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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jeff Hawke: Overlord (Science Fiction) (Comic Strips)

by Willie Patterson (writer), Sydney Jordan (illustrator)

Publisher: Titan Books (March 25, 2008)

Hardcover, 128 pages.


If you’re a science fiction fan and a comics lover there still is a good chance that you’ve never heard of this influential comic from yesteryear. Don’t feel too ashamed. The reason you haven’t is because there is a clear difference between influential and popular. Many people point to Jeff Hawke as being ahead of its time in various science fiction themes. It was, in a very real sense, the first science fiction comic strip that could appeal to adults as well as adolescents. Specifically in the main character’s attitude. Diplomacy was always attempted first by the titular protagonist, while violence was always a last measure.

It was published in England, but seems to have found its main following in Italy and various Scandinavian countries- which aren’t worth mentioning. It ran for nineteen years, beginning in February of 1955 and ending in April, 1974. This was back in the waning era of the adventure strip. Most of the established ones were continuing on (Dick Tracy, Dondi, Buzz Sawyer, Brenda Star, etc.), and all, including this one was accompanied by incredible draftsmanship and excellent quality inking. But the blood was in the water and little by little the minimalistic style cramped in to overtake quality art in the serial strip. Thank you very much Charles Schultz!

The stories in this volume are not the beginning of the strip, despite this being the first volume of the stories printed. These ones are considered to be the turning point of the series, the time when it truly defined itself, its thematic style, and broke away from all of the other adventure series. Before this, Jeff Hawke was a vaguely sci-fi RAF pilot, a synthesis of Dan Dare and Flash Gordon. After these stories, Jeff Hawke was something quite different.

Part of it came from a desire to do something diverse. Part of it came from the format. Unlike the others which had more space to work with, actions scenes did not work too well in the three panel format (there was no Sunday strips) so the authors looked for other ways to keep people’s interest. In any case, this volume is a good place to begin. The stories before this volume are similar to watching episodes of Dark Shadows before Barnabas Collins emerges from his coffin. It’s simply not the same.

There are four stories collected in this volume, each narrated by a demonic figure and his troll companion. If this means anything later on in the series it isn’t revealed in this book. The first story, Overlord, deals with a battle around Jupiter in which the Earth is nearly dragged into an interstellar war which would’ve left the entire planet destroyed. The next story, Survival, has Jeff Hawke and crew accidently left marooned on a lifeless asteroid. They must make some harsh choices to survive. Third we have, Wondrous Lamp, is a sci-fi take on the Aladdin story only using sci-fi elements. Fourth is Counsel for the Defense, which I will discuss more in the next blog installment.  

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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