to kill off their world in Crisis on Infinite Earths. What I saw I liked, which was the plain business suit, the old-fashioned reporter’s hat and the blank face mask. There was something clean and almost austere about The Question’s design, and the absence of any face or expression was strangely interesting.
His proper DC debut was as a guest star in Blue Beetle 5 as straight Ditko, but when Vic Sage got his own series, written by Denny O’Neill and drawn by Denys Cowans, starting in 1988, all but the absolute basics went out the window. It was there is the first line of narration, issue 1’s splash page, the name Charles Victor Szasz.
I know I bought issue 1 when it was first published and I think, but can’t be certain, I bought issue 2. I know I didn’t buy any more, though I did look in the issue where The Question bought Watchmen and mused about Rorscharch. But the series is highly regarded, and god knows, personally passionate work is not ten a penny in mainstream comics despite what all the creators say, so it’s time to have a look and see if I can now be persuaded to agree.
Though I don’t think I spotted the parallel at the time, it’s interesting to reflect that O’Neill chose the same approach to making over The Question as did Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, ending his first issue by ‘killing’ the old character by shooting him in the head. That’s a pretty drastic thing to do.
The first issue makes this its theme. From the splash page onwards it counts down to Sage’s death at midnight. Whilst it’s doing that it’s reinterpreting The Question’s past history by darkening it. In both guises, Sage is a hard man, a nasty bastard. He’s been around, he was an orphan, he’s newly returned to Hub City where he (thinks he) was born. He’s tacking civic corruption, both of him. He’s an adrenaline junkie, a self-righteous cocksure idiot who, at the end of the issue, walks into what he knows is a trap, is easily defeated by martial arts expert Lady Shiva, has the crap beaten out of him by the thugs, is shot in the head and dumped in the river. Where he dies.
No much equivocation there. O’Neill has however already revealed his hand. The bullet’s come out of the back of Sage’s head. It was an air pistol. It’s the get-out.
Because Vic Sage isn’t dead. A combination of improbable things, plus Lady Shiva, saved him. The bullet flattened against his skull, went round his head between bone and flesh and out the back, whilst something called the ‘Diving Reflex’, basically stored oxygen in ultra-cold water, kept his brain alive whilst the rest of him died, until Lady Shiva dragged him out and brought him to his ally, Tot, Aristotle Rodor, scientist. Sage remembers everything that happened to him when he was dead and nothing of who or what he was before he died.
His bastard cynical sense of humour survived, mind you.
Next came the re-make. Moore took four issues to complete that with Swamp Thing but O’Neill was dealing with a more grounded, less fantastic character, and chose a shorter route. The underlying question was why did Lady Shiva save him? This was only to be answered in part, unsuccessfully. Batman turned up to launch a pep talk, in the form of a savage diatribe about Sage’s lack of training or purpose, a dilettante amusing himself. Lady Shiva sends a helicopter to deliver him to Richard Dragon, Kung Fu master in a wheelchair, to deliver purposeful training. When Sage is ready, for now, she turns up to fight and test him. She sees him as driven by warrior instincts that are now trained, Dragon as driven by curiosity. We get no more answer than that.
Still detached from his past, Sage goes home, puts on the Question’s mask again and starts his attack on the corrupt and insane priest behind the drunken Mayor. The arc continued in issue 3, where the action was The Question saving a schoolbus full of children that was to be blown up, showing him still absorbing his lessons, but the wider picture being completed by showing his gorgeous redheaded fellow reporter, Myra Connolly having been forced into marriage with Mayor Fermin on threat of her daughter, in the same orphanage Sage once lived, being harmed. Myra lives in fear but it doesn’t stop her hating her husband, Reverend Hatch and the whole corrupt crew bleeding the city dry.
Meanwhile, Sage is only existing as The Question. His very recognisable alter ego has been missing for months, what with one thing or another and he hasn’t worked out how to come back.
Unfortunately, though Sage goes back to the Orphanage to find little Jackie and take her somewhere safe, he lets being good with the kids lower his guard and she’s taken. She’s taken for ritual sacrifice, a grotesque parody of Genesis 22:2. Showing better control, The Question prevents the sacrifice but refuses to do what any sane man would do in the circumstances, which is to kill the insane ‘priest’, because he will not become like him. So Myra does it herself. The Question does not blame or criticise her. His only words are: better you than me.
Interestingly, O’Neill finished the thread off with a kind of coda, chaos and riot in Hub City, people dealing with the things they deal with, a rape victim who resisted, a would-be rapist who killed himself, a bad cop who might turn good, a vigilante running himself into the ground fighting an unwinnable war and deciding to reappear as the journalist he once was, to try to stem, if not turn the tide.
I’m already well past where I read to before, where I can’t even remember if I bought issue 2. I’m still only intrigued as to where this is going, and I’m not keen on Denys Cowan’s stiff and stilted art, but let’s see how this develops.


First off was a one-off, whose main point seemed to be how nasty O’Neill could make it. Brutal, macho, twisted, unpleasant. And The Question wasn’t much better. For all that he’s absorbed Far Eastern martial arts techniques and their attendant philosophies, O’Neill has him as a cold, closed-off, sarcastic git with overtones of paranoia. A second story continued heavy on the violence, real violence, not superhero violence, whilst developing the background of a city slowly falling to pieces under a drunken and stupid Mayor, deprived of his handlers, with Myra trying to fulfil the role and pull things round. Interestingly, though she remained drawn to Sage, she wouldn’t sleep with him, because she had made vows, coerced or not, and she would not betray herself by breaking them.
Individual issues, individual stories. Linked by what I can only describe as sadism, the desire to inflict pain, answered by The Question, arriving to inflict greater pain, only this time deserved. Issue 8’s villain was, effectively, a deliverer of karma to people who did bad things, who decided not to kill The Question for exposing him, upon hearing how Sage was trying to change himself. The series was now tagged ‘Suggested for Mature Readers’, DC’s new ‘ratings system’ that caused such disquiet and concern among creators.
A new extended story, delving into Tot Rodor’s background, started in issue 9, whose letter column included a long epistle castigating O’Neill for basically retconning Steve Ditko out of his own creation. I was not unsympathetic to the accusation, though I was to the reply, which was a basic fuck-off in veiled terms, insisting on the right of comic book creators to basically rape and gut any character if they think they’ve got a good idea. No such words were used, but the lines were not so closely drawn that you couldn’t easily see between them.
Nobody so far has mentioned that Cowan is drawing The Question with a mullet that would have put Chris Waddle to shame, which is very much not Ditko. Still looks a mess now.
The story then took Sage to the Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, more famous later for being the home of Batman’s enemy, Bane. I found the story unengaging, with too many things happening behind the readers’ back. It suggested that quantum physics was a modern day alchemy and that it could convert a torturer into a saint, neither of which were propositions I could agree with.
But after eleven issues, perhaps I’ve found the key characteristic of the series: it’s unengaging. It’s cynical to the point that even the ‘hero’ is an unpleasant person to read about.
The first year ended with Myra Fermin setting up a secret meeting with Vic Sage to tell him she intended to run for Mayor as soon as His Drunkenness her husband’s term ended and that, as she was going to have to be completely squeaky clean to succeed, she wanted one last fuck before she forgot what doing it was like. After that The Question investigated a nice low-price good housing development that happened to be built on a toxic waste site. More cheerful stuff.
According to O’Neill, the series was about realistic, nasty and grim things going on but also about change. Charles Victor Szazs, Vic Sage, The Question, whichever they are they are about changing themselves, about moving on from being just the biggest badass in town to more thoughtful approaches. Sage is The Question not out of the goodness of his heart or for revenge, but insatiable curiosity. Why is it like that? Does it have to be like this? The philosophy would be more impressive if he spent fewer pages kicking every motherfucker’s head in.
A two part story had The Question buried up to his neck for a whole issue to make a point about honour, courage and strength that, in the end, was left out when the villains, a corps of military nuts, all shot themselves out of indecision.
But I have to applaud the team for issue 15. Someone is killing unconnected black victims. The issue is a cesspit of racist jokes and comments, coming from an out-of-town private eye, a disgusting bigot. He gets to the bottom of the case ahead of The Question, not that he plans to put an end to it. After all, he’s working for a prominent white nationalist bigoted organisation to check if it’s any of their members doing it. Loomis McCarthy is vile. Vic Sage loathes him. But Myra’s rival Mayoral candidate, himself a racist, takes exception and comes to kill Sage, except that McCarthy jumps in front of the bullet to save him and dies instead, just after Sage has taken him down with a verbal lashing. Why did he do it? Why did it have to be him, when Sage hates having this racist die for him? Wisely, we were given no answer, because given the nature of the story it is incumbent upon us, each of us, to come up with our own answer.
But it was followed by a dumbfuck issue featuring two gunrunners calling themselves Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This ran over into issue 17 which required Sage to fly to Seattle, during which flight he read a copy of Watchman, briefly dreamed he was Rorschach, kept comparing himself with Kovacs, which became a subtle form of denigration towards Moore and Gibbons’ creation, especially as The Question got taken down and had to be saved by Green Arrow.
If you think I’m reading too much into this implied criticism of Rorschach, there was Denny O’Neill’s regular reading recommendation appearing in the letter column every month: where can I find a book titled The Watchmen? Works for DC and can’t be bothered to get the name right…


As for the team-up, Green Arrow kept The Question tied up for half the issue because he didn’t trust him, then The Question showed off in front of him by continual quotes from Sun Tze. People like the philosophising in this series: I’m finding it boring.
These last couple of issues related to plastic guns and issue 19 brought the manufacturer on stage, offering contributions to Myra’s campaign and factories, jobs and tax dollars to Hub City. In return for being left alone. Alexander Polys was a plastic obsessive and The Question not only got him publicly linked to the erstwhile ‘Butch Cassidy’ but privately linked him to Myra’s campaign manager and ran him out of town. Meanwhile, Myra independently changed her mind and refused Polys’ support on moral grounds: I know this is 1988 and not 2022 but how the hell is the woman ever going to get elected with attitudes like that?
Issue 20 saw the first change in the creative team. O’Neill, Cowan and Rick Magyar had consistently produced 19 issues but Magyar took over full art for this issue. All issues of The Question are nasty and brutish, drenched in a cynicism that paints even the good guys as irremediably flawed, but this was a particularly nasty story about three dimwits whipped up by a right wing politician to commit murder out of self-righteousness. Maybe the parallel to the present day in Britain was too much for me.
The first Annual appeared in 1988, contemporaneously to issue 20. This was drawn by the Cowan/Magyar team, thus explaining the penciller’s absence from the monthly issue. The story brought back some thugs from the opening arc, plus Lady Shiva, who was recruiting a team of three to escort the aged O Sensei home to fulfil a promise made to his wife, eighty-eight years earlier, that his bones would rest next to hers. The rest of the team were Batman and Green Arrow though Vic, who was pretty useless compared to the others, having to have his life saved several times, talked Batman out of joining the mission because he made The Question redundant, and Vic needed to feel useful. There was a twist ending that you could see coming a mile off, turning failure into, if not success then non-failure. The overall effect was less than stellar.
The artistic juggling required to balance out work on the Annual saw Dick Giordano ink issue 21. It combined a people-are-all-shit High School Reunion, a misread date with a background character whose name still wasn’t given and a hospital drama harking back to a story a year ago that I couldn’t be bothered to look up. Denny O’Neill was a major writer but this was not evidence for that status.
Finally, the Mayoral Election came round next issue. The new series inker was Malcolm Jones III, who is first in line to blame for making Myra Fermin unrecognisable. It was a multi-parter revealing that Myra was way behind in the polls, hadn’t a chance and anyway her rich, bigoted opponent had had the new voting machines fixed. In order to get to the bottom of things, The Question had to spend page after page in investigation… whoops, no, I actually meant beating people up. More punching and kicking followed in part 2, leavened by moral qualms about whether it’s right to use savage tactics against the savage: wouldn’t a system that needs that kind of brutality to survive be better left to crash completely in hope that the good guys can clear away the rubble and the broken bodies after and start from scratch? I could have answered that succinctly before a broken and bleeding Tot Rodor reminded Sage that the bad guys might be the ones who survive, but I would have added that they’re the ones most likely to. As Woody Allen put it, the Lion and the Lamb shall lie down together but the Lamb won’t get much sleep.
We finally got the result in issue 24. First though The Question’s been doused in gasoline and is about to be immolated, but O’Neill’s been trailing a weather warning of a tornado throughout the last two issues and now it picks up a motorbike, throws it through a window and hits the guy with the match, putting it out. I’m going to leave you to think about that particular get out clause for yourself.
Anyway, the tornado was long enough to fill half the issue. Tot, estimated as having a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the beating he’d received turned up back at home next day, completely healed and tending to Sage’s minor injuries. The Election was over and the bigot Dinsmore won, by one vote, that being the vote Sage didn’t register for Myra.
But, as was foreshadowed at the start of issue 22, there was another get-out clause. Dinsmore’s car had gone into the river with him in it, and there was a little known provision in Hub City, based on the Mayoral Election of 1866 which favoured a much earlier Dinsmore, if the elected Mayor dies before taking office, the job goes to the runner-up, so Myra got elected after all. Yay, honesty! I’m not impressed.
That wasn’t the end. It turned out Myra didn’t want the job, in fact hated having won. But win she had and replaced her drunken sot of a still-husband who, as also heavily foreshadowed by his constant references to Jack, Bobby and Martin (for the youngsters, Kennedy, Kennedy and King), pulled out a gun during her acceptance speech and shot her through the chest. Sigh.
That brought us to issue 25. No-one tries to stop Fermin or get the gun off him until after he’s delivered an insane, drunken rant and shot Myra a second time, at point blank range, in the back. The first person to step forward is one of Sage’s TV colleagues, who gets his brains blown out after which a paunchy, smashed out of his mind, incoherent and unco-ordinated middle-aged man who’s lived solely on booze for at least a year gets away unseen. Oh, and Myra’s not dead, actually. I know that there are certain conditions of melodrama upon which comics are dependent but for fuck’s sake this is absolute bullshit. Not even a quote from one of my favourite poems, W.B. Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’, could redeem this for a second.
It’s all because Sage’s got to bring Fermin in himself, after a torrent of destruction, but because this isn’t your conventional series despite everything O’Neill is doing with it that’s pure convention, he doesn’t get him and His Honour dies in a drunken shoot-out with a pair of thugs who have taken two old women hostage, probably killed them too, and goes out an apparent ‘hero’.
Do I really have to reread the remaining twelve issues of this series?


