What I thought of Hook Jaw #5

After the penultimate issue we arrive at the climax of this revived series of Hook Jaw as it draws to a close and finally delivers the blood and gore it’s teased throughout its short run. To recap; the baddie Somalian pirates and the baddie Americans have all kidnapped, threatened and tortured each other and the rapidly depleting band of environmentalists are stuck in the middle of a power-play that threatens the world.

Writer Si Spurrier manages to tie things up in a nice little bow and in the grand Hook Jaw tradition there’s only one character out of the main cast who survives to presumably tell the tale of Hook Jaw and what it is. Hook Jaw now isn’t just a slavering eating machine but a figure of folk mythology bordering on the supernatural as well as being an eating machine. As a series it lacked a certain bite for gorehounds, but managed to beef up the actual character of Hook Jaw which is something of an achievement.

So overall a good solid mini-series that now its introduced the concept to a new generation of readers moves onto greater things, assuming of course that Titan continues to publish stories.

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What I thought of Hook Jaw #4

As of last issue the body count for this series has been not just low, but relatively bloodless. Not so here as Hook Jaw is turning into a very different sort of comic. It could have taken the blood and guts approach (and when there is gore and violence it is pretty extreme) but choose instead to take a more political, even measured (as much as is possible in a comic mainly about a giant man-eating Great White shark) approach. This issue sees the focus switch to the Somali pirates who have captured our group of protagonists which for at least one of them means a very messy end at the teeth of Hook Jaw herself.

There’s also a clunking great MacGuffin that everyone is looking for which if found can either save the world or destroy it, in the wrong hands of course. It is a tad clunky but it is purely there to drive the plot ahead. The real meat here is in the twisting turns of a plot that’s ramping up the stakes so that the world itself is at risk. Not bad for a series about a shark.

As always Si Spurrier turns in a good script that’s smarter on a second read, and Connor Boyle’s restrained style means it isn’t just a gorefest or tedious talking heads. As a series this is one of the best things Titan have published though the cruel amongst us say that isn’t a high benchmark which would be unfair as Hook Jaw is a fine comic.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #3

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Last issue saw the plot thicken, and this one sees it becoming a gloopy soup as those familiar with Si Spurrier’s Crossed +100 run will spot the similarities. Both are weaving massive mysteries. Both have a quirky, satirical edge and both built up to short, sharp incidents of horror which is where we are in Hook Jaw #3 from Titan Comics as Spurrier racks up the tension, as well as the scale of the story, towards something far bigger than what one would have expected from the first issue, or indeed, the history of the character who up til now has been mainly to eat people in as many bloody ways a psychotic Great White shark can.

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This issue sees our core cast of environmentalist scientists, Somali pirates and CIA operatives joined by Greenpeace (not actually called Greenpeace here) activists and the media and more and more bodies keep getting lined up for a potential bloodbath. In this issue though there’s only one big death at the teeth of Hook Jaw, and it’s a pretty chilling one too, but we’ve been spared the gorefests of the Action strips so far as Spurrier slowly builds up his cast as well as why are there strange bones on an island off the coast of Somalia and who exactly has been feeding Hook Jaw with animals?

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This isn’t as fast paced as the original Action strips. After all they had to cram as much as possible into four or five pages to keep plucky British kids coming back next week for their diet of severed heads and mutilation. The monthly format is a slower burn, but this is still a surprisingly good, somewhat political, book about a pissed off giant shark.

The closest thing we have to a documentary about Action

Action is the legendary British comic that was essentially the precursor of 2000AD thus cementing its history as one of the most influential comics ever published in the UK. With 2000AD being 40 this year, and Action celebrating its 40th anniversary last year we’re getting further and further away from an important piece of comics history.

Imagine then my joy at stumbling across a number of videos on You Tube with interviews from Jack Adrian, Ramon Sola and Pat Mills. It looks as if an Action documentary was being made but these tantalising wee snippets are all we have of it which is a shame as it really is a piece of comics history which needed documenting like this.With Titan Comics publishing new Hook Jaw comics it seems relevant to document this now for the next generations. I’ve included in this blog all the clips I could find but if anyone finds or knows more feel free to point it out on the comments.

What I thought of Hook Jaw #2

hookjaw-2Turning a comic about a killer Great White Shark into something more than just a gloriously gory cavalcade of body parts and spurting red ocean spray is a massive task, but in issue 2 of Titan Comics Hook Jaw, Si Spurrier has pulled off a rather astonishing trick in making a comic ostensibly about people being eaten in interesting ways into one about folk myth and of course people being eaten in interesting ways.

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We pick this issue up after the first issue with the environmentalist crew and CIA operatives off the coast of Somalia trying to rescue a MacGuffin from the sea while an Amanda Waller secret service operative type barks orders to 2D military machismo stereotypes that are dropped in to provide a contrast to the lead character, Maggie, who in a throwback to the classic 1970’s Action strips, is a reluctant protagonist in a story where things are being set up to end very, very badly for all concerned.In some cases characters are there so we cheer for when Hook Jaw gets to do their worst to them and I love that.

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The other thing that’s a hard task is giving Hook Jaw a personality of her own, and that’s something Spurrier does menacingly well as we see how her appetite for flesh and blood is not just insatiable, but is all that drives her on to be the wild card in this stand-off between environmentalist hippies, the CIA and Somalian pirates.

