It's a UK newspaper strip, published in the Daily Express and the Scottish Daily News. In English-speaking countries, it's almost unknown. Abroad, though, it's been called one of the most important science fiction comics ever released. Harry Harrison wrote one of its serials. Brian Bolland, Paul Neary and Martin Asbury were among Jordan's ghost artists in the later years.
It astonished me. Daily newspaper strips are an insanely restrictive comic strip format, yet these stories are intelligent, superbly drawn and sometimes even funny. That's not an accident. Apparently it started as a straightforward hero-vs.-aliens action series, but this changed when it proved hard to do exciting action in daily three-panel instalments. As a result (and especially when Willie Patterson joined as writer), the strip became more interested in reasoning, diplomacy and moral virtues. Jeff Hawke himself is a wafer-thin excuse for a protagonist, but that doesn't matter. We don't care about him. We're here for the aliens, who look glorious and are almost never here to invade. They might have landed by accident, for commerce or just while looking after their children.
All that was unusual for an SF comic strip back then. Altogether, the series ran from 1954 to 1975.
This 1987 Titan book collects three Jeff Hawke stories:
17. COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE (H2164-H2285)
My favourite of the three, because it's funny. I was going "what the hell?" almost every page throughout the first half. Jeff Hawke gets summoned to be the defence counsel at an alien court. He has no choice in the matter, his client's determined to plead guilty and the court's legal system decrees that the defence's lawyer will be executed alongside his client.
The chess-loving judge is as extraordinary as the system he's administering. "Chalcedon, I'm taking this hearing in chambers for a very special reason. You see, I knew your father. Finer fellow there never was. Credit to his family and state. So, for his sake, I'm giving you the chance to avoid the disgrace of public trial. Plead guilty, I'll sentence you now and we'll have a quiet execution."
This legal system has genuinely interesting aspects. "Pure malice" is a legitimate defence against the crime of sucking eggs. (The defence is rejected because there's no biological war between the defendant and the Spronii, so he's sentenced to fifty years in the plutonium mines.) Segregation laws prohibit joint colonisation rights. (Segregation and colonialisation were both very much still alive in 1961.)
The story settles down once it's about a baddie escaping from justice, but it's still a laugh. There's a space-horse and a lobster called Phfoofph (with a wheeh! for the phfoo and a whuuh! for the oofph). I love the policemen. That was great.
18. PASTMASTER (H2286-H2351)
A moonbase in 1989 is visited by Jeff Hawke and by a nutter from 30,000 AD who has big plans for the year 10,831 BC. This story's a serious time-twister, with quite original laws of time travel. We also meet the elderly bloke who originally designed this moonbase, who proves even madder than the time-traveller. On being told about a plan to wipe out all recorded history and erase civilisation as we know it, including of course the existences of everyone who's having this conversation...
"Not mad, Hawke, no. Visionary, yes! If he has the power he says, the scheme is feasible. It appeals to the experimentalist in me!"
19. IMMORTAL TOYS (H2352-H2494)
Involves India in 1899, archaeology and a flying bullet dragon fly. The museum investigation is fun, as is the way in which exhibits had been doing impossible things for years and no one ever really bothered because it's a museum. There's politics. Our heroes visit a country that no longer exists under that name (East Pakistan).
This could have been a fairly dry story, but it's livened up by its scumbags (e.g. the deaf, one-armed Peters). I also like its Buddhist monks. I've always liked those since The Abominable Snowmen and Planet of the Spiders.
Counsel for the Defence made me laugh. The other two don't reach that level, but they're thoughtful and interesting. This is, genuinely, a pretty cool series. In 1959, it predicted the date of the 1969 Apollo moon landings and was only two weeks off.