There were two guests in issue 26. One was The Riddler, being interpreted as a clueless no-mark and the other was artist Bill Wray, who was also a clueless no-mark: that was professional art? But the next issue was seriously strange. A third of it was The Question wandering the streets, getting involved in a fight and teasing us with the expectation that, just as Steve Ditko had once done, he would let a thug fall from a building roof. Another third was a visit from Tot Rodor’s cousin, a WW2 comic book artist on a Captain America knock-off, the third third being crudely written and drawn ‘excerpts’ from one of his comic books.
The weird bit was that Alvin Rodor believed that he and his fellow comic book artists had literally won the War with those comics. It tied in with a Congo pygmy tribe’s shaman who, before the tribe hunted, drew a picture of the desired prey that then had an arrow fired into it: every time the tribe returned with the prey, killed by an arrow in the exact place as in the picture. Germany and America didn’t have comic books so…
The idea was fanciful and I don’t know if it has any factual basis. My rationality argues against it yet it was a plausible tale. The seriously weird bit was when, out of the blue in this dark, gritty and realistic setting O’Neill has conceived, Sage has Alvin re-draw a page of his old comic, where the superheroine Betsy Ross is revived by injection with an antidote against zombiedom, only with Myra Fermin’s face substituted. And, in direct contravention of everything the series has been about, she wakes up from her coma.
Round about this time the second Annual appeared. It was the first half of a two-part team-up with Green Arrow, concluded in the following month’s Green Arrow Annual, which I don’t have access to. Since most of this Annual was again drawn by Bill Wray, I am not so cut up about only reading half the story as I might otherwise have been. It included a lengthy flashback revised origin drawn by Shea Anton Pensa, whose art was just as crude, fitting for a story in which Sage was nothing but an absolute bastard.
The only thing worthy of comment in the story was that the villain had developed a gas, that he was going to test in Hub City, that would remove all the evils of the city, the corruption, the violence, the exploitation, all the things Sage and The Question are knocking themselves out trying to stem, by making them docile, placid, suggestible. In short, effectively lobotomising them. Green Arrow rejected it instantly in disgust. The Question took it seriously as a solution.
Now I’m not going to say anything more than that because I don’t have the rest of the story and Sage will inevitably reject the idea, but I wasn’t at all impressed that he would even so much as flirt with it. What is a superhero about if not individualism? Individual action, individual thought. It’s the single most intrinsic element of their DNA code, just as controlling others, even for their own ‘good’ is hardwired into supervillains. It’s a secular blasphemy and to touch pitch is to be forever defiled.
Back at the main series, Myra’s awake again but Vic has retired Sage and prefers to be The Question near full-time because he’s relishing kicking butts, whilst Lady Shiva’s in town and town has gone to hell, and is being allowed to disintegrate even further, even though it’s already past that well-known Point, just to see what happens when an entire city departs from civilisation. The wallowing in thuggishness is boring me.
Needless to say The Question and Lady Shiva had to fight, amid rumours that the book was facing cancellation, denied as ‘ugly’ and ‘wrong’. Never believe denials on letters pages. Shiva was disappointed that Vic had gone downhill since Richard Dragon’s teaching but the point became moot when her ’employer’s gang rocked up and they had to team up to overwhelm these.
O’Neill was on a roll. Myra wanted the two major biker gangs in Hub City take over policing, to make the streets safe, a temporary expedient until better arrangements could be made but one leader preferred to kill the other and split whilst the other gang arrive wanting revenge. It all ended pretty feebly and indeterminately in issue 30, and the letters page confirmed that the ongoing story started in issue 1 would end in issue 36, at which point it was anticipated that members of the creative team would leave and the question was whether to end the series there or continue. No points in guessing which way those dice will fall.
So the endgame began, with Myra the Mayor deciding to have the slum district of Hell’s Acres dynamited to the ground, ridding the city of both a drain on its resources, an eyesore and the symbol of Hub City’s decay. Not to mention the place Charles Victor Szazs grew up. Only a bunch of dealers protecting their turf kidnap Her Honour, inject her and intend to use her to stop the demolition, except that no-one knows she’s there, and Vic hides them in the underground water pipes to survive where, in circumstances completely conducive to romance, they have sex.
The next issue mixed up Myra’s introduction of Civilian Vigilance Groups with a traumatised Vietnam vet who ended up killing a kid in a flashback, the Mayor wanting to meet ‘Mr No-Face’ and The Question getting closer and closer to the edge of killing someone, just to see what it was like. But another one-off in issue 33, a complex story about someone corrupt wanting Myra dead and The Question being too weak to save her whilst a silent mechanical genius hunchback from Gotham City did gave off the impression of wheels spinning. And termination with issue 36 had now been confirmed. Not falling sales, my arse.
Things got no better when issue 34, inked by Carlos Garzan, started with four obvious pages of guilt dream, followed by somebody mysterious taking down Sage and pages of even more tedious dreams from him. Myra calls on a psychiatrist who dopes her up, quizzes her about her love-life and threatens to rape her until she, despite being doped, punches his lights out and goes home, where the issue ends with her getting a visit from Richard Dragon. And about time because the series is hurtling out of control by now and needs a bloody serious handbrake turn.
The penultimate issue featured one of the thugs who’d stripped and beaten Sage sticking The Question’s mask on with aeroplane glue and going out robbing and killing, Izzy O’Toole the former bad cop going after him, intent on killing him then reverting to the bad, killing him and discovering it’s a petty crook. Meanwhile Richard Dragon leads Myra to where the battered Sage has holed up, having more dreams of the psychologically banal, and Vic coming up with the ideal solution: he and Myra should leave Hub City.


Will they? Won’t they? Issue 36 would, I hoped, make everything clear. Actually, the end came as more of a relief than a conclusion. Hub City finally came to a dead stop. Vic decided to get out. He persuaded Myra, who’d told him she loved him, in his sleep, and recognised him as The Question, to go with him. On the way to the helicopter arranged by Richard, she collected her handicapped daughter Jackie from the Orphanage, which had finally run out of everything. Lady Siva arrived on the helicopter and, as any moderately well-read reader had known from the moment Myra saw those helpless kids, the Mayor decided her duty as the Mayor, and her honour as a person, demanded that she stay. She told Vic she loved him, when he was awake this time. As he flew off, he cried.
So the series was over. It wasn’t supposed to be. The proximate Green Arrow Annual 3 guest-starred The Question and acted as a bridge to O’Neill and Cowan’s The Question Quarterly, which lasted five issues, each featuring a complete 48 page story. I don’t have access to these but Sage finally kills someone in the first issue, and Myra’s daughter dies later on, whilst Myra never returns so I will not bother.
The Question was batted about here and there. Rick Veitch completely revamped the character in a contemptible manner in a 2005 mini-series – I may not have liked O’Neill’s treatment but he didn’t fuck the character over that disgracefully – and DC killed him off with cancer during the year-long 52, replacing him with Renee Montoya.
But the final word goes to issue 37, one of the Blackest Night spin-offs. This was written by Denny O’Neill with Greg Rucka and Denys Cowan pencils. It’s only the second of these Blackest Night one-more-issue stories that I’ve read and it’s so similar to Starman 81 in basic structure that I conclude they were written to a formula, and not an interesting one at that so it can go unsummarised.
I’m no longer surprised when my opinion of something that’s been highly acclaimed turns out to be radically different. It would be convenient to find myself running with the crowd more often but I don’t think I’m going to change any time now. No, obviously, I didn’t like The Question and my decision to drop it after at most two issues was well-taken. I found the philosophy shallow and unconvincing, and ultimately The Question failed on his own terms. The series’ fabled post-Watchmen grittiness rapidly became an endless, joyless wallow in ordure of the worst kind: a shock from a writer such as Denny O’Neill. That it lasted three years is something of a surprise. I’m glad to put it behind me. I want something better and more inspiring next.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge’s Fictional British Spacemen of the 1950s and 1960s: R.A.F. Wing Commander (Robert) Jeffrey Hawke (Part 2)

hawke-oil rig

“Cataclysm” has a young radio/TV repair engineer almost accidentally creating a device which omits an electronic death ray. After using it (suitable toned down) to disable a room of disbelieving scientists, Hawke is called in, and it gets into the Express newspaper (who else?) That, in turn, attracts the attention of a rich, but sinister, individual in South America. His agents move quickly, offering financial reward, and the young inventor is spirited away before Hawke and Mac are able to trace his whereabouts. Needless to say, once the ‘death ray’ box is tested and works, the young inventor is disposed of. The bad guy – a typical James Bond villain named Satiricon – then constructs a bigger version and plans a mass theft of rockets which would then be used as weapons to threaten the world – a similar plan to that of the 1964 story “Winner Gain All”. The plan fails when the fleet of heavy-duty helicopters fly over an Australian cattle-ranch, and jet-fighters from Woomera are decimated by the death ray – Satiricon and his men are all wearing protective suits.
Another, quite wonderful, story from 1965/66, is “The Great Atlantic Crossing”. This again features Mac, with two other R.A.F. officers, who planned to fly the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Britain, in a capsule tethered between a helium-filled balloon. Of course, things go awry when they rescue a high-ranking extraterrestrial who has crash-landed in the middle of the Atlantic. The consequence is a diplomatic stand-off between Hawke, in charge of a squadron of R.A.F. helicopters, and a Soviet submarine battle-fleet. However, what makes this story so outstanding, in retrospect, is that, twenty-plus years later, in 1987, British entrepreneur Richard Branson, together the Swede Per Lindstrand, flew across the Atlantic, from Maine, USA to County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in a capsule attached to a hot-air balloon, the ‘Virgin Atlantic Flyer’ – the first to do so! The Hawke story ends with Mac’s final comment (following the destruction of their ‘Albatross’ capsule), “One day somebody has to be the first to cross the Atlantic in an unpowered gasbag, relying only on wind-force.” One has to wonder, did a young teenage Richard Branson read the Daily Express and Jeff Hawke? If so, Patterson and Jordan had shown him the way!
“A Test Case” (1962) managed to be both playful and grim. A giant elephant-like alien gives his three most hopeless students the assignment to raise a nearby planet’s highest life form to knowledge level in three months, only allowing to use verbal persuasion. One student looks like a seahorse, another had rodent features, and the third like a marrow with a mouth, tentacle-like legs and what might be eyes on stalks on top of its ‘head’. While the other two make conversation, he generally just goes “Hmmm – ah!” None of them are more than 6 to 10 inches high. The planet, of course, is Earth. Already despairing at the magnitude of their task, they decide to “use Boklipp’s method – take one test case…and work on that.” And the individual they chose is a junior physicist, Raymond Parker, at Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment, who just happens to be having doubts about atomic theory. Our trio render him unconscious, then feed him “the elementary textbook for backward students” on atoms. There are no electrons or protons, just balls of plastic energy – “that’s the old naïve Greek theory” his colleague says, dismissively.
But Parker sets out to prove he is right by constructing a machine that implodes carbon into pure diamonds, which he then sells to a gem merchant in the City of London for a quarter of a million pounds! While he next turns up at Harwell in a Rolls Royce, it is to give in his resignation, but meantime the gem merchant realises each diamond has a tiny identical casing flaw on the same place, and contacts Hawke. When Hawke, in turn, visits Harwell, the authorities use the Official Secret Act to detain Parker. Puzzled by why Parker hasn’t spread the atomic theory to others, our trio play him a visit, this time a personal interview. Parker already wants power, so they give him two further education courses: how to nullify gravity, and to turn solids into gases. Parker then uses his new knowledge to convert a transistor radio into a levitator and an electric bar-fire into death ray. He then vaporizes the wall of his detention quarters and takes off on an office chair. Soon after he goes on a terror spree, shooting down an aircraft that buzzes him, then stealing a frozen food transporter, vaporizing the driver and forcing the co-driver to jump to his death, then vaporizing a couple for their caravan, all of which are then levitated out of the way, over the Welsh moors.
By now Parker is a power-crazy megalomaniac, vaporizing a nuclear power station in Westmorland (Hawke has to use a nuclear bomb to dispel the radio-active cloud from sweeping across Darlington), before threatening the destruction of London. Eventually it takes the intervention of the elephant creature (another ‘His Excellency’) to reveal the location of deadly reflector (on top of the Monument, in Fish Street Hill), and remove Parker, who is transferred into a body of a feedle – the mallow-like creature! Two of the story’s more outstanding and memorable strips are of His Excellency’s flying saucer-like scout ship having landed in Shoe Lane, next to the Daily Express building in Fleet Street, crushing a few parked cars in the process! To Hawke’s secret relief, the Monument caretaker’s son has dismantled Parker’s gadgets, putting them back as they were, thus preventing the British government from discovering how they work.
It is noteworthy that this story, and its immediate predecessor, “The Gamesman”, have two, completely contradictory (and incompatible) takes on the structure of atoms. In “The Gamesman”, they are miniature solar systems, the idea popular in the 1930s to 50s, electrons circling a nucleus, like planets round a sun or star. And, indeed, we are lead to believe that our cosmos exists within a piece of ember in some higher cosmos, that of the Gamesman! Modern particle physics has atoms as much more complicated, certainly not resembling miniature solar systems.
Similar contradictions are apparent with different versions of Earth’s early history, each being brought about by different enlightened extraterrestrials. In the somewhat misnamed 1965 story “The Oil Rig” (which actually featured only in the first four episodes), a mysterious cylindrical object is retrieved from beneath the North Sea. Military Intelligent immediately classify it as a Soviet nuclear bomb, and – together with Hawke (called in to investigate) – it is transported by heavy-duty helicopter to Patterson and Jordan’s favourite fictional Hebridean base at South Uist. There, against Hawke’s wishes, it is bombarded by artillery, but without any damage whatsoever. Previously, the drill-bit on the oil-rig ship had already failed to make any impact. In the middle of what Hawke called “an interdepartmental squabble”, the cylinder end unscrews (briefly reminding Mac Maclean of the Martian cylinder on Horsell Common in H.G. Wells’ The World of the Worlds), to reveal a galactic survey recording device, narrated by a figure dressed like a harlequin! Surely Patterson and Jordan’s little joke!
What follows upends our ideas of prehistory and evolution. Earth is part of a galactic survey life development scheme began 3,000 million years ago, which subsequently has dinosaurs, mammoths and humans all co-existing together, with triceratops seemingly at the top of the evolutionary pack, and huge no-go areas of the planet that are still volcanic and uninhabitable. However, impressed by primitive human ingenuity, the harlequin-like survey team captain uses the fantastic resources at hand to drastically reconstruct the planet in favour of humans. This involves exploded a chunk of Jupiter to sweep across the Earth, changing its orbit, causing a 6-mile high tidal wave that consigns the “evolutionary monsters” to “vanish into the rocks”. Following this dramatic cataclysm, the globe of matter becomes our Moon. Meantime, channelling the Book of Genesis, the survey team have removed sufficient numbers of humans, together with animals that might be useful, off-planet in a sort of extraterrestrial Noah’s Ark, to be resettled afterwards into a new, more environmentally-friendly Earth. Having thus explained this startling history, the recording cylinder hints at other galactic devices hidden away, before it disintegrates, thereby leaving no evidence!
Contrast this with the somewhat similar saga described in the story “Rip Van Haddow”, two years earlier, in 1963. Here, it is explained, “Earth is a tiny culture, far out on the rim of the galaxy. There are thousands like it. It is a carefully tended incubator designed for the nurture of Man…[the] planet is a machine for converting sun-energy into food, light and air…Man is not on Earth by accident. Every 5,000 years a great survey ship passes by to see that all is well, and measures Man’s progress.” If “The Oil Rig” was rather in the Erich Von Däniken mode, then what follows in this earlier story is straight out of Immanuel Velikovsky’s 1950 book Worlds in Collision. Both were purveyors of fanciful pseudo-science theories based on exaggerating cultural myths and dubious evidence, very popular in the 1950s to 70s, but totally discredited since.
In the Hawke story we are informed that 3,000 years ago the galactic survey ship witnessed a disaster when the planet Jupiter exploded, flinging out a comet which wiped Mars clean of air and life and wreaked havoc on the growing civilisations of Earth. Velikovsky, however, set the event back another 500 years, to the fifteenth century BC. The galactic survey team were able to stabilise the comet and it became the planet Venus. Thereafter Men studied astrology in the hope of foretelling future dangers. The story then culminates in the concourse of representatives of the Galactic Federation (all very alien looking), with Hawke as Earth representative being asked whether humankind is ready to join the ‘Greater Universe’. He declines, saying when we are ready, we will come to you! Obviously the ‘Venus’ of this story bore no resemblance to the Venus briefly seen in the “Wondrous Lamp” story, or the 1956 story “Sanctuary”, or, indeed, the real Earth-sized planet in our reality.