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Spurrier’s script is splendid, but it is the meta aspect of the tale that raises this series beyond the predictable fun from the horror and gore we expect, and Connor Boyle’s art is excellent as he has to struggle with not just making people talking on boats seem interesting, but drawing lots of sharks in a way that gives them an individuality is an achievement. Overall this is building up to be a surprisingly fun, and even more intellectually challenging work than just watching people being eaten, though that too is something to look forward to for gore fans.

40 years ago Action changed the face of comics forever

In the year 1976 British weekly comics were stuck in a rut. Roy was still of the Rovers, Commando Comics killed more Nazis than the Allies and Russians did in WW2, Billy still had his Boots, and the Boy’s Adventure Comic needed something to drag it kicking and screaming into the 1970’s. Publisher IPC had tried something different in 1975 when they let Pat Mills and John Wagner loose to create a new war comic called Battle Picture Weekly. More visceral than the 1950’s style of war comic published for decades in the UK, Battle sparked something in kids that read it, and with strips like Major Easy, Darkies War, Johnny Red and probably the finest comic strip published in British comics, Charley’s War, Battle made a name for itself but it was just a taster for what was to come.

In 1976 saw the next creation from the mind of Pat Mills. On Valentines Day 1976 Action was published for the first time and it’s effect on kids all across the UK was extraordinary.Myself, I never got on the bandwagon til the second issue because it had a cool picture of a shark on it and I nagged my mum to buy it for me as it had an iron-on transfer.

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I utterly LOVED that transfer. I also loved the fact that the cover stars were a tough looking bloke threatening to kick your face in by leaping off the cover and a shark called Hook Jaw that did things like this…

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To a horror film obsessed child this was gold dust. I could read violent, gory fun every single week for only seven pence an issue and the creators seemed to be talking to kids like me. Sure American superhero comics were fun, and the odd issue of Creepy or Eerie managed to sate my prepubescent urge for violence and gore but Action had a sense of humour decidedly British plus it seemed like the creators didn’t give a fuck about upsetting people. In that time just before Punk broke this was a revelation, especially to people far, far outwith the London bubble that Punk existed in at the time.

Imagine seeing this cover. You’d be insane not to buy it with your pocket money or pester your folks to buy it for you!

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For 36 glorious issues Action gave us the adventures of Dredger, a British secret agent that wasn’t bred on the fields of Eton; Death Game 1999, a Rollerball rip-off (all of Action’s strips were ”dead cribs” meaning the basic idea was lifted from a film of the time) given a outrageously more violent twist; Look Out For Lefty, a football strip unlike any other previously in British comics; Blackjack, a story about a boxer which is the first time a British comic had a black character as a lead; and of course Hook Jaw.

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Kids had found a Boy’s Adventure Comic that spoke to them in 1976. They owned it. Kids like me owned it. Kids like me ran out to the shops to buy it and read it first every week. I still read some of the other titles IPC and DC Thompson produced, but Action was something special and we knew it. Today with the internet it’s impossible to not find something that speaks to you, but in 1976 that wasn’t the case. Action was seismic. It changed everything, shook up the industry in the UK, proved Pat Mills was a genius and set the ground for IPC to commission a new science fiction comic called 2000AD that’d cash in on the projected SF boom that’d come from some film causing a buzz in America called Star Wars. If they got a good year out of it then they’d be happy. 39 years later 2000AD is still going strong.

Yet 2000AD would never have existed were it not for Action, nor would it have happened had Action not been banned with #36, though some copies of #37 were printed and indeed, one sold recently for £2555!

Once the likes of Mary Whitehouse had trained their eyes on Action and declared it morally bankrupt the game was up. Our comic was taken from us and although after a hiatus of a few months the comic did return it wasn’t the same. Dredger was a bit less course. Lefty was a bit nicer. Hook Jaw even ate people off-panel and only ever ate bad people. Everything kids like me loved was gone. Action limped on for a while before it was eventually absorbed into Battle, but by this point most people didn’t care.

Action’s legacy though is enormous. It gave birth to 2000AD. It pushed British comics on, and injected a rebellious Punk attitude into comics not to mention those that read those comics. It made us consider other things we’d never thought of before while enjoying heaps of violence and gore but it also showed to kids the power of the establishment in censoring something that threatened them. After all you can’t have kids reading comics that question authority that they can buy from anywhere? No, much nicer to go back to nice heroes.

2000AD managed to hide much of it’s rebelliousness in it’s SF settings, so it was ignored til it was too late to do anything about it. Action in that sense acts like a herald proclaiming the greater thing to come. Reading it today four decades on many of the strips don’t hold up. The scripting is clunky, not to mention flat, but when it shines, dear, god, it shines bright still. Hook Jaw especially is simply demented reading, even today nothing comes close to it.

I’d recommend searching out Martin Barker’s excellent book, Action – The Story of a Violent Comic for the comic’s history. Back issues are easy enough to come by, but complete runs of the essential 36 issues plus a summer special are harder to collect. Do so though because this is a vital bit of British comics history. For me it makes me feel like a wee boy enjoying the thrill of Hook Jaw devouring his next victim for the first time over and over again…..