Time for one last blast of comics magic before I shut down for the holidays. Read it or don’t. I wish you all the very merriest of holidays. And I send out a special thanks to Brian “ I have Top Men on it.” Hibbs for continuing to host my nonsense for yet another year. It is appreciated. Thanks also to Abhay for classing the joint up in his own uniquely spectacular way. And thanks most of all to you for, gee, just being you. Have a very merry one, everyone. And now Ho-Ho-Ho-HOOKJAW! HOOKJAW! By Boyle, Spurrier, Brusco, Steen
HOOKJAW #1 Art by Conor Boyle Written by Simon Spurrier Coloured by Giulia Brusco Lettered by Rob Steen HOOKJAW! Created by Ramon Sola & Pat Mills Titan, £2.49 (2016)
HOOKJAW! is a comic about a giant Great White shark which kills people. No, really that’s it. Oh, it has a hook in its jaw as well. What more do you want, tap dancing? No, you want a giant Great White shark with a hook in its jaw eating people; preferably with lavish quantities of misanthropy and a thundering commitment to grotesque carnage. Not only is that officially the Acme of Entertainment, it’s also what made the original HOOKJAW! so spectacularly timeless in its vileness. Yeah, it’s another old idea with a new coat of paint. Judging by the brief mention of the oil rig in the book this is actually a continuamination of, rather than a reimaginimagineering of, the HOOKJAW! serial first published in the 1970s UK weekly comic ACTION. There’s a text bit in the back of the comic which covers the whole ACTION and HOOKJAW! business, but I personally have already covered all that in my own lovably tedious way HERE, so you can read that if you want. No skin off my nose if you don’t. All you need to know is that the original HOOKJAW! was a tour de force application of blunt force trauma to the skull of narrative sophistication. Of course nowadays genre comics are all about sophistication. Well, that’s how the writers like to sell it; really, it’s all about aping middle-brow television while stretching the most minimal of ideas across as many pages as possible. A lack of Sound FX, landscape panels and a surfeit of quips does not sophistication make, alas. Back in the ‘70s a five page episode of HOOKJAW! would cover as much ground as this 35 page comic and leave you reeling with nausea and groggy with cynicism. This new 2016 iteration comes a cropper on the rocks of forced sophistication early with a horrifically muddled and unengaging prologue. Seriously, what was that all about and (more pertinently) why did it take up so much space? Sophistication, I imagine. Don’t fret; this isn’t one of those old-man-upset-at-modern-approach-to-beloved-property-from-his-childhood rants. (You want a Star Wars fan for that.) No, in fact this book is pretty good, which makes the paptastic prologue even more egregious. Yeah, Spurrier’s shaping up to be a bit of a neat comic writer; he picked up and ran with Alan Moore’s CROSSED PLUS 100 with nary a stumble and his CRY HAVOC is intelligent and imaginative business. He’s a clever chap, and I’ll give his stuff a go without excess trepidation. Although, he can be a bit too self-consciously youthfully sparky at times, but then to be fair I am a somewhat dour old bastard. After the fart of an opening Spurrier rallies fast and certainly uses the rest of the pages to good effect. Like a good specialty butcher at Christmas Spurrier lays out an assortment of meaty treats for our titular piscine predator.