hawke moonbase

Long after the Patterson era, Jordan has Hawke attend another galactic gathering, in the more mediocre story “Sitting Tenants” (1972/73), but with much less sympathy for Earth’s inhabitants. It is obvious that Willie Patterson used these various ideas from early science fiction and pseudo-science books merely as a vehicle for his own clever, thought-provoking stories. They did not reflect any belief on his part. Jordan, writing in 1986 for the introduction of the second of Titan’s editions of the Jeff Hawke stories, reflected how Patterson had a “soaring intellect”, but that he could be “autocratic in his dealings with others.” Jordan even speculated if the Devil/Mephisto/Mephistopheles character Patterson used in the prologues of his stories (from the first “Overlord” in 1960 to his final appearance at the end of “The Strange Ship”, in 1969, prologue to the Jordan story “Daughter of Eros”), was, in fact, Patterson himself, with artist Jordan relegated to the ‘dutiful’ bat-like servitor creature, there only to be entertained by the stories.
In addition to Jeff Hawke – his enduring masterpiece – he also scripted (again in the Daily Express) “Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law”, of which I also had good memories for character and stories. Jordan writes that “much of his understanding of the hidden power-games involved in being a politician, barrister or journalist, was gleaned from his encounters in the noisy bars around Fleet Street or in the more sober and subtler surroundings of the Press Club.” Even as a young man, Jordan reports, he was also a voracious reader, consuming books on archaeology, astronomy, Latin and Greek poets – as you read the Hawke stories (there are lots of literary and poetic quotations), you can see the scope and breadth of his interests and knowledge.
Sadly, he withdraw from writing – one explanation was a conflict over the direction the Express editors wished to take the comic strips, but by then, Jordan implies, he was already “ill and confused”, rejecting help from both management and even close friends. He isolated himself even from Sydney Jordan, who had known him from childhood in Scotland together. He became something of a recluse, even from his family in Perth, living in Marylebone. After a long, debilitating illness, he died 9th October 1986, “loved and cared for by his lady”, Jordan says, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. He is registered as William Cunningham Patterson, born 2nd May 1929. By then the Jeff Hawke strip, too, was also no more, the Express having terminated the series in 1975, the last strip being numbered ‘H6487’.
Soon after the demise of Hawke, Jordan created a new series, set in the late 21st century, originally entitled Lance McLane, and featuring a post-apocalypse, new Ice Age, Earth, with humankind living on Mars, the remains of a shattered Moon, several orbiting space stations, and three huge, Star Trek-like, spaceships. This saga, now apparently only easily accessible in Italian, ran from about 1977 to at least 1985, but bizarrely, almost in mid-story, Jordan then resurrects Jeff Hawke into the Lance McLane character, initially still bearded and a ship’s surgeon, later back to how he looked in his heyday! These stories, too, became complex and rambling, lacking either humour or optimism. But then even before this irrational finale, the post-Willie Patterson Jeff Hawke Express stories had become darker, in some ways reverting back to ethos of the early stories, if not – thankfully – as long or rambling.
Let us revert then, to examine in more detail Patterson’s ‘Moon’ stories, starting with “Pastmaster”, in 1961. The year in Hawke-time is 1989, and the event in question is the first-time visit to the moonbase by its designer, the engineer Sir Denis Hayward, who had first conceived of the idea “in the ‘sixties”. This is “man’s first colony beyond Earth”, a series of interconnecting domes, housing workshops, laboratories, hydroponic rooms for growing their own food, and living quarters. No Americans, apparently, definitely no Russians or other nationalities or ethnicity, and – apart from Laura (who has a merely passive, ‘walk-on’ role) – we see no other women on-station. This absence of any other women would apparently be something of a problem in the scheme of Ap Tiryns, a so-called historian/time-traveller from 30,000 years in the future, who plan is to send the theoretically self-sufficient moonbase back to 10,831 B.C., to seed a new history, thereby effectively negating all subsequent human history and civilizations.
Actually, given that Homo sapiens on Earth were already in the ascent and widespread, together with the potential non-cooperation of the moonbase personnel, the plan looked flawed and rather half-cock at best, while Jordan’s bizarre depiction of the world a mere 12,000 years ago looked more like 60 million years in the past! Fortunately, Hawke, with help from a rather sexy female ‘Time Guardian’ (like an early version of Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières’ spatio-temporal agent Laureline, from their long-running saga Valerian), is able to thwart his scheme, although Sir Denis proved to be an enthusiastic convert to the idea.
The next Moon story is perhaps the most interesting, “Moonstruck” (1964), actually scripted by Jordan, has the moonbase located in the Crater Plato, although looking slightly different from “Pastmaster”, and apparently staffed only by three technicians. From here on, lunar exploration on the ground is overseen by an orbiting space-station known as ‘Orbitboy’. The story opens with a huge £1,000,000 price-tag girder (intended for moonbase) peppered, and rendered almost useless, by a meteor shower. Hawke’s (somewhat Apollo-like) landing capsule is also struck by meteors, and crushes, its radio smashed, and his oxygen supply limited. He then sees glowing spheres and hears voices, urging him to walk away from the wrecked capsule. Although at first he thinks them illusions, they reveal themselves to be the ‘lords of the meteors’, inhabitants of a Moon “on another wavelength”, whose city in the Crater Pluto is being disrupted by the presence of the moonbase. Mac Maclean, meanwhile, is flying another low-orbit capsule in a desperate ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ search for Hawke, and is able to rescue him after Hawke’s capsule’s fuel-tank explodes. Hawke’s spacesuit is leaking oxygen and he is apparently unconscious, or asleep, but when he revives, seemingly none the worse for his ordeal, he orders moving the moonbase out of the Crater Pluto.
Fast forward to 1969, and the penultimate Patterson story, “The Day the Moon Nearly Exploded”, and again this starts with the explosion of ‘Pegasus Alpha’, a nuclear-powered ferry-ship bound for the Moon, killing the unfortunate crew. At the Dartmoor space base there is panic concerning the safety of their only other nuclear-powered ferry, until the arrival of a ‘fission expert from the Atom Establishment’, theoretical physicist Jill Holyrood – a blonde in a mini-skirt! “A woman!” says Hawke, still with that trace of male chauvinist superiority we saw towards Laura, back in the stories from the mid-1950s. “Madame Curie was a woman.” she remarks, before ordering work to cease on dismantling the nuclear engine, assuring them it’s quite safe on the ground, adding, “I should know – I helped design it.” The culprit is a neutron-storm from the sun. However, subsequently a test-rig space-frame also explodes (Mac has to rescue the stranded engineer), leaving a spreading cloud of radio-active gas, which, after analysing the data, Jill Holyrood reports the affects of the neutron storm is converting into antimatter particles.
The theory of the existence of opposite-charged electrons and protons had first been suggested as long ago as the 1890s, but the modern theory was only developed in the 1920s. Since then physicists and cosmologists have suggested the existence of antimatter within distant galaxies, perhaps even entire galaxies comprised of antimatter, although they might be difficult to distinguish. Some even suggested antimatter could be the ‘missing’, so-called ‘dark matter’, needed to ‘explain’ the expansion of the cosmos. In more recent times, antimatter research has been carried out at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, founded 1954, based near Geneva, Switzerland. In the Jeff Hawke world, the hypothetical properties of antimatter had already been explored in the 1957/58 Harry Harrison-scripted story “Out of Touch”, which is that should matter and antimatter contact, they will annihilate each other, “leaving pure energy”.


