“Hook Jaw” is a book with a lot of history in British comics but, to this Yankee, it is a totally unknown quantity. But, the prospect of a Jaws-esque comic was an appealing one, so I’m giving it a shot. Stay tuned for a spoiler-free review of the first issue.
Written by Si Spurrier
Illustrated by Conor Boyle
In the troubled waters off Somalia, a rag-tag group of marine scientists studying a pack of female great white sharks find themselves caught in a conflict between pirates and the might of the US Navy. But why is the CIA so interested in the work of the scientists? And just how will they face up to the shadowy terror of the legendary great white – HOOK JAW?!
For all the types of comics we see month in and month out – superheroes, memoirs, romance stories, etc – we rarely see ‘man vs nature’ stories. At one point, it was one of the most popular genres of literature, but because it is hard to give intention to nature, it can be a tricky story to both write and get invested in.
In that way, “Hook Jaw” tries to have it both ways. The sharks that are the center of this book do not have malicious intent – they aren’t super smart animals, hell bent on taking out humanity. They’re just sharks, and sharks that want to eat. Their hunger is their motivation; their intent is just to eat as much as possible. This book takes some steps to show, through some creative lettering and imagery, the sharks actually expressing their hunger. This subtle change to the typical ‘man vs nature’ story might seem a little silly, but it draws a really simple line down the middle of this story: the sharks are not just passive members of nature. They are the enemy.
For those that don’t know (like me, before I was covering the announcement of this book over the summer), “Hook Jaw” was part of the British anthology comic “Action,” which drew a ton of criticism about the level of violence shown within the book and, in “Hook Jaw” in particular (there’s a handy history of the property included at the end of this issue). One of the creators of “Hook Jaw” – Pat Mills – eventually started a little book called “2000 AD,” and the modern British comics industry was birthed – and a large part of that birth was the rejection of more mature content in “Action.” For that reason alone, “Hook Jaw” played an incredibly important role in comics history.
I’ve never read a classic “Hook Jaw” story, but all I’ve read says that, aside from its over the top violence, the book was essentially a Jaws rip-off, and purposely so. I can say with certainty that Spurrier and Boyle are not doing that with this new iteration. Sure, there will always be a certain element of Jaws in any shark story, as that has become the shark tale everyone thinks of, but the book wants you to know, right off, that this isn’t the story of a beach community being ravaged by a shark.
No, the story is about scientists who are studying Great White Sharks, with the express purpose of proving that, at times, they may act as a group, for a common goal. We meet a number of scientists, including a foul-mouthed Australian who proves to be the book’s weakest component, before the central conflict arises. In very quick succession, the ship is boarded by Somali pirates (it is important to note that the book takes place in the waters off the coast of Somalia – the pirates didn’t suddenly trek to California or something), and then rescued by US military personnel. The book makes liberal use of playing up – and tearing down – stereotypes among the various cultures that intersect on the boat.
These scenes are fine for what they are – they are laying a lot of groundwork for where the series is going, but there isn’t a ton going on here just yet. The scenes that do stand out, however, are the underwater scenes. This is where Boyle and colorist Giulia Brusco do their best work. The underwater scenes are dark and eerie, with a palpable dread found everywhere. Those sequences, particularly the use of red in those sequences, stuck with me long after reading the issue. Boyle does a great job showing the sharks to be the fearsome creatures they are without making them cartoonishly large or unreasonably terrorizing in their appearance. They are clearly strong, powerful creatures that are capable of horrible things, but they aren’t evil monsters.Continued below
As cliche as it sounds (cue They Came Together), the ocean is almost the main character of the story. Nearly every bit of the story is framed by the somewhat ironic feeling of claustrophobia that is felt on the open sea. The characters are trapped by their seclusion, and that leads to them being easy victims, whether for sharks, criminals, US military intervention, or even the tricks of their own minds and bodies. Unlike in Jaws, they can’t just stay out of the water. There’s no place to go.
While the human characters can sometimes seem to be a bit broader or simpler than you’d like, the mix of the underwater and the on deck scenes come together for a really enjoyable book. The book manages to be scary without being gruesomee, and invites further reading. In one very substantial way, it is very much like its inspiration, Jaws: it is much scarier when you see nothing at all.
Final Verdict: 7.1 – While flawed in parts, this is a good start to the revived series.