Most clearly positioned to elicit our sympathy is the central group of marine scientists who seek to catalogue, analyse and basically further our understanding of sharks. (HOOKJAW! HOOKFACT: Surprisingly little is known about sharks' mating habits and reproduction cycle, largely because they don’t have The Internet.) Within that group there’s the ‘comical’ Australian lady of advanced years who swears a lot. This old-lady-swearing joke isn’t as funny as Spurrier thinks it is, so she deserves to get eaten. There’s the hippy-dippy nature-is-magical dolphin aficionado who is clearly going to get an object lesson in nature and the redness of its tooth via HOOKJAW! Our actual protagonist is a plucky young woman, and we are supposed to root for her, but she is young and resourceful so I hope HOOKJAW! gets her because I am like that. Even younger is the wee Somalian lad who acts as cook and liaison with the frequent pirate boarders. His joke is actually funny, as he translates what the pirates say (normal, eloquent conversation) into what the scientists want to hear (stereotypical native “lawsy-lawsy!” bullshit), but a hallmark of HOOKJAW! is that it was unafraid to have kids get it, so he should die just on general principle. This bunch are soon joined by Somali pirates (whose arrival is received with genuinely amusing ennui as it is so frequent as to be routine) who represent the depths indigenous people can sink to in a “failed state” which lacks sufficient sexy petroleum based resources for the West to interfere, but there’s no excuse for armed piracy so they too deserve to be devoured by HOOKJAW! It’s all getting a bit crowded by now, but Spurrier finds room for a group of Navy S.E.A.L.S. representing the cocksure swagger and fatally complacent arrogance of the Western military industrial complex, and who therefore absolutely deserve to be devoured by HOOKJAW! Basically (and thankfully) HOOKJAW! isn’t big on moral grey areas. HOOKJAW! doesn’t care if your Dad didn’t hug you enough, HOOKJAW! is hungry and you are made of meat and in his path! Well, this bunch are, and by the end of the issue the screaming has started.
Conor Boyle’s art is entertaining enough, a kind of embryonic, scrappier Carla Speed McNeil style. Despite being saddled with such a large human cast he manages to make everyone distinctive and while it shouldn’t be so impressive that a comic artist can draw young people, old people and people who are somewhere inbetween, it is. Whether that’s testament to Boyle’s abilities or a harsh critique of most other artists is a question for a less joyful season. He’s also good at the sea which, it stands to reason, is quiet important. (HOOKJAW! HOOKFACT: Sharks live in sea water.) Boyle also successfully distracts from the bulk of the book being set aboard a single ship, and also being quite talky, with a restless POV. There’s a brief burst of human on human violence which is efficiently staged, but let’s face facts, a book called HOOKJAW! sinks or swims on its sharks. After all, the sharks are the stars of HOOKJAW! Boyle’s sharks are imposing and not a little intimidating, and his art and Spurrier’s script work in tandem to differentiate them, because there’s a bunch of them. Oh yeah, there’s a whole harem of lady sharks before The Big Lad hoves into view. The true mark of Boyle’s success is that when the Big Fella shows up it’s a proper Elvis walking out on stage M*O*M*E*N*T. HOOKJAW! is here and everything else was prologue. Of course, that’s the last page because, modern comics pacing. But still, it works. And that’s the point.
HOOKJAW! By Boyle, Spurrier, Brusco, Steen
The book’s been well researched and is keen for us to know this via the scientists’ shop talk and, also, a text piece at the back full of Fun Facts about sharks. (HOOKJAW! HOOKFACT: No shark has ever paid money to watch an Adam Sandler film.) Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to read that bit, but it is important that you understand HOOKJAW is not real and should not be taken as representative of the true behaviour or nature of Great White sharks. While I derive a quite unseemly level of pleasure (verging on the sexual. Hurrr!) from seeing HOOKJAW munch on hapless humanity, I am also aware that due to negative media attention the great white shark has become a particularly vulnerable species. While it is probably somewhat less than helpful to the cause of the Great White to have a comic in which a colossal carcharodon carcharias chows down on a bunch of people, it is quite fun. Just remember it’s only a comic, and in the same way that millionaires rarely dress up as bats to combat crime, Great White sharks rarely eat people. And on that somewhat mundane and uncharacteristic note of responsibility I declare HOOKJAW! to be GOOD! And never forget that all your science, philosophy and finer feelings are but comforting mummery in the shadow of the mighty maw of HOOKJAW! Merry Christmas, and don’t have nightmares!
HOOKJAW! By Boyle, Spurrier, Brusco, Steen
NEXT TIME: It’ll be a new year, so who knows? But it’s most likely going to involve -