Hawke and Mac hurtle a small empty container rocket into the cloud, resulting in a devastating explosion. And the cloud is expanding and heading towards the Moon, with moonbase – now located in the Crater Copernicus – falling in range of its fallout. Even as they evacuate the base personnel – Jill Holyrood included – further calculations from more resent observations indicate the cloud is expanding at four times previously predicted. Even Orbitboy is in its path, without sufficient fuel (and nuclear engines ruled out) to move it to safety. Just at the point of acceptance and despair, we see the reappearance of the glowing spheres from the “Moonstruck” story. The antimatter charged particles was just a phase. The cloud is now comparatively harmless, and passes over Orbitboy without incident. The spheres briefly reveal to the crew member what they had previously shown Hawke – an image of how the Moon appears to them, a living, inhabitable planet. Despite the story having demonstrated Jill Holyrood’s intelligence and resourcefulness, there is a still a element of sexism as the spheres refer to her as “that rare phenomena, the intellectually capable female.”
The next story (and the last accredited to Patterson), “The Strange Ship”, is still set on the Moon, again featuring Jill Holyrood, but following the discovery by a moon-tractor exploration team lead by Hawke, who find a metallic box artefact and fragments of what appears to be a spaceship hull within an impact crater. When the box is subjected to X-rays, it activates some kind of alien recording device, which starts to burn its way through the interior walls. They are only ‘saved’ by the appearance of a large bulbous extraterrestrial spaceship from Sirius, and Hawke, Mac and Jill are taken by hooded aliens for interrogation by the masked Assessor. The recording device shows an exchange between the crew of another Sirius spaceship and that of a smaller, more flying saucer-like craft, and apparently the first crew surrendering to the second. The device then said it blow-up the larger, now abandoned, ship. The Assessor is so annoyed at this he blasts the device and orders the ‘liquidation’ of the moonbase and Orbitboy – who we learn had been in operation for ten and fifteen years respectively. Hawke, of course, is not impressed by the “level of civilisation on Sirius”, but then Jill points out that, not only are the hull fragments from a much smaller ship, but they were never in an explosion. She says scornfully, “You’re not very clever, are you – you, or your so-called Assessor.” At that point there is another intervention, a Federal Patrol from Andromeda, led by a sexy, scantily-clad female, who take ruthless action against their would-be executioners, and arrest the Assessor. If he is lucky, he will “get five years in the uranium mines”, she says.
It is a strange anti-climax to the Willie Patterson period. A much later, Jordan-scripted, story in 1972, “Selena”, recounts the first child (a girl, named as Selena) born outside of Earth, on the moonbase in 1981, but this base is later destroyed by fire in 1991, and a new base built nearby in 1995, located in the Mare Imbrium. Despite Jordan’s usual technologically believable hardware – moon-tractors, spacesuits, space-station, spacecraft – the story is rather confusing, with elements of H.G. Wells’ novel The First Men in the Moon.
The Moon is again the staging-post for another Jordan story, in 1973, “Shorty’s Secret”, this time the setting is 1996, but ending up in the rings of Saturn. Didn’t we come this way once before – in “Out of Touch”? By then, Patterson’s apparent fears of editorial pressure to make the stories “more sexy”, with nude, or near-nude, females, had come to pass, and these later stories are decisively inferior, in plot or construction, with the once, more serious-minded, Hawke often giving way to carnal pleasures. With only a few exceptions, better not to look at the later stories.
However, before we sum up our conclusions on the near, late-20th century future as depicted by Jeff Hawke, let us first briefly look at a few more interesting stories. “Survival” (1960), follows directly on from the first “Overlord” story. It is tight, claustrophobic, rather dark, but intelligent and challenging. Hawke and company trapped on a crashed spaceship, Mac (the top engineer) badly injured and near death, Hawke distracted by concern for his friend, Laura concerned for Hawke, and mentally deranged crewmen, Donegan, shots one of their would-be alien rescuers – the Orm from Algol – but only after they have physically ‘repaired’, but also mentally/intellectually ‘improved’ Mac. As Mac subsequently explains to Hawke, they have “accelerated” him “along the path of human evolution…what man will one day become…Utterly self-contained, the self-sufficient being.”
He has no need of companionship, friendship, human civilisation, or even morality. He is the pinnacle Nietzschean superman, indifferent to the plight of lesser beings. I wonder if Patterson had read the Olaf Stapledon 1935 novel Odd John. Mac is depicted with glowing, staring eyes. His weakness, however, is the possibility of failure, of needing the help and assistance of others, of not being able to “stand alone”. Hawke deliberately sabotages elements of the wrecked ship to force him to repair it, and a miscalculation triggers a mental conflict and effectively breakdown, from which eventually the old Mac Maclean re-emerges. The artwork is superb, contrasts of light and shadow, and is an example, amongst the Hawke stories, that could still make a good television science fiction drama.
“Uncanny Deep” (1963/64) predated “Wildcat” in its prediction of the future of aviation. It is 20th December 1987 and Mac is flying from London Heathrow to see his “folks” in Vancouver by a Concorde-like semi-orbital rocket-liner. This is Bucephalus 3 (named after the horse of Alexander the Great.) It will reach an altitude of 50 miles over Ireland, cross the Atlantic and the North American mainland, and arrive in just 2 hours. Even at 5,000 mph, that is 6.57 Mach, nearly seven times the speed of sound! However, a failure in the fuel-feed system meant the engines cut-out 6 minutes prematurely whilst still only at an altitude of 40 miles over the Irish Sea. It cannot turn back, but does not have the trajectory to reach North America; it will hit re-entry midway over the Atlantic. Mac, travelling first class, straightway recognises the problem and manages to get into the control cabin. There the chief pilot recognises him – Mac did the pioneer test flights for the Bucephalus prototypes, and wrote the flight manuals. Calculating the pressurised hull can withstand up to 100 fathoms (500ft) of water, Mac take over and makes a controlled crash-landing above a mid-ocean ridge. Then it is down to Hawke and the Royal Navy, using a huge heavy-duty hovercraft, to use a crane, balloons, and tackle to hoist the stricken rocket-liner to the surface.
Things are complicated by storms (the hovercraft can only make 80 knots), and – unbeknown to the rescuers – a hitherto unknown sea serpent has made its way into the jet tubes, which (rather like an electric eel) gives off delusions. The passengers and crew have seemingly changed into animals and monsters. The two R.N. divers who attempt to fix the rigging about the wings, are overcome with shock, and Hawke has to put on the pressure-suit to go down instead. Once the rocket-liner is on the hovercraft deck, the serpent appears, creating brief panic, before Hawke shoots it dead. Yet again, the futuristic technical aspects of the story are superb, and believable. This is a world in which ideas of supersonic passenger flight weren’t abandoned, but continued to evolve into the high-altitude, semi-orbital flyers that, 60 years later, in our 2020s, aeronautical engineers and designers are still dreaming about!
“A Foreign Body” (1964) is another time travel story of sorts, with a wacky alien craft (in appearance rather like the cylinder-roofed-over landers of the much later Lance McLane stories) causing a time-warp, again, because it has mixed all the time-periods together, with the potential for exploding the planet. This takes place near RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire, once home (from 1924-30) to the R101 Airship, which Hawke and his companions actually see, together with two Edwardian balloonists, and a pterodactyl! Intervention comes in the form of a skimpily-dressed blonde woman supposedly from a million years in the future, and the Venusian Overlords from the 40th century, who may have been a communist society, as they talked respectfully of ‘the great early-man Kay-Marks’. In 2016 Cardington was the base for a new era hybrid airship, Airlander 10.
“The Intelligent Ones” (1966) has a retired Air Marshal supposedly “attacked” by a flying saucer in the Lake District. When Hawke and Mac investigate they find an undercurrent of obstinance, bigotry, rigid thinking, and bullying of the local tramp, who has befriended the occupants of the saucer, a non-threatening, extraterrestrial couple, here on a fishing holiday! This was Mac’s story.
“The Hole in Space” (1967), is just that – a mysterious portal that first teleport the two occupants of an Yorkshire-based air-freighter to the deserts of Australia, and then (this time with Mac on-board) to deepest Africa. There is a certain amount of ethnic stereotyping, with black natives still living in grass-huts and a witchdoctor with what would seem ESP powers. The ending is rather unexpected, and comes with a bump – literally!
“The Venusian Club” (1967/68) was an amusing gem of a story, initially featuring a lost humanoid space-mariner determined to get back to Jupiter. He is conveniently equipped with a hypnotic device behind the eye, and is able to instantly learn language and integrate himself, first as a technician named as Reeve on the space station, then back on Earth where he and Hawke fly to Downing Street to ‘persuade’ the Prime Minister to sanction a Jupiter rocket. The story rattles along at a fast enough pace to skirt over any flaws in the plot.
The Venusian Club (in London’s St. James area) is the ultimate in conspiracy theories of a secret society whose members (all aliens in human form from Jupiter) hold high office in the country’s political and economic establishment – Bank of England, Royal Household, Houses of Commons and Lords, the Prime Minister’s private secretary. However, rather than teleport lost space-mariners back to the satellite of Jupiter, they simply set the teleporter to dispose – as it costs too much to then transport them to Jupiter itself. Following an aborted intervention by Hawke, trying to retrieve his lost memory of the business with ‘Reeve’, the story is taken up by a retired bee-keeper from rural Buckinghamshire – and a surprise outcome. Not everyone is who, or what, they seem.
My feeling with “Rogue Star” (1968/69) is that was written perhaps ten years previous. We are back to a Mars with canals, despite the much more realistic Mars in “Pass the Parcel”. We also have the reappearance – suddenly – of Laura Gilton, as expedition biologist, since she disappeared with “Survival”, eight years previous. She is now more blonde than brunette. However, the expedition ship is different from those early ones, which I associate more with 1950s spaceships as depicted by R.A. Smith or Chesley Bonestell, but the control room is in what is called the ‘cats-eye’, a huge glass bubble – not, one would have thought, very safe from either radiation exposure or meteors! As for the story, featuring a duplicate artificial (egg-shaped) Diemos, one of the two Martian moons, the best one can say, is it rather silly, even a bit pointless.
In addition to the brick-lined, dead-straight canals, we have another cosmic catastrophe, this time involving Saturn – the ‘rogue star’. We met giant robot sentinels, rather stupid and useless, and two of the surviving ancient Martians, with more encased in caverns deep below the surface. Jordan would later revisit this idea in the equally silly “Shorty’s Secret”, but with naked girls instead. In reality Diemos has a radius of 3.9 miles (6.2 km), a 20.3 hour circular orbit, at about 14,580 miles (23,460 km) from the Martian surface. Its distant origins might be a captive asteroid or planetary fragment. The first Soviet probe was in the 1980s, the NASA Aladdin probes in the 1990s.
Although the story of “Daughter of Eros” (1969) is accredited to Jordan, and it introduced the first Jeff Hawke sex scene, nevertheless it was still a good, clever story. The space budget decrees only one mission, and Hawke is campaigning to fly to, and land on, the asteroid Eros. This is an elongated peanut-shaped body with a diameter of 10.4 miles (16.8km) by 17 miles long, first discovered in 1898, moving in a cross-Mars orbit. The NEAR Shoemaker probe made a flyby in 1998, later orbing, and finally landing on its surface in 2001. In the story it is a secret underground base for hostile extraterrestrials intending eventually to conquer Earth, fat-faced humanoids who wear skull-caps with cute little antennae. One alien, disguised with wig and spectacles, has already established his credentials as a planetary geologist at the Dartmoor space-base. He now introduces Vess-Ta, or Vesta as she is to be known, as his assistant, intended to be ‘honey-trap’ to bend Hawke’s mind to cancel the project. She is one of the freakish “mutant children of those who tend the solar furnaces on Belk-Narr”, their barren desert home planet.
The story features Stonehenge, moonlit drives across Southern England, cosy country pubs, and the 1960s split-level Piccadilly Circus plan. This was by Dennis Lennon & Partners, and involved a covered-over through-road to Shaftsbury Avenue, Leicester Square and Convent Garden, with raised pedestrian decks stretching along Gerrard Street to Charing Cross Street and beyond, the statue known (incorrectly) as ‘Eros’ – actually the Lord Shaftesbury Memorial fountain, 1892/3 – would be moved to the upper pedestrian deck above the road. The London Pavilion would be completely rebuilt as a pyramid-like pleasure dome with moving adverts on its exterior. Behind that would loom the new Trocadero (architects Fitzroy Robinson and Sidney Kaye), comprising internal courtyard, hotel (each floor with overhanging rooms to the one below), four cinemas, office space, etc., while on the old Criterion site would have been the 30-storey Charles Forte tower, clad in bronze glass. In addition there was proposed a pedestrianized, glass-covered, Regent Street.
It was an idea that obviously delighted Sydney Jordan, as he depicted it again, in the 1974 story “The First Person Plural”, and the general appearance would have been quite futuristic, but also rather overwhelming in scale, to say nothing of the wanton destruction of the existing Victorian/Edwardian architecture on almost every side of the Circus. Given the hideousness of so much of the 1960s and 70s builds, we were fortunate to escape this. By the 1980s many of the buildings which would have been demolished, were instead Grade II listed.
The aliens’ dastardly plot works, but not without Vesta falling in love with both Hawke and the green beauty of Earth, much to the annoyance of her ‘handlers’. In the story climax – set within the Stonehenge circles – Mac comes to the rescue, but only after Vesta has already been teleported to Balk-Narr, followed by the bad guys back to Eros. But Mac picks up and hurls the sun-bomb (intended to kill Hawke and wipe out their presence) into the portal before it can fully close. Eros is blown to bits. And there the story ends, Jeff wondering where in the stars overhead Vesta might be. Vesta was sexy, often portrayed in her bra and panties, and quite cute and likeable. Their night of sex was discreet and an integral part of the story.
However, from here on, in numerous stories, Hawke ends up having sex with various attractive female extraterrestrial girls, often simply for the sake of it, doing little for the story in question. With Vesta, I always felt it was an opportunity missed, not to have had a later story of him seeking, and finding her again, bringing her back to Earth. If nothing else, she deserved a better outcome than a lonely, regretful life on the desert planet. Of all his subsequent women, she was the nicest, most intelligent and affectionate.

A Brief Meditation on Tom King


The 2010s was the long decade of my slow divorce from comics and superheroes after a lifelong interest. This isn’t about why, just that the fact is relevant.
The less and less that I read and collected did not alter my habit of daily consultation with a couple of noted sites that brought news, reviews, and analysis of what was going on. There was barely anything that I was interested in seeing for myself, but I could shake the habit, the connection. The addiction if I’m being honest with myself.
I am sure then that I discovered the name of Tom King, being praised, though it doesn’t seem to have been attached to anything in my memory, nor did it make me want to check out any of his writings until I read about Batman Annual no. 2. Read about it, read a couple of sample pages from it, was also alerted to the contemporaneous Batman 38, in which Batman and his fiancee Catwoman have an evening out with Superman and Lois Lane.
(I knew he’d asked Selina to marry him, but can’t remember if I’d heard she’d accepted).
Next time I was in Manchester, checking for anything I had on order from Forbidden Planet, I bought the two comics. I read them on the bus, coming home. And they were brilliant.
I’m not going to get into why, just yet. For now it’s enough to say that I was instantly hooked on King’s Batman series. I had it kept for me. Once a month, two issues. Collect the past issues of King’s story in the hardback Deluxe Editions. Bring the beginning up to the present day and walk with it to the end, a disappointingly early end when the news broke that instead of 105 issues, King’s story would end in issue 85, and the tale of the last twenty issues that he’d promised would bring major, permanent, to-be-signed-off-on-at-the-highest-level change might not ever happen.
As I always used to do when I found an exciting new writer in comics, one with an individual perspective, who brought different elements to the same old story-telling, I started picking up what King did next. And what King has done since has been… a bit repetitive. No ongoing stories, no open-ended series, just maxi-series, mostly twelve issues at a time.
Heroes in Crisis, Adam Strange, Rorscharch, The Human Target. Batman/Catwoman.
The first of these was the one I anticipated most eagerly. The concept was brilliant, the possibilities endless, the execution tedious and creaky. It was a massive disappointment from the first issue onwards, and the disappointment was magnified tenfold when I learned that King hadn’t even been in charge of the story. He’d submitted the concept then docilely followed editorial order as to who was to get killed. It didn’t matter to him who it was. Given that the whole point of the story was that not one but two longstanding DC hero characters were to be killed upfront, it should have mattered. It should have been King’s decision and it should have been integral to the story. Not Dan DeDio’s whim.
I also collected Adam Strange. I’ve acquired the complete original run from Mystery in Space, a character I never read when I was young, but whose adventures, I discovered, were cool, inventive, superbly drawn and great fun. Trashed by King. Demeaned. Shat upon, and in a cliched and unimaginative manner.
Even Batman/Catwoman, the story of those twenty denied issues, fell flat. It was Black Label, instead of ‘real’. It was held up for two years. It was delayed coming out. King’s story-techniques were not just familiar, they were cliches by now, crutches that I had seen too often. I wouldn’t have read Rorscharch anyway, because Watchmen etc., and as for The Human Target, I could see all too clearly that this was going to be a retread of Adam Strange: someone else’s character, up against the wall, fucked in the ass.
How long has it been since King’s Batman run ended? How quick and thorough a decline from fascination to disillusion and the intent never to read one of his stories again.
All this has come about because I am slowly working my way through my Graphic Novel collection, intent on reading every book, and deciding on whether it is to be retained or if I no longer envisage re-reading it. I am up to Batman, and to Tom King’s run. How does my changed attitude affect this extended storyline that, at the time and in the light of what I understand has been carried out since, is one of only two runs that I have felt perfectly reflected what I personally see in Batman, The Dark Knight, The Caped Crusader. Bruce Wayne.
Before I answer that, and with reference to that last remark, in a way Tom King contributed to spoiling Batman for me. It had already been going that way for me, the decades long emphasis on Batman as a dark and gritty character, his transformation into ‘Bat-God’ who, despite the absence of any power whatsoever, is still perfect because he out-thinks, out-prepares, out-wills everyone, including villains who could turn him into a grease spot on a Gotham pavement just by breathing on him.
But Tom King fixed him in place. Like every other character, Batman is a malleable, eternally shifting, schizophrenic character, the amorphous design of every new writer’s priorities. But King, in Bruce Wayne’s romance/recognition with Selina Kyle, fixed Batman in place. Fixed Catwoman too. Fixed both of them, as a Both of Them.
It was as if he created an ideal form for the pair, and from the first moment, that Annual, that issue, I can no longer see the characters any other way. This was who they were and who they really are, and now they can never be any other way for me without my head banging against a brick wall and intoning ‘No, no, no, no,’ repeatedly.
It makes the re-reading interesting. Much of the run is now infected by the obviousness of King’s signature tropes. What once was fresh is now blurred by excessive ex post facto repetition. Batman as Bat-God. Batman as grindingly miserable. Batman as pure misery and pain without which he cannot be Batman, and god knows we can’t have that.
Yet bring Catwoman onto the page and it’s like, wow! Am I still reading the same thing? It’s like leaping a tall building in a single bound, from sub-basement to penthouse roof. The very atmosphere changes. Bat and Cat, Bruce and Selina together are just magical. It’s because they love each other, and they are perfectly right for each other. And a large part of that is that Selina is so much more together as a person.
Selina is more complete, more entire, more integrated. Her emotional intelligence is a six-lane highway to Bruce’s back country dirt track. She’s better at her job that he is at his: no matter what security he puts into Wayne Manor she breezes through it with a purr, and the touch of leaving a small mouse behind each time is the grace note that’s perfect.
When Batman is broken, Catwoman builds him back up. And the true genius to that is that not once in any way does Batman suggest he could have done it himself. That’s the true meaning of love, that you can open yourself up that much, that widely, paint a bullseye on your heart, nock the arrow for them, and trust them not to let go of the string.
The ending turned out to be the same old boring Bat-God. Everything had been foreseen, measured, planned for and orchestrated, including the breaking. Ho-hum. Batman can never be anything but smarter than everyone else. Am I the only one who finds that incredibly boring?
But I’ll keep Tom King’s Batman run, though I wondered whether I would still want to having regard to how my opinion of his writing has plummeted. It’s like two stories, one naff, one sublime, but you can’t extract the sublime from the ridiculous, and I have no intention of surrendering the sublime, not when I recognise it so deeply.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge’s Fictional British Spacemen of the 1950s and 1960s: R.A.F. Wing Commander (Robert) Jeffrey Hawke (Part 1)


