For a gory horror book about an out-sized killer shark, ruthless Navy SEALS, and profane scientists, there’s something endearing about Hook Jaw #1, written by Si Spurrier with art by Conor Boyle. First of all, it’s the fact that this series sees Titan resurrecting the classic British “Jaws” rip-off of the mid-1970s, whose social conscience coupled with adherence to over the top gore made it both infamous but influential for UK comics. But Spurrier and Boyle have also combined a quirky tongue-in-cheek approach to character with the creature-feature genre’s ability to anchor their stories around a villain that is both fearsome and implacable and murderous, yet still somehow the protagonist. It’s this unconventional and slightly old-school approach that makes the Hook Jaw #1 work so well.
Creature features are an odd little sub-genre of horror in that, with their positioning of what is typically the bad guy front and centre, audiences quite often wind up rooting for the threat they are supposed to be scared of. No one really recalls the heroes of the King Kong or Godzilla franchises, and Universal and Hammer’s monster movies revolved around the monsters themselves as the memorable characters, rarely whatever bland hero we’re supposed to be rooting for (Peter Cushing’s characters aside). Even the slasher film franchises of the 1980s had Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers as the draw.
Hook Jaw #1 does feature some interesting human characters who will serve as our heroes, however, even if the question of the title’s star is never in doubt. The story opens with Maggie, a young scientist currently serving an internship on a boat studying pack patterns in great white sharks. The team consists of Maggie, the foul-mouthed Aussie Professor Leyland, hippy Brit Jasper, and Liban, the young cook. It’s a cast of eccentrics, though Spurrier and Coyle make them funny and interesting rather than irritating. The first issue sees them face off against a minor threat before being insanely “rescued” by gung-ho Americans who make their situation worse. And through it all, a massive great white with a harpoon embedded in its mouth, the titular Hook Jaw, waits for his next feeding.
What makes the issue work so well is the sly humor that the creative team injects into the issue, a kind of gallows wit that’s an always effective presence within the horror genre, particularly in the early going before the blood starts flowing in earnest. But Spurrier and Coyle never forget that they’re telling a monster story, and Hook Jaw is never entirely forgotten; from a prologue that displays the creepily effective way the team is going to render him as a character and not just a device, to the presence of the scientists foreshadowing exactly how our title creature will be playing his part, to a final page that actually serves to do something a little different with the slightly, ahem, long-in-the-tooth shark story (Puns!).
But Spurrier and Coyle also set the story within a world where the sea is being polluted and the creatures within are being brutalized by both the side effects of that and the natural greed and selfishness of humanity in general. And that aspect is what places Hook Jaw #1 above a simple monster story into environmental horror as well. That’s another sub-genre where humanity is punished and terrorized by nature itself as retribution for our lack of care. And just like the Steven Spielberg movie “Hook Jaw” was originally set up to emulate, this fish tale draws from that eco-horror genre which was also a staple of the 1970s.
The art on the book features some real standout moments, as the team alternates between a detailed realism and a murkier, more atmospheric horror vibe. These different styles are integrated perfectly, so that the whole issue feels of a piece and meshes well. Everything above or out of the water is depicted with sunny clarity and detail, but as soon as we dip beneath the waves, it’s a whole different story. The underwater tone effectively communicates that we, as a species, simply don’t belong down there. This approach is abetted superbly by the lettering, with Rob Steen employing a brilliantly sketchy style to illuminate Hook Jaw as a character and as a primal threat.
As the opening act of a chiller creature feature, Hook Jaw #1 is a great debut, a scary and quirky fish tale you should sink your teeth into before it sinks its teeth into you. 8.5/10