14th February 1976 – 12th November 1977
Written by Ken Armstrong (with Pat Mills)
Art by Ramon Sola, Felix Carrion and Eric Bradbury
About Hook Jaw
“Hook Jaw” was primarily a rip-off of the movie Jaws, but as this was Action, it needed a twist. Pat Mills decided that the shark should be the nominal hero of the strip, and that greedy and immoral humans were the villains. In the mix would be a human character the reader could empathise with, that of Rick Mason, who appears in the first two Hook Jaw stories, although his appearance in the second, like his head, is cut short. Most of the other humans in the strip are the dregs of humanity, and are deservedly disposed of by Hook Jaw in grisly fashion.
“Hook Jaw” was written for the most part by Ken Armstrong, but had early input from Pat Mills. Mills’ name is given to a diver who is packed to death by a giant squid in the fifth episode. In fact there seem to be a lot of in-jokes in Action. In the first episode a diver named Wagner, probably named after “Blackjack” writer John Wagner, loses his legs. In the second storyline a character named Vosper meets his demise in the jaws, Ian Vosper was an IPC staffer at the time.
“Hook Jaw” was originally drawn by Spanish artist Ramon Sola, but Sola moved on to other things, notably a similar story from 2000AD called “Flesh”, also written by Pat Mills, where dinosaurs are the main protagonists set against greedy, immoral, time-travelling human hunters. Sola was replaced mid-way through the second storyline by fellow Spanish artist Felix Carrion. The style suffered as the new artist’s work was crude at best.
After the ban, the art was taken on by John Stokes, and was much improved. Stokes had a very clean style, although his early issues heavily referenced Sola’s work. His other Action work included three episodes of “Death Game 1999” and some “Dredger” stories.
Hook Jaw was the jewel in Action’s crown, consistently voted the most popular story in the readers’ poll. The ignominious ending dealt out in the final issue was unworthy of the leviathan of the deep, but Hook Jaw truly ceased to be on the day the ban came into place. Everything that followed was a travesty of that which had gone before.
There were two complete and one unresolved storyline in the pre-ban issues. The first was set on an oil rig in the Caribbean run by Red McNally. McNally’s obsession with oil and wealth is at the expense of those around him. Initially his greed causes the deaths of divers and riggers, but as the story progresses we discover McNally isn’t averse to a spot of murder to get his way. Explosions, a hurricane, an airliner crashing into the rig, the U.S. Coastguard depth-charging the water around and other hazards are sent to test the characters. Through it all, Hook Jaw feasts on everyone and everything. Eventually, the rig destroyed and everyone else dead, Mason and McNally battle each other and the shark. Mason is wounded and drifts aboard a makeshift raft from which he is rescued by a passing sea plane. McNally takes on the shark in a final battle with the inevitable consequences pictured here, and what a fine episode that was.
Hook Jaw took a break for a couple of weeks before returning on the island of El Salvados, where Mason, now recovered, is working for Dr. Gelder, the owner of ‘Paradise Island’. Gelder’s motivation, like McNally before him, is money. He drives the island natives away from their homes, is callous to everyone and will stop at nothing to be rid of Hook Jaw. A bounty hunt is arranged with the expected and inevitable loss of life, Hook Jaw is eventually captured and used as an attraction, where members of the public can fight the shark for a huge cash prize. Sharkie, one of the natives and a friend of Mason, offers to fight Hook Jaw, hoping to use the money to force Gelder to leave his people alone. The fight goes as badly as expected and it is left to Mason to save Sharkie. Hook Jaw eats a film crew who are capturing the event and is soon free. Gelder is unimpressed, and refusing to pay Sharkie, he sends his men to drive the natives from the island.
Meanwhile, over-enthusiastic usage of explosives by hunters trying to kill Hook Jaw opens up a volcanic rift beneath the island and chaos ensues. Mason eventually meets his end in the jaws and his head is washed up on the shore. Sharkie holds the head aloft in front of Gelder. A panic descends as the island erupts and both natives and holiday makers flee in a ramshackle fleet of boats. The natives fight the sharks as Sharkie takes on Gelder, who has reverted to murder to save himself. Sharkie runs Gelder through with a spear as the island explodes. Sharkie is thrown into the water as Hook Jaw slams into his boat. He is slashed by the hook across his face, but pulled clear by other natives. Hook Jaw leaves, as his feeding ground has been ruined.