The ‘Jeff Hawke’ stories published in the Daily Express newspaper, and accredited throughout to artist/illustrator Sydney Jordan, is of a quite different category to Dan Dare, Captain Condor or Jet-Ace Logan, not least because of its longevity – from 1954 to 1975, but also that its intended readership were adult, rather than eight to twelve year-old schoolboys. Looked at now in retrospect, the Jeff Hawke stories can be designated into four phases – the first, with Jordan as both artist and writer, from the initial story “Space Rider”, through to “Opposite Power”, in 1956, saw Hawke in a more actively heroic mode, with a continuity between stories that was quite characteristic at that time – and, indeed, even of some later newspaper comic strips in their early stage. I would example the early “Garth” stories in this 1940s/50s period for story-to-story continuity. But even the London Evening Standard/Peter O’Donnell “Modesty Blaise” espionage and crime stories from 1963 to 1970, during the initial Jim Holdaway period, still had a continuity, each story following on from its predecessor, but which was all but abandoned when Romero took over as artist, from 1970 onward.
The first three Hawke stories, in particular, were long, drawn-out affairs, quite obviously inspired in part by the Daily Mirror’s science fiction “Garth” comic strip – one can example the Stephen Dowling Garth stories “Journey to Jason” (1950); “Invasion From Space” (1952); or “The Captive” (1957), all very much in the some heroic sci-fi mode, which itself was probably influenced by the original 1930s Alex Raymond comic strip “Flash Gordon” stories – Earth hero’s adventures on another, quite alien, planet. So, the early Hawkes were rambling, complicated to the point of being confusing, high octane adventures, each followed on from its predecessor, but having already introduced Hawke’s long-running sidekick, Canadian ‘Mac’ MacLean, and his one-time girlfriend/fiancé, Laura Gilton. Both made their appearance in the second story, untitled at the time, but subsequently named by Jeff Hawke chroniclers as “The Martian Invasion”.
The second phase saw the story plots mature, but still only slowly moving away from action adventure, and this was from the first Willie Patterson co-credited story “Sanctuary” (still in 1956, and which first introduced the politics and characters of the Galactic Federation), and continued to “Time Out of Mind”, in 1960, a story again still only accredited to Jordan. One other story in this period was co-authored by Jordan and Willie Patterson, “Poles Apart”, but was actually the continuation of a rather muddled and rambling Jordan story, “The Dream Peddlers”. The one fully accredited to Patterson, “Unquiet Island” (1956/57), was more of a James Bond-style spy story about foreign agents (complete with submarine and jet-fighter), attempting to steal a missile rocket engine. “Out of Touch” (1957/58), another space-bound adventure set in and around the rings of Saturn, was something of a complete one-off, being authored by veteran American science fiction writer, Harry Harrison.
The third phase, beginning with “Overlord” (1960, with the second appearance of intergalactic outlaw, Chalcedon), is justly regarded as the Jeff Hawke ‘golden age’, with almost all the stories thereafter authored by Willie Patterson, and just three, still excellent, exceptions accredited to Jordan – “Pass the Parcel”, “Winner Gain All”, and “Moonstruck”. I, personally, would add “Daughter of Eros” (1969), although the next story following immediately on the sad departure of Willie Patterson, and the first of the more sexually explicit Hawke stories, it was still within the sophisticated, clever story framework, of a proposed expedition to the asteroid Eros, and dastardly plans by aliens to thwart it happening.
This phase saw Hawke’s clever, scientist girlfriend Laura fade out at the end of “Survival” (1960), although she made one, penultimate appearance – summoned-up, ghost-like, out of Hawke’s memory – was the 1963 story “Pass the Parcel”. Thereafter she disappeared again, until unexpectedly reappearing in the story “Rogue Star” (1968/69), now as the biologist on yet another seemingly ‘first’ British expedition to Mars. As I will argue below, this story – although ascribed to Patterson, is something of an oddity. She appears, but then disappears again – this time for good. Hawke had finally dumped her. While Willie Patterson did introduce some strong, interesting female characters – I was quite fond of the young, mini-skirted archaeologist Berenice in “The Poltergeist”, and especially Skipper Possitt, Chalcedon’s accomplice in “Counsel for the Defence”, and fellow manipulator in the second “Overlord” story – there was never, in his stories, any suggestion of romance, never mind sex.
Other characters made their appearance, and occasional reappearance. during the Willie Patterson period. Most notable, of course, was Chalcedon, his fabulous intergalactic arch-villain, utterly immortal and without scruples, an aristocrat-gone-bad, always with his complex, dastardly scheme, mostly to be elevated to overlord a galaxy or three! His frequent opposite number and would-be nemesis, was the reptilian His Excellency, Galactic Federation policeman, together with Kolvorok, His Excellency’s bumbling, bureaucratic, but always rather cowardly, underling, who resembled a one-eyed vegetable with tentacles. In their initial debut, in the story “Sanctuary” (1956), Kolvorok is designated as the ‘Director of Biological Research’, seemingly functioning as a an advisor, but later he is just a fellow police officer, one-time outcast and rebel, and even – it is implied – His Excellency’s successor.
At least one other Cyclops-like bug-eyed henchmen also appeared in the first “Overlord” story (1960), to reappear again in the second “Overlord” story (1966/67); he is Tallid the Reasonable Fish. He and Kolvorok are quite similar in appearance, but arch-enemies, and Tallid (initially in cahoots with Chalcedon) is devious and scheming, whereas Kolvorok is mostly incompetent and desperate. During this Patterson period Chalcedon actually had three short stories all to himself, without Jeff Hawke – “Incognito” (1965), “Getaway” (1966), and “A Word of Advice” (also 1966). Irrelevant to our essay of Hawke’s world, they are, none-the-less, amusing. Chalcedon’s last appearance was in “The Comet’s Tail” (1973/74), together with a revisit to the Laws Courts of Galactopolis, capital of the Galactic Federation. This story, which was a sort of wrapping up of the long-running saga, nevertheless lacked both the humour and subtly of Patterson’s penmanship. Kolvorok and His Excellency would appear one last time in “Heir Apparent”, c.1975 in syndication only, and the only copy I have access to is in Italian. Nevertheless the artwork is quite crude compared to Jordan at his best (apparently a combination of Paul Neary and Jordan), and again the story is darker, seemingly without much hint of humour.
Another character, the elderly archaeologist Professor Somerlay, appeared in two stories, “Faery Land Forlorn” (1964) and “The Poltergeist” (1968); while British Museum-based researcher and ‘electronics wizard’ Samuel Larks, aka ‘Larkie’, appeared in “Immortal Toys” (1961/62), “Made in Birmingham” (1965), and the second story “Overlord” (1966/67). Finally, we the Galactic High Court Judge, who appeared in “Counsel for the Defence” (1961), together with another interesting character, Skipper Prossit, “ablest woman-skipper of the tramp space-ways”, and whose “beloved husband” was vaporised on a charge of piracy one hundred years previous – denizens of the galactic worlds live vastly extended lives to us Earthlings. Prossit (together with the Judge) appeared again in the second “Overlord” story, but, alas, nothing thereafter, which is pity, she had great potential which was missed! However, she did become something of the MC/spokeswoman for the Jeff Hawke Club website. That she and Chalcedon had a bit of a ‘thing’ going on was apparent, but then, even in his first story appearance, he regarded himself as something of a lady-killer and galactic Casanova. One of his crafty get-out ploys to escape law-enforcement was proposing something of a shotgun wedding to Laura, then still Jeff’s ‘fiancé’. Needless to say, that didn’t work out!
Finally came the fourth, and final, phase, from “S.O.S.”/“Rescue Party” (1969/70, a continuous two-parter), until “Moratorro” (1975), and the end of publication in the Express – although the final complete Hawke story, “Heir Apparent”, was published in syndication only. Sydney Jordan was now sole author, with fellow artists Nick Faure, and brief contributions from Brian Bolland and Martin Asbury (of “Garth” fame). If there was little continuity between stories (other than those featuring Chalcedon) in the Patterson period, there was almost none in this last phase, which, sadly saw the quality of stories decline into a mixture of often needless eroticism, and silliness. By contrast, Patterson’s story were clever, challenging, thought-provoking, sometimes outright contradictory, original, and funny. The Jeff Hawke of this period was more thoughtful, often just a spectator or commentator to events, and the story pace less frantic or chaotic than that of the first or second phases. In this post-Patterson fourth phase, the stories became darker and disjointed, and – in my opinion – opportunities for continuity or links to earlier stories are lost. The quality of the artwork is also often notably inferior, with Jordan mostly sharing the artistic work with Nick Faure (born 1944, better known as a racing-car driver and champion). Aside from the Chalcedon story, I personally could have seen at least two possible, potentially interesting, ‘follow-on’ stories – that of Vess-ta (from “Daughter of Eros”), and even Mac’s relationship with the character Jane Seaton, from “S.O.S./The Rescue Party”. These were missed opportunities, but so was not revisiting Skipper Possitt, another great character!


Again, if we look back at the first phase Hawke stories, they too are totally out of context with the stories that came after, especially those of the Patterson period. It is not just the rambling, over-long structure of the stories remarked upon above, but even the setting. The classic period Hawke – which is essentially the stories we will look most closely at – were set in the then future, in the world of the 1980s and 90s. However, in the second, “Martian Invasion” story, set back on Earth, with later a rambling detour to the Moon and Mars, we are informed the year is 1954 – the year of the story’s publication! Moreover, Laura’s father is driving an old 1950s motor-car, as are the ambulances and other vehicles shown, and most of the aircraft.
In “Opposite Power”, (1956) Hawke and Mac are flying a Shackleton bomber to the Antarctic. The ‘crazy scientist’ (actually archaeologist) bad guy, Doctor Sigmund Nostro (a typical bad guy name, incidentally), went ‘missing’ at the beginning of World War II, and was at one time in cahoots with Nazi German scientists. It was not until “Time Out of Mind” (1959/60) that we have apparently moved into the future, when Jeff and Mac are raced by high-speed police car along a freeway to New York’s Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy Airport) for an emergency flight to Cape Canaveral. The appearance of the cars, and the speeds (over 100 mph, up to 200 mph) are beyond that of the 1950s – or even of today, on most motorways!
Even less credible, in “The Martian Invasion” story (1954/55), there is a successful British/Australian un-manned Moon rocket launched from Australia’s Woomera (which actually featured in several later Hawke stories), and somehow, in comparatively no time at all, Hawke is put in charge of a joint British-American-Russian program to build the first three orbiting, manned, wheel-like space-stations, and again launching a fleet of huge manned rockets to the Moon. Something that again was not only beyond our abilities in the real world of the early 1950s – in design, technology, resources, or engineering – but even that of the 2020s. All this apparently happen while the Martians sit on the Moon, waiting – for what? – but, again in reality, would take months, if not years, to develop rocket engines with sufficient power and thrust, launch-pads, perfect on-board equipment for the rigours of outer space, or to train astronauts and engineers to work and operate in zero gravity, in conditions beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
Even in the next story, subsequently named “The Search for Asteron” (1955), Hawke leads a space fleet of the giant spaceships to the asteroid belt – something which is only revisited, in a much more realistic, low-key manner, in “The Daughter of Eros” (1969). In “Sanctuary”, although scripted by Patterson, Hawke is off again, this time leading a fleet of ships to Jupiter. Once again, in the story “The Venusian Club” (1967/68), the cost and resources of such a flight is put into a more realistic context (the Prime Minister saying it would bankrupt the economy), as well as the potential time-scale to plan and prepare.
So, these early Hawke stories, supposedly still in the contemporary 1950s, are totally over-fanciful in terms of space exploration or technology, something which – certainly by ‘golden age’ of the Patterson period – had been drastically scaled back to a more reasonable time scale, but, of course, in doing so, there exists a complete mismatch between the early and later stories. Even by “Time Out of Mind” (1959/60) we learn that the first manned lunar landing in Hawke’s world took place on the 4th August 1969 – not a bad prediction: in real time it was 20th July 1969, just a couple of weeks out! – but the actual story, set mostly on the Moon, is taking place fifteen years later, so circa 1984. Gradually, too, the space hardware of rockets, space-suits, space-station and Cape Canaveral-like launches, became more realistic, but so were restraints and limits.
In “Pass the Parcel” Hawke is leading the ‘third expedition to Mars’, perhaps implying the first two were American and Russia. This Mars has no Martians (living or dead) or mythical canals; it is the Mars of science, not decades of fanciful science fiction. Likewise, in the excellent story “Anti-gravity Man” (1965), the plot revolves around a British astronaut (initially piloting a cargo of nuclear material to the space station) being stranded in orbit when the rocket explodes, leaving only the capsule. The race to rescue him, before either his oxygen runs out or he hits the atmosphere, is extremely realistic and tense, with the first priority being to get the nuclear material down in a controlled landing (into the sea), and only then an attempt by Mac Maclean to intercept the pilot in his fast-moving, and erratic orbit. When that fails, due to a minor mechanical error, the British ground-team, overseen by Hawke, are in despair – perhaps the Americans? But time is short. Thankfully, the silly Martian character of the early stories had long-since been ditched, as had the orbiting huge, multi-ship fleets to fly off at the drop of a hat, into distant regions of the solar system, at apparently no expense or concern about loss of valuable equipment.
Indeed, while several stories from this period were set on the Lunar Base – “Pastmaster” (1961), the date being given as 1989; “Moonstruck” (1964); “The Day the Moon Nearly Exploded” (1969); and “The Strange Ship” (also 1969, both feature a glamorous, blonde lady physicist, Jill Holyrood) – again it is depicted as a cluster of domes, modest and believable, if difficult in the last story mentioned, to reconcile it being humankind’s only base located on our satellite. Over the years the moonbase moved from the Crater Pluto to Copernicus to the Mare Imbrium, although all are not that far from each other. The Copernicus base featured again in “Chacondar!” (1970), which follows on from “The Rescue Party”, with Hawke testing out a ‘moon flyer’ (named as ‘Dragonfly’), powered by systems, we are told, that had been taken from the Sphinx spaceship of the previous two stories. Aspects of the Moon colony – radio relay masts, together with a geostationary relay satellite, and a ‘moon hopper’, like a giant pogo stick – are interesting, and well-illustrated. The Moon was visited again in the Jordan-scripted “Selena”, in 1972, with the first base ravaged by fire, and a second base built nearby. The last visit to the Moonbase is in “Heir Apparent” (c.1975), not published in the Express, and the final Hawke story. I regard the later Lance McLane stories as completely separate, despite Jordan’s bizarre mid-story attempt to ‘resurrect’ Hawke into the late 21st century.
The space station – exclusively British and staffed by R.A.F. types – featured almost extensively in “Winner Gain All” (1964), another believable story, depicting an attempt by a minor (fictitious) South American country to hijack the station’s nuclear weaponry. It appeared again at the beginning of “The Venusian Club” (1967/68), when an orbiting optical telescope spots a huge derelict alien spaceship. Throughout the Hawke stories, as far back as the apparent construction of the ‘first’ space station in the “Martian Invasion” story, it was depicted as the classic 1950s sci-fi central hub with spokes to an outer wheel, its rotation thereby creating artificial gravity. So, quite unlike the zero-G jumble of cylinders and seemingly haphazard attachments of the Soviet/Russian Mir, or the International Space Station (ISS). The 1972 story “Selena” saw a quite different station – actually named as Space Station-2, although still based on a circular wheel design.
What was from 1918 to 1988 the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, Hampshire, features on a number of occasions, in “The Martian Invasion” and “The Threat from the Past” (1954/56), through “The Immortal Toys” (1961/62), and “A Foreign Body” (1964). In our real world, Farnborough’s long association with aviation dates back to balloon research in 1904, and in 1988 the name was changed to the Royal Aerospace Establishment, still known by the initials RAE. Hawke and Mac were often depicted there.
Woomera Rocket Range (since 2016 the R.A.A.F. Woomera Range Complex) in South Australia, again first appeared in the Hawke stories as early as “The Martian Invasion”, when – in Hawke’s original time-line of 1954 – the first un-manned research survey rocket, ‘Objective Luna’, was launched from there, its destination being to survey the Moon. Woomera featured again in the Patterson story, “The Hole in Space” (1967), when a two-man, privately-owned freight aircraft from Scarborough, Yorkshire, on a flight to Brussels, ends up flying over the Australian desert! Finally, Woomera becomes the scene of an epic battle in another clever, strictly Earth-bound, Patterson story, “Cataclysm” (1968), when Hawke foils an attempt to seize rocket-missiles, in a way another version on the Jordan story “Winner Gain All” (1964). In our real world, the Anglo-Australian Woomera Rocket Range (and ‘Prohibited Area’) was set up in 1947, comprising some 47,177 square miles (122,188 square kilometres), so about the size of the US State of Pennsylvania. The name comes from the Aborigine Dharug language, meaning a wooden spear-throwing device. It continues to be a joint Royal Australian Air Force and civilian aerospace facility.
Finally, and fictional only to the Jeff Hawke world, is the British Space Rocket Launching Base located on Dartmoor. This features briefly in several Hawke stories, for instance, “The Venusian Club” (1967/68), and “The Day the Moon Nearly Exploded” (1969), the post-Patterson stories “The First Person Plural” (1974), and “Moratorro” (1975), but more prominently in “Anti-gravity Man” (1965), a fascinating, high-tech tale of a stranded astronaut in orbit; and the Jordan story – but still a very good one – “Daughter of Eros” (1969). In that story the European Space Admin Centre is located at Shell-Mex House, London, a grade II listed building (officially No. 80 Strand), built in 1932, and designed by Francis Milton Cashmore. For many years it was the headquarters of the oil company Shell-Mex & BP, although requisitioned for the Ministry of Supply during the Second World War, and several floors continued to be used by the Ministry of Aviation until the 1970s. We may, therefore, assume that in Hawke’s world, this arrangement obviously continued on into the 1980s and perhaps longer.


Sydney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke does at least have a rocket launching site away from highly-populated urban areas, unlike Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare, where Spacefleet headquarters is apparently either in Lancashire, and/or possibly Essex. Having liquid fuel rockets blasting off, never mind the storage needed for their fuel, would be a dangerous hazard, to say nothing of the noise of launches and the potential for accidents. The exact location on Dartmoor is never specified, but the complex as depicted is a large one. One can imagine the uproar from environmentalists, as well as historians and archaeologists at the potential destructions of pre-historic sites and artefacts!
Again, a number stories feature the rocket or missile testing range at South Uist, in the Western Hebrides, originally in “Unquiet Island” (1956/57), and later in “Faery Land Forlorn” (1964), by which time South Uist has apparently expanded into a sizeable Naval and R.A.F. base. There was a joint UK/US missile testing range on the island from 1957/58 and a Deep Sea Range under Ministry of Defence control still, but, as far as I can see, it was never developed into the full-scale R.N./R.A.F. base as depicted in the Hawke stories. The R.A.F. did have a base at Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, from 1940 to 1998, and a Signals Unit at Aird Uis, also Lewis, from 1954 to 2003, when it passed from R.A.F. control to that of NATO, until 2010, when it, too, was closed. In 2011 the population of South Uist was 1,754. The island of Moraig, in the “Unquiet Island” story, apparently located to the east of South Uist, does not exist. It is no surprise that Scotland featured in a number of Hawke stories, given that both Jordon and Patterson were Scots, Jordan from Dundee; Pattison’s family in Perthshire.
Right from the very first story, Hawke is a British Royal Air Force officer and pilot, initially with the rank of Squadron-Leader in the first two, interconnecting, stories, later rising to, and remaining that of Wing-Commander, so the equivalent to a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army, or Commander in the Royal Navy. We only discover his full name is Robert Jeffrey Hawke in “Counsel for the Defence”. For whatever unexplained reason, he never used his first name.
Otherwise, throughout the series, we learn very little about his background or past. In “Daughter of Eros”, Hawke takes the girl Vess-Ta/Vesta to a churchyard in “one of the oldest places in England”, to the grave of an ancestor, Matthew Hawke, a seamen who “voyaged to far places” and died in 1776. In “Pass the Parcel” (a Jordan story, set on Mars), the mystery cylinder, Ranedd-Flaa, a ‘master orgasm’ capable of seeding a planet, is able to create 3D images of real people from the mind of anyone near-by. So, Mac sees Elma, an old flame from his Canadian schooldays; two crewmen are fooled into thinking they see Hawke; Hawke is able to summon up Professor Freebold, their old, long-dead astronautical lecturer; and then his ex-girlfriend Laura, looking very becoming with her hair up, dressed in a sort of cocktail dress – her penultimate appearance. More intriguing, and a mystery apparently never resolved (remember this story was written as well as illustrated by Sydney Jordan), is a man with a silver-topped cane, smartly dressed, and in a top-hat, who starts to talk to Hawke about ‘owing a debt’. Hawke promptly goes a bit crazy, firing his hand-gun, and shouting, “My family paid that debt a hundred times over!” After which he forbids anyone to go near the ancient, buried spaceship in the desert for the rest of their stay on Mars. When Mac asks who the man was, Hawke still refuses to say, except “He killed somebody.” Despite this crucial exchange, no further explanation is ever given. How frustrating and odd.
In sum, therefore, despite the longevity of the series, we end up still knowing very little about Hawke, or, indeed, Mac or Laura. Hawke apparently had a mews flat near Kensington Church Street, which features in a number of the Patterson period stories, from the early strips of “Counsel for the Defence” (1961, and which seemed to imply in the location of either Campden Street or Bedford Gardens), to “The Ambassadors” in 1962, where Hawke’s housekeeper is named as Mrs Harper. In “The Helping Hand” (1964/65) the house number – still obviously a mews – is given as 5. However, in “On the Run”, a late Jordan/Nick Faure story from 1973, he is listed as living at No 9 Kylance News, Kensington. There is no such road, but there is Kynance Mews, SW7, off Gloucester Road, so perhaps Hawke had moved! In the same story Mac lives in Chelsea and drives a vintage Jaguar sports-car. Suddenly, in “The Engine That Worked on Grass” (1967), Hawke is apparently living in a tower block, still listed as ‘Kensington’, but the flat number is 61! So, he seem to move around. By “Daughter of Eros” (1969) he is back in his mews apartment again, with the girl Vesta (unbeknown to him, an alien ‘honey-trap’), at first installed in Mac’s room, but not for long, wandering into his bedroom in her in frilly nightie, and not much else!
Quite early on, in “Time Out of Mind” (1959/60), Mac talks about his father, who, ‘fifteen years before’, flew in an X-25, but one day “didn’t come back”. He says they lived at 205 Main Drag, Grand Bend, Ontario. The Canadian village of Grand Bend is located on Lake Huron, and there is a Main Street, although the 2011 population count is given as just 2,102, which can swell by another 50,000 in the tourist summer season! There were X-15 hypersonic rocket-propelled aircraft, operated by the U.A.A.F. and NASA from 1959 to 1968, but no X-25.
Mac being Canadian, the Maple Leaf country features in quite a few stories, from early Jordan to the Patterson period. “The Castaway” (1957) was set mostly in Canada, dancing between Ontario and Alberto; while Hawke, Mac and Laura are still enjoying a vacation there at the beginning of the next story, “Out of Touch” (1957/58). “Rip Van Haddow” (1963) was set in the Canadian Rockies, in and around ‘McFadyen Pass’ and the town of Shallow Springs, both apparently fictitious. The title is a spoof on the Washington Irving story Rip Van Winkle of the man from the time just before the American War of Independence, who falls into an enchanted sleep for 20 years. In Patterson’s story, a 25 year old airman, John Haddow, crash-lands a biplane in 1935, and is trapped behind a massive door to a mysterious temple-like structure, only to re-emerge again in 1965. Unlike in the Irving story, he has only aged a few days, and no one believes his story – the bi-plane, now just the wooden frame, is struck on top of a rocky pinnacle; there is no sign of the smooth plateau or temple-like structure. But it just so happens that Haddow encounters a young boy, Mac MacLean, whose parents are staying over for a year at Shallow Springs, and tells him the story. Cut to 1991, and Hawke and Mac are on vacation, staying near Shallow Springs (there is now a new town, completely unrecognisable to him; the “old town” is “up the dirt track north”), and Mac discovers that the ‘crazy old hermit, Rip Van Haddow’ is still around…
In most of the early stories Hawke is rarely out of his R.A.F. uniform – making test flights with new aircraft, zapping around the skies in sleek jet-fighters, flying off on space missions or expeditions – but as we moved into the Patterson-authored period, we see more of Hawke in civilian mode, with little or no reference to his military status. Indeed, in “The Ambassadors”, he states he has no ‘official position’ (this, obviously, being untrue from other stories), and acknowledges instead to being a ‘gentleman adventurer’. Another early example of Hawke in civilian mode, is “Wondrous Lamp” (1960/61), Patterson’s “cunning twist” on the old Aladdin’s magic lamp tale, but the ‘lamp’ in question is the communicator/teleporter from an crashed alien scout ship, discovered by two merchants in the Kuwaiti desert, one being Ala Eddin, who tricks the very bug-eyed aliens on the mother-ship into teleporting a block of gold and a chest of diamonds. Only when he asks for dancing girls (as the alien describes it “the female of the species, inadequately attired, and with irrelevant proficiencies”) do the aliens realise the communicator has fallen in the hands of a “low-grade barbarian”, and blasts him! His companion escapes with the diamonds, and thus the tale became exaggerated and distorted with the telling.
But the ‘lamp/communicator’ survived, to pass into the hands of a 1930s British archaeologist, in turn passed to his son, whose wife in 1960 takes a dislike to it as a paperweight, and then to 1994 when his young grandson suggests he “rub it and make a wish”. Meantime the alien survey-ship is back after 1,800 years, in the vicinity of Saturn, and the boy is teleported there. While Hawke (as the extraterrestrial expert) is summoned, the alien Master Controller recollects the loss of the communicator “two aeons ago” and has the starship’s Telepath examine the boy. His conclusion: “This creature is underdeveloped, ill-informed, greedy, impulsive, sensual, low in intellectual capacity, and subject to delusions.” The boy is sent back and the communicator deactivated.
At that point, the story goes off at a complete tangent with the bug-eyed aliens having to dispose of two million deep-frozen Klanridds, a backward but quarrelsome warrior race, who they dump into the solar system. The aliens withdraw and the Klanrrids revive, only to initially fight amongst themselves, before deciding to explore the planets, eventually planning to invade and conquer Earth. The only problem is, they are actually only about three inches tall! But this story does illustrated Mercury (“a pitiless wilderness” of rocky uplands and cratered plains), Mars (“poor atmosphere, low temperature, little water save at the poles” – but shown still as criss-crossed with canals); and Venus (“A dust-bowl of a planet! Noxious atmosphere, low-grade life-forms”), depicted with swirling mists and craggy rock formations.
Hawke is again essential a civilian participant in the stories “The Immortal Toys” (1961/62), a magnificent saga that Jordan much later (and not without justification) compared to a Spielberg movie, Patterson incorporating another legend, this time Prometheus giving fire to humankind. This is science fiction at its most realistic and sophisticated, truly a gem. This was followed by “The Ambassadors” (1962), with the two owl aliens, landing in Trafalgar Square and – in their mistaken belief that on every planet birds would be the supreme intelligence – trying to communicate with the pigeons! The episode in the Television studio was apparently inspired by Jordan and Patterson appearing several months earlier on a science programme, and Jordan actually depicted the TV crew from that time!
“The Changeling” (1963) had three beehive-like aliens on an obsolete hospital ship in near-Earth orbit, who get drunk on a healing liquid known as ‘Warrior’s Delight’, and cure a sick two-month-old baby, but, having (for a gambling bet) duplicated their companion as the baby, they bring the wrong one back to the maternity hospital – with hilarious consequences. With a seemingly miraculously cured baby, Hawke and Mac are called in by the medical men, only for Mac to discover that the ‘baby’ talks. In add to this fun and confusion, we again meet Kolvorok and His Excellency on a routine inspection of the alien hospital-ship. With the prospect of being sent to the mines as punishment for his actions, the alien-as-baby demands political asylum. Jordan drew the – at first disbelieving – child psychiatrist as having something of a Napoleon fixation.
“The Helping Hand” (1964/65) was another story starting in one direction, to then going off on the specific saga of a former motor-racing champion, believed to have died twenty years previous in a massive pile-up at Le Mans, but actually retrieved by experimenting extraterrestrials, and his body rebuilt as super-sophisticated robot. This story has him (together with Mac) speeding along the ‘Exeter motorway’ at 200 mph, before they are intercepted by helicopter-flying traffic police. We will briefly look at the Jeff Hawke futuristic ground-vehicles below.