He turns up off the English Coast for the final story. A group of hi-jackers resort to a spot of murder whilst stealing gold bullion from a freighter. Hook Jaw intervenes and the freighter sinks. Jack Gunn, leader of the gang, will of course, stop at nothing to bring the bullion ashore. Several attempts end in much death, be it shark related or simply murder, but the story was cut short after only a few episodes. The hi-jacker storyline had plenty of good things planned which we were destined never to see. Post ban, this story was tidied up in one episode, heavily cut, and crudely put together from the six that had been prepared before the axe fell. The ending is weak, as were all the subsequent Hook Jaw tales that followed until the merger with Battle.
Hook Jaw Reprints
• STRIP Magazine re-published a number of early HookJaw adventures, re-mastered by Jim Campbell, coloured by Gary Caldwell. Jim details the process here. These new versions were initially re-published digitally by Egmont UK, then on the SEQUENTIAL app but appear to be no longer available
Hook Jaw’s Return
• In 2016, Titan Comics announced an all-new, updated version of Hook Jaw written by Si Spurrier and drawn by Conor Boyle
The ‘hero’ of the story, Hook Jaw was a massive Great White shark who had a fisherman’s gaff hook wedged through his lower jaw. This happened in the first episode, and from then on this aquatic killing machine devoured his way through nearly every other cast member. Hook Jaw was motivated by food, but there was a revenge dynamic to the story following his impalement, and the death of his ‘mate’ at the hands of the U.S. Coastguard. In later stories, the graphic nature of his instincts was removed, and the situations were rather bland, but in the unadulterated early adventures, Hook Jaw was a true force of nature.
English diver Mason was unduly cursed to encounter Hook Jaw twice in his life. First time around he was the lead diver on Red McNally’s ill-fated oil rig. Gored by the hook and drifting on a makeshift raft, Mason was the sole survivor of this tale. He was next seen some time later, healed, and working as a watersports expert on El Salvados, the Paradise Island resort of Dr. Gelder. Hook Jaw swam back into Mason’s life, decimating all before him. Mason survived a few encounters but could not beat his fate and died in the jaws of death, but not before he cost Hook Jaw an eye.
McNally was the villain of the first tale. Obsessed by money and the need to find oil in order to get rich, McNally bypassed basic human decency to fulfill that need. His callous nature cost the lives of every single person on the rig, plus the crew of a shark hunting vessel, some members of the Coastguard and the passengers and crew of a crashes airliner. McNally eventually got what he deserved following a battle with the Great White, but left a harpoon in the beast’s back that remained there for the rest of Hook Jaw’s adventures.
Gelder was a first class rich bastard with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. ‘His’ Paradise Island resort was effectively just land stolen from the island natives, who he thought nothing about exterminating. His henchmen dealt out beatings and threw men to their deaths in the shark infested waters of his lagoon. Even with death all around, Gelder was still motivated by money and believed people would visit his island resort. He made Hook Jaw into a side show attraction when logic suggested killing the beast. Ultimately his greed was his undoing, and thanks to Sharkie, Gelder went to his grave, still trying to buy his salvation.
Sharkie was, to all intents and purposes, the leader of the natives who lived on El Salvados. An experienced shark killer, he pitted his wits against Hook Jaw and the sharks that swim with him on many occasions. Normally Sharkie had to be rescued from his folly by Rick Mason, but following the death of the Englishman, Sharkie came into his own, dispatching the ruthless Dr. Gelder by means of harpoon and jaws.
Greaser was the chief engineer on McNally’s oil rig. He initially sided with McNally in any conflict but as the story developed, saw the error of his ways and supported Mason. He met his fate in the jaws of the Great White attempting to deal it a fatal blow with some power cables. Alas, Hook Jaw was merely stunned.
Jack Gunn and his gang of hijackers were the protagonists of the final ‘true’ Hook Jaw story. Once again the shark was pitted against a greedy gang of ruthless men, this time in British coastal waters. The true fate of Gunn is not known, as these episodes are lost to the ban. The lame ending that slipped out in December 1976 was too trite to mention.
Text © Moose Harris
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