Likewise, “Made in Birmingham” (1965), with another appearance of Larkie from the British Museum, also starts off with a Roman-era pot being excavated at Hadrian’s Wall, but with the words Made in Birmingham stamped in English on the base! But then the story again veers off to the 3,000 year-old remains of the 20th century tractor and skeleton, the skull of which has modern gold-fillings, but excavated at Ur, in Iraq. Again, Willie Patterson, as with “Pastmaster”, cleverly played with possibilities and consequences of time travel. The classic ending leaves the initial ‘Made in Birmingham’ mystery still unresolved! There were two more interesting stories concerning time, from two different periods of the Jeff Hawke cycle, which we will look at briefly below.
In the meantime, at least three more distinctive stories also had nothing to do with extraterrestrials. The first being “Ghost Errant” (1966), a rare story without Mac as Hawke’s companion, instead his aviator/civilian pilot friend Andrew Davidson, who gets caught up in the reconstruction and flying of a First World War Sopwith Camel biplane. In the Phoebus History of the World Wars: Fighter 1914-1939 (1978), the Sopwith F.1 Camel was described as “needed careful handing but was a formidable weapon, accounting for more kills than any other type in the First World War”. Nearly 5,500 were built. As the title implies, it is a ghost story, with a hint of reincarnation, but a very unusual kind of ghost.
The later “Poltergeist” (1968) is also a ghost story, set in Scotland, with the reappearance, first of Larkie again, he of the British Museum, and then Professor Somerlay, from the story “Faery Land Forlorn”, and the intriguing possibilities of an ancient Greek and Egyptian dynasty in the Scottish Western Highlands. It was another clever and funny story, with amusing characters such as the formidable Lady Pittewtrie of Sneckie Lodge, and the Museum Director’s daughter (and archaeologist), the young, beautiful, mini-skirted and high-spirited Berenice, and Mr Jones, an over-serious fellow archaeologist in love with Berenice. It did not seem to be a romance with any future to it.
Another Earth-bound, non-extraterrestrial story was “The Engine That Ran on Grass” (1967). The title says it all: an eccentric, but rather brittle, village school-teacher is the inventor of the said engine, with Hawke and Mac – having had a hair-raising demonstration of being driven at high speed in an antiquated motor-car along a motorway, no proper brakes and a lever to turn corners! – trying to defend his interests against an assortment of crooks and fossil fuel corporations.
There are two more ingenious Willie Patterson stories without extraterrestrials, but with Hawke and Mac in their R.A.F. roles – “Wildcat” (1966) and “Cataclysm” (1968). “Wildcat” takes the sub-text of “Time Out of Mind”, from six years earlier – that of radio-controlled aeroplanes no longer needing human pilots – and gave a fascinating hint at one possible consequence. The future depicted – especially in Jordan’s artwork (he is at the top of his game) – is very believable, even if, as yet, we haven’t quite got there by our real time-period of the 2020s, except, perhaps with drones. The story opens at Gatwick Freightport, and an automatic jet liner – ‘Autojet6’ – taking off on a non-stop flight to Cape Town. Although still provided with manual controls (“by regulations”), it is flown by a computer back at Gatwick Control, using “electronic data via satellites”. This was written in 1966. There are (we are told) currently fourteen flights in transit, each reaching an altitude of 60,000 ft, their appearance modelled on that of Concorde. The operation has already been running, without fault, for at least ten years.
Then, suddenly, the control panel for Autojet6 shuts down, and the plane veers hundreds of miles off-course, before descending (but seemingly with full landing deployment) somewhere in the African bush. Within minutes Autojet12 does the same over Burma. In their R.A.F. trouble-shooting capacity, Hawke and Mac are called in, and eventually take a old long-range Canberra from an Air Force station in Norfolk, only to find Autojet6 sitting, undamaged on the smooth, landing-strip-like foreshore of a lake, deep in the heart of Africa. En route, they stopped over in Libya, at an British R.A.F. base there!
Investigation shows no tracks nearby, hatches unopened, manual controls still locked, no one on-board, nothing in the cargo missing. Hawke flies it back, Mac following in the Canberra. Back at Gatwick, they are assured the computer is working properly. Throughout the Hawke stories Mac was often the tech guy. He didn’t just fly aircraft, he often was involved with their design, even to writing the instruction manuals. He was also a font of other knowledge, from literary quotes to odd-ball stories of mysterious or occult happenings. His gift is to ‘think outside the box’. But, on more than one occasion, he shows a playful, irrelevant sense of humour, very different to Hawke. So when he suggests maybe the computer had “gone on strike”, the Gatwick engineers and programmers are not amused. Even less so, when he suggests, “Why not ask the computer for its authority” to land the two planes where they did. And the answer comes back, “strike action in the event of carriage of unsuitable materials”. Only then does a technician remark the computer was used (in down-time) by a Afro-Asian geological survey, and it turns out both flights carried explosive materials, forbidden by regulations! Mac’s response: “Who says machines can’t think?”

Valerian et Laureline: 26 – Where Stories are Born


And still Pierre Christin can’t leave well entirely alone. Thankfully.
The point of The Time-Opener was to bring things to an end, to give Spatiotemporal Agents Valerian and Laureline what so many of their marvellous ilk, the serial adventurers, never receive, the privilege of a glorious ending. Almost every other serial hero or heroine is incomplete, because everyone is incomplete without an end.
Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres’s original ending had something of The Lord of the Rings to it. Val and Laureline saved the day, they restored Galaxity to life and corporeality again, but found that they were no longer suited to the world that they came from, and needed to leave it. Rather than some equivalent of Valinor, Christin and Mezieres brought them to their metafictional home, 21st century France, but reduced them to children, children free to grow into the same world we readers occupied. No longer adventurers as they had been before, but amongst us in a very real way.
Twice since, the creators returned to their creation. Two book of short stories, weaved into and around the canon, two non-canonical efforts by other hands, given permission to try out the swings and roundabouts of the playground, with mixed results.
And now a new story, a fresh artist, an adventure involving the teenage Val and Laureline, but written by Christin. What would it be? An exercise in pointless nostalgia, an attempt to grasp the brass ring one more time, a shallow self-parody? No, Christin’s integrity remains intact, and he is still an imaginative writer, six decades after the story began.
Though Where Stories Are Born is not perfect, I would say it only has one problem, and that the insurmountable one, that Jean-Claude Mezieres is no longer here to draw it. But Virginie Augustin is a fine successor, a cartoonist at heart, who doesn’t try to ape Mezieres, but who brings to her art an appealing simplicity, especially when it comes to the teenage stars, and in particular their facial expressions and their boundless enthusiasm, to learn, to experience and to exercise their innate abilities.
Above all, I really liked how the relationship between Val and Laureline has been transformed. There are no awkwardnesses or rifts between them. The cynicism of adulthood and adventures has been completely stripped away. They are a pair, accepting themselves as half of a whole. Valerian is not patronising, over-confident or bumptiously simplistic. Laureline is not aggressive, frustrated and rebellious. They know they are not brother and sister, and they have no concerns about who and what they are or where they come from. They are Valerian and Laureline, which makes up and explains everything to their complete satisfaction. It’s touching in its way, and quite brilliant.
I found it difficult to assess what age they’re supposed to be. Initially, I assumed them to be about fifteen, but they neither look nor feel like it. Thirteen would be a better guess: no older, certainly not much younger. As children they’re almost too good. Laureline in particular is athirst for knowledge, all knowledge, and whilst Val is certainly nothing like as assiduous as her, he’s still invested in school. ‘Uncle’ Albert regulates their lives to put the normality of their existence as schoolchildren first, last and always. And the children are bound to him in love, respect, duty, affection and an almost supernatural obedience.
I called the absence of Mezieres my one ‘problem’ with this book, but on a more serious level, and without being quite able to define why, the basis for the story does rather perturb me.
Essentially, in the future, in Galaxity’s era, entertainment comes from the Asteroids of Shimballil, a futuristic Hollywood, dominated in large part by our old friend Ty Koun IV (who seems to have settled down and become bearable since we saw him in Orphan of the Stars). And Ty is in turn dependent upon the Delphs, a race of artificial, compound, mechanical creatures who, despite their complete lack of any emotional capacity, are the creative geniuses of the universe, supplying all manner of scenarios to be transformed into irresistible entertainment.
Or they have been until now. In a manner that Christin sensibly chooses not to explain, the Delph’s creativity is dependent upon their being constructed with certain unusual nodules found on their planet (you try coming up with an even half-convincing explanation for that!). Without the nodules there are first no ideas, to be followed by no Delphs. And the metaphorical well is nearly dry…
But there is a solution. An invaluable deposit of exactly the right nodules has been found. On Earth. In the 21st Century. A deal must be struck to buy these nodules. Various parties want to buy them, even though the end intention is the same: control of the supply is what is significant. The ‘negotiator’ in one instance is our old friend Na Zulthra of Rubanis, on behalf of Ty Koun, and in the other is Ms Richbaugh, high-powered blonde businesswoman and CEO, on behalf of Galaxity, though at first she sends her idiot bodyguard, handyman and comfort sex partner, an all-round surf-obsessed idiot who doesn’t even get a name.
Conducting the negotiation is, unsurprisingly, Mr Albert, with his children in tow (it’s the school holidays, they can go with him), who are Galaxity’s field team to do the trouble-shooting: huh?
That’s the story, and it’s far from easy to summarise. What perturbs me about it is the metafictional aspect, the human-centric presentation of our own insignificant little planet as the source of all creativity in Space and Time.
It’s not that I have any conscious reason for feeling uneasy at that egocentric notion, though it’s impossible not to trace it further into Christin himself, however good a claim he has for creative prowess, but there’s a touch of arrogance to it that doesn’t quite sit right with me. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but art is nothing without our personal response to it and that is where the whole story tracks across shifting ground for me.
Though there are scenes set on Shimbalil, Rubanis, Galaxity and at the edge of the Great Void, the majority of the story takes place on Earth. Valerian and Laureline never go back out there where their past lies, making these inserts feel more like a nod to the old series than anything else. I like it: it contributes to the feeling that this is a new beginning, of infinite potential, released from its history.
Augustin follows Mezieres’ designs for these places with sufficient fidelity for them to seem comfortable: indeed, the only established figure she has difficulty presenting is Mr Albert, whose head is never quite right. She’s at her best though on Earth, and in particular in the countryside of the country that no-one realises exists, the far away Caucasus that is a world detached from its own planet.
But she’s at her most individual and satisfying in the one area where she has real licence, which is depicting the children Val and Laureline. As long as she conforms to the basics of hair colour, she can pretty much do anything she wants with them. She turns them into perfect adolescents, fluid of motion, expressive of face. This latter element is particularly satisfying when she mostly renders noses and mouths with single lines, emphasising simultaneously their precocious animation and that they are still unformed.
She can draw a lot more of these books for me, if Christin wants to write them.
But I do have one serious complaint. From out of nowhere, little girl Laureline has developed a superpower. Blue rays shoot from her eyes into those of the people she wants to control, and they become nice, and do what she wants them to do. Val is the only other person who knows she can do this and he’s nervous of it, and for bloody good reason. Overriding someone else’s will is not a good thing, even when it’s done with only the best intentions and outcomes.
This is not in itself the problem. What is is that Christin produces it like a rabbit out of his hat, a deus ex machina, without the least explanation of how it happened, how long she’s been able to do it, nor anything to suggest it’s more than a cheap convenience. It’s very reminiscent of early Silver Age DC, Superman under Mort Weisinger, when the Man of Steel would sprout one-off powers like they were cheap cutlets, a penny a half-dozen.
By any standards that is bad writing, and it taints what is otherwise a good, enjoyable and, surprising word for a series that’s been 56 years in the making, promising story. If there is another book, then an explanation – and a good one – is the first requirement.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge’s Fictional British Spacemen of the 1950s and 1960s: James (Jim) ‘Jet-Ace’ Logan of the R.A.F. Space Command.


Flight-Lieutenant (as he subsequently became) ‘Jet-Ace’ Logan (his first name Jim was seemingly dropped in the later stories, everyone called him ‘Jet-Ace’) of the 24th Space Intercept Squadron of R.A.F. Space Command, had originally appeared in the Comet boys’ comic from 1956-59, and then (where I remember him) in the Tiger comic from 1959-68, the two comics having merged. He was originally created by Mike Butterworth (1924-86), who also wrote the “Rise and Fall of the Trigon Empire”, a sort of Roman Empire-meets-space-fiction mix, which I vaguely recollect featured in the magazine Look and Learn. Thereafter, the Logan stories had a number of script-writers and artists, David Motton, Kenneth Bulmer, vague rumours of a Michael Moorcock involvement, and subsequently that ever-faithful scripter, Frank S. Pepper, of ‘Captain Condor’ fame.
Artists apparently included Geoff Campion in the Comet period (I have found a few examples of his work on the internet, most notably “The Invaders from Jupiter”), but when, as a science fiction obsessed schoolboy, I was reading Jet-Ace Logan, it was already the remarkable (and extremely versatile) John Gillatt (1929-2016), and it is his version of Logan and his world (what was then 100 years in the future, so the late 2050s/early 2060s), that I fondly remember. Again, Brian Lewis later took over illustrating Logan, possibly 1962, so more or less at about the same time, or immediately after, his three Captain Condor stories, but with his usual lack of any logic or continuity. While, at least, Gillatt’s distinctive Jet-Ace was depicted as blonde, with wavy hair, Lewis’s version became bland, and Captain Condor-like. Indeed, the Condor depicted in Lewis’s third story, “The Unseen Invaders”, and the Jet-Ace Logan in “The Missing Spaceships” were almost indistinguishable, facially and even in uniform! Would I have carried on reading Lewis’s Condor and Logan, had I not, at age fourteen, started to move onto books and more adult fiction? Perhaps not. I still have no memory of the plot of “The Missing Spaceships”, apparently reprinted in the Eagle Picture Library #2 as “Murder in Space”.

Garth 2

In an 1973 interview with Andrew Darlington, Pepper reflected back on his involvement with Jet-Ace, He reaffirmed that the Logan stories were set 100 years in the future of the comic’s time – this despite at least two comic pages (one, in “The Invaders from Space” story) had a sub-title: “A thrilling story of an R.A.F. Pilot of the Year A.D. 3000”. The opening episode of “The Invaders from Jupiter” (which seemingly introduced the young, then Pilot Cadet Jim Logan), clearly states the year is 2056. When Pepper inherited the story line, the criteria was that the Solar System had been explored, and the inner planets and Moon colonised, but faster-than-light interstellar space travel had yet to be developed – “Jet-Ace would be unable to travel to other star systems except involuntarily”, as, for instance, in Pepper’s first story, where the extraterrestrials construct a fake skyscraper apartment block which is really a spaceship, their plan being to kidnap a group of humans to be exhibited in an interplanetary zoo back on their home world. Eventually Jet-Ace is able to bring them back to Earth, but soon after the spaceship blew up, so Earth scientists were still unable to learn the secret of interstellar travel.
Here is Andrew Darlington again: “The stories are, by and large, set 100 years in the future. Their way-back 1950s future, of course, distinctly different from today’s mundane reality. One in which Britain mounts the world’s first lunar expedition from its Africa colonies, one in which James ‘Jet-Ace’ Logan and his chums were – or will be – members of the R.A.F. Space Command. A future set in a 1950s-style solar system where Mars has lost cities straddling along its ancient canal-systems, Venus has rain forests beneath its obscuring cloud-belts, and Mercury has a ‘temperate’ zone located between ‘nature-tortured’ extreme hemispheres of heat and ice.”
“Meet the most dare-devil, reckless space-pilot ever to slam a nuclear-powered rocket through the measureless heavens of infinity.” – Quote from Tiger, 24th October 1959.

Logan-jet-ace-city (1)

Much like the ‘Captain Condor’ stories, and unlike the first 10-years of Frank Hampson’s ‘Dan Dare’, there is apparently little or no continuity between the Jet-Ace Logan stories. Apart from Logan’s loyal, if long-suffering, sidekick, Horace ‘Plumduff’ Charteris (sometime spelt as ‘Plum-Duff’), the only other regular character is Logan and Charteris’ commander, Squadron Leader Cobb. In one of the early, if not first, Campion-illustrated, story, which would seem to be “The Invaders of From Jupiter”, Logan is introduced as a high-spirited cadet, who “first arrives by Gyro-train at R.A.F. Hawton, Lincolnshire, chaotically colliding with his future comrade-in-arms”, and who manages to wreck his first test-flight training ship over Africa. In this story Cobb is still ranked as a Flight-Lieutenant.
Straightway, Logan is different to our other fictional 1950s/60s British spacemen. He is younger, in rank he never rises above Flight Lieutenant, and he is more playful and immature. He completely lacks the gravitas or authority of Colonel Dare, Captain Condor or Wing Commander Hawke. He is a practical joker. with, in the later stories, Squadron Leader Cobb – having become “leaner, thinner, more austere and nastier” – generally the target, which often ends up with Logan (and the hapless Charteris) on punishment detail. Indeed, even without Logan’s boyish japes and foolhardiness, Logan and Charteris are often placed under arrest, or threatened with court martial – justly or unjustly. Ultimately, it is only his superb skills as a pilot, his sharp and exceptional intelligence, and his heroism in frequently saving planet Earth from some extraterrestrial menace or invaders, that wins the day, at least until he is in trouble again in the next story! Plumduff, as his nick-name implies, is on the chubby side, but there any resemblance to Dan Dare’s Digby ends. He is dark-haired, Logan’s equal in rank, and Andrew Darlington describes him as the “serious, academic half of the partnership, who works out the technical details that Logan is too impulsive to bother with.” His is the voice of caution, and reason, against Logan’s impetuous nature. In “The Ghost of Jet-Ace Logan”, he is trying to perfect a matter transporter, which accidentally blows up an unmanned space station!
Of our four 1950s/60s fictional British spacemen, Logan would seem to be the one existing in a world almost completely devoid of foreigners. In “Moon Mission” (February 1961), Jet-Ace and Charteris are testing a possible faster-than-light spaceship, but being launched from a site in British East Africa – and convenient to the story, the same launch-site as the first British manned lunar mission exactly 100 years earlier…in 1961! Not only do we not see any black or coloured faces or personal, but, there would seem (from the fragments I have found) to be no mention of America or the Soviet Union, or France. In another early story, Logan’s team are sent out into the Australian desert on a survival course, another British former-imperial, now Commonwealth, territory. Britain itself seemed to exist is a kind of totally out-of-scale state of importance on the world stage. It is the Brexiteer’s ultimate dream world – no Europe, no America, no Russia, no annoying foreigners or foreign languages. The R.A.F. Space Command have a complete monopoly on space. Extraterrestrials – hostile or otherwise – only land in, or have interface, with Britain. It’s as though no other countries, except the former British colonies, exist. And it is Britain alone who have now colonised the Solar System.

Logan-jet-ace-lunar city (2)

Two stories, one, “The Giants from Space”, from May 1961, the other, “Menace from Mars”, from October 1962 (both still drawn by John Gillatt), give us glimpses of Mars. The first – one of my favourite, fondly remembered Logan stories – briefly showed a huge domed city, but heavy spacesuits were worn to venture outside. In the other story we learn that the Martian civilisation became extinct a million years ago, and their cities were mostly covered over by sand. At the end of “Giants from Space”, we learn there is a Space Command base on the smaller moon of Mars, Diemos.
Another 1962 story, “The Planet of the Vanishing Men”, starts on Venus, which is described as being “once deadly poisonous, now artificially conditioned to make it breathable”, and which has “soothing warm later lakes”. This story jumps briefly to Manchester, than the Moon and Lunar City – another large domed settlement – then back to Venus. One character in Logan’s squadron compares being stationed on Venus as much more favourable than looking at “frozen ammonia on Pluto”, which is, indeed, where Cobb subsequently threatens to transfer Logan to! Almost in passing, we learn there is a “fighter field station” on Jupiter’s Moon, Callisto, and while our two heroes are at Lunar City Central Station, the overhead telenews broadcast speaks of a “Labour dispute at the Titan ore-mines enters its fifteenth day…” – Titan is the largest of the Moons of Saturn.
Sixty years later, we have less than forty years to catch up with Jet-Ace. How does our world look compared to his? In some things – exploring and living on the other planets and the Moon, not very good. We have sent numerous probes out into space. We know more about the Solar System, and the rest of the Cosmos, than the Jet-Ace scripters did. We have had a space station – or sorts – for decades, but nothing as impressive or roomy as imagined back in the 1960s. Likewise, we have been to the Moon – later than in the Jet-Ace world, but not gone back, never mind humankind actually stepping foot on Mars. We are still waiting the workable hover-car (hopefully, electric, existing hovercrafts are as noisy as they were in the 1960s.) Likewise, the helijet or heliports on the city rooftops. We still have four-wheel ground vehicles. But, on the other hand, no one writing or illustrating our future spacemen, imagined mobile-phones, flat-screen wall-to-wall televisions, home computers smaller than hand-set telephones, self-drive cars and trucks, global pandemics, or climate change.
Given that Geoff Campion draw both Jet-Ace Logan and Captain Condor, the two share certain characteristics, despite one supposedly being 2060, the other the year 3000 A.D. When it came to futuristic urban design, John Gillatt continued where Campion left off: both, I would suggest, influenced perhaps by the movies Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), and Things to Come (Alexander Korda and H.G. Wells, 1936) – shiny, towering buildings, intersected with numerous high-level roadways, criss-crossing back and forth, blocking out the sky. Even Lunar City, under its dome (or domes) is of the same order, the only different being airlocks to gain entry or exit, so the hover- or caterpillar-vehicles must all be airtight and self-contained like miniature spaceships.

Logan-jet-ace-lunar city (4)

In “Planet of the Vanishing Men” Plumduff meets Logan at the rooftop Manchester Municipal Heliport, with its “Local Departures” signs pointing to where one might catch flights to London, Edinburgh or Dublin, or alternatively take the horizontal moving subway to the “Intercontinental Strato-Rockets”. The wonderful thing about Gillatt’s artwork is the added realism of his cityscapes – the video-phone booths; street-signs; shop-fronts reading ‘Bank’ or ‘Levinson Gems – Antiques’; a passing vehicle with ‘Spacenews – Film Unit’ on the side; a movie poster “I Was a Slave on Mercury – Realistic Pictures – Stark Revelations!”
In the same story Logan and Charteris call in the help of an old buddy residing in the more shabby quarter of Lunar City – “Nine Planets Freight Service – Proprietor Abel Zlack Master Spacemariner”, apparently known for a bit of contraband smuggling on the side! These cities are exciting, bustling, overwhelming places, but visually and practically quite credible, unlike the spiky towers of Alex Raymond’s Mongo cities in “Flash Gordon”, or Brian Lewis in Captain Condor’s “Push-Button Planet”. Despite their density still being not unlike that of 20th century New York, at least some of the architecture would be recognisable to Monsieur Le Corbusier, grandfather of Modernism, and his mega-tower blocks. Manchester and Salisbury (the latter in “The Giants from Space”) are seemingly little different from what we presume to be London. Unlike Frank Hampson, Keith Watson, or Brian Lewis, Gillatt rarely depicted familiar buildings from our time or earlier, no Manchester Town Hall, no Salisbury Cathedral.
Looking back, with only fragmentary episodes, it is still obvious some stories worked better than others. One of the early, 1960, stories has sneaky, vaguely ape-like extraterrestrials somehow construct a towering apartment block which is really a faster-than-light, hyper-drive spaceship, thereby kidnapping a number of hapless humans to exhibit in a zoo back on the home planet. Too late, down in the ‘basement’, Jet-Ace discovers what he identifies as a ‘Meggerson-type nuclear condenser faster-than-light drive’. This was unusual in that obviously some of residents (all of whom, we learn, having been attracted by low rent) are couples, so there are women depicted, but only as eye-candy, nothing else.

logan-space command

“Invaders from Space” (also 1960), features humanoid robots and giant lizard-like extraterrestrials naturally plotting to conquer the Earth. Two of the lizard aliens somehow arrange to be housed at Whipsnade Zoo, all the better to control, and communicate with, their robots, apparently being manufactured in the spaces beneath a pleasure dome on the Moon. They even (I vaguely recollect) use a Logan lookalike robot to set Jet-Ace up for mass murder.
“Moon Mission” (February 1961) has our heroes testing an experimental faster-than-light two-man spaceship, only to find themselves zapped back 100 years and mistaken for the two pioneer British astronauts who landed on the Moon, named as Forbes and Carter.
“The Giants from Space” (May 1961) was both clever and original, with twists and turns to the rather wacky plot. A huge two-mile-long spaceship appears, looking like six donut-shaped rings, and lands on Mars. At first the cavernous interior seemed empty except for mist, but then men appear, in spacesuits, human, apparently friendly, speaking English they claim was learnt from our radio broadcasts. Only Logan is suspicious, noticing that at first they are floating above the ground and leaving no footprints in the Martian desert sand. Naturally, no one listens to him, even when he walks in on the extraterrestrials to find them distorted and inhuman, only for them to hurriedly revert to their human guise. They are almost unique as extraterrestrials go, intelligent, capable to unleashing explosive bolts of energy just by pointing one finger, but made of completely different material, their true form only hinted at, shape-shifters, but eventually they find our human size too compact, so they gradually get bigger, until they are human giants, over 20ft high. Impervious to our weapons, at first they are indifferent to our reactions, as they construct a city on Salisbury Plain, later with a force-field dome-like screen to protect it. While the Earth authorities, still not really in control of events, use sleeping gas to quill a riot by angry locals, one of the aliens dissolves, and the others respond by shooting down the aircraft. Later Jet-Ace realises the gas – while comparatively harmless to humans, must contain some chemical component that is deadly to the ’giants’. More battles follow, including an entire army virtually wiped out, before they are successfully able to gas-bomb the ‘giants’, killing many (they revert to vapour), while the survivors escape in their spaceship. They were the advance guard to a huge invasion fleet, which promptly – at the last minute – turns tail and flee also.
“The Planet of Vanishing Men” (1962) has the inventor of a teleportation device using it to help criminals evade the police by skipping from planet to planet. Perhaps the most outstanding aspects of this story is John Gillatt’s illustrations of Manchester and Lunar City. We meet bearded space-mariner Abel Zlack, who looks a bit like Dan Dare’s Lex O’Malley, but with a persona not unlike Jeff Hawke’s Skipper Prossit – a likeable rogue in a battered peak-cap. What a pity he apparently never reappeared.
Also in 1962 was “Sabotage on Ceres”, concerning a secret Space Command project on that asteroid, but where our heroes finish up visiting a multitude of parallel worlds in different universes – alternative realities, if you like, rather like the later 1990s American television sci-fi series Sliders. One world is almost identical, until Jet-Ace sees the name on Squadron Leader Cobb’s door is spelt ‘Corb’, and they meet their doubles! Other worlds include a triumphant Nazi-type dictatorship, a ruined post-World War III world, a world of dinosaurs, another still volcanic.
Finally, also 1962, “The Menace from Mars”, with a sort of half-egg-shaped machine retrieved from the Martian desert, which then duplicates itself, causing mayhem.
There were other stories, both illustrated by Gillatt or Brian Lewis, but I have no recollection of them, being either too early or too late for the time period I was reading Tiger comic.
Strangely – perhaps because of the fun, boyish hero – Jet-Ace has endured, whereas Captain Condor is all but forgotten. Like Jordan’s ‘Jeff Hawke’, he is apparently popular in Italy, has had his own comic books, and even gained a place amongst The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For me, there were a handful of clever stories, extremely well illustrated by Gillatt, and set in a comparatively credible future, neither too near to have already been overtaken by reality, nor too far ahead to be completely unfamiliar. From Logan, therefore, we progress to our last 1950s/60s British spaceman – Jeff Hawke.