On 6th October 2023 ‘The Art of Sydney Jordan, Dream Pedlar’ exhibition opened in the Tower Foyer Gallery, Tower Building, University of Dundee – more details below. From the launch photographs (Fig. 1), it appears that the hero’s extraterrestrial contacts feature prominently, and indeed they were a major topic during the 34-year run of Sydney Jordan’s comic strips Jeff Hawke and Lance McLane, the later syndicated overseas as a new version of Hawke.
Nominally, Hawke’s masters throughout were the Shining Ones, whom he had met in the first story ‘Space Rider’ in 1954 (Fig. 2). They appeared once to him in a dream in ‘The Search for Asteron’ (1955), and not again until the hurried endings of ‘The First Person Plural’ (1974) and ‘Heir Apparent!’ (1975-76), in both of which they renewed their promise that Hawke would eventually ‘dwell with them between the stars’, though they no longer had a spaceship in which to do it.
In The Physics of Star Trek (HarperCollins, 1996), Prof. Lawrence M. Krauss points out that such beings couldn’t be made of pure energy.
If on the other hand the Shining Ones were purely spiritual beings, like the eldila of C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet (1939), they wouldn’t need robot servants and spaceships to transfer them from star to star, and indeed, later on they don’t. ‘Energy beings’ made of plasma, like the Shining Ones, apparently, would have severe limitations in their interaction with the physical Universe, and in my first published story (‘Renaissance’, Glasgow University Magazine, 1964), I suggested that achieving such a form would be an evolutionary dead end, causing them eventually to re-create physical beings like ourselves.
By contrast the Martians of the next story, ‘The Martian Invasion’, were extremely physical, to the extent of wearing ‘semmits’ which would be familiar to fans of Rab C. Nesbitt. (A superhero would wear a super-semmit, and when he died he’d be buried in a super-symmetry.) Various commentators have remarked that the Martians in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells seem to be evolved for high-gravity conditions and might well have colonised Mars from Jupiter, even if they had adapted to lower gravity since. These Martians aren’t native to the planet, and they aren’t troubled by Earth’s higher gravity, temperatures and air density when they land in Mexico, though in later invasion scenes they more plausibly wear spacesuits, since they operate without them on Mars itself. But the tentacles around the mouth (presumably for feeding, capturing floating prey), the non-rigid brain case, and the eyes on stalks for all-round vision, all suggest that they evolved in much denser atmosphere or even underwater, coming on to the land at a later stage in their development than we did (Fig. 3). By making the brain case flexible or even dispensing with it, they’ve overcome the physiological reason why crustacean intelligence is limited to lower intellectual levels than ours, which Arthur Koestler spelled out in The Ghost in the Machine (Hutchinson, 1967). Arthropods can’t develop intelligence without limiting food intake, because their alimentary system passes through the brain. If the brain becomes larger the beings have to become blood-suckers, because they’re limited to liquid food only – like Wells’s Martians in The War of the Worlds, interestingly enough.
That does raise questions about their status as a great race which settled on Mars after centuries of interstellar warfare. In physical form these creatures are basically crustaceans without shells, so they wouldn’t have got very far as warriors until they developed technology. You would expect a warrior culture still to value physical combat, particularly solo combat, like the Klingons and the ETs of the Predator movies, who seem to be into hunting and collecting trophies because they can’t find anyone their own size to fight. The ones of Independence Day have turned into wimps because although they still look big and threatening, they can only fight from behind protective force shields and outside those, mano a mano, they can be floored by a good ol’ boy from Texas with a single punch. The ETs of ‘The Martian Invasion’ are even weaker and the implication is that they fell into warfare only at a late, degenerate stage of their once-mighty civilisation. So the ‘mutaformed’ Martians are actually throwbacks to an earlier, more intellectual and ethical stage of their being; as if the Dr. Who Daleks reverted to a common ancestor they shared with the Thals. Not only have they changed shape, they’ve also undergone a change in nature and inclination. They find that they no longer wish to conquer the Earth, and they’re willing to help us defeat their degenerate descendants.
To settle on Earth, most of the invasion force have been ‘mutaformed’ (to use the terminology of the late Prof. Oscar Schwiglhofer in my Man and the Planets) to be able to live on Earth. The mutaforming technique used here is analogous to the ‘pantropy’ of James Blish’s stories, collected in The Seedling Stars (1957, Faber 1967), in which human beings are adapted to live on various alien worlds, and to the ‘City’ stories of Clifford D. Simak, in which we adapt to life on the supposedly solid surface of Jupiter (1952, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1954). Initially the ‘mutaformed’ Martians are ‘all exactly alike’, like the hive-mind of ‘Faery Land Forlorn’ later, but they become more differentiated and sport Beatles haircuts, remarkably enough (Fig. 4), ten years before the Beatles themselves, not to mention Patrick Troughton’s portrayal of Dr. Who.
In his preface to The Martian Quartet (William Rudling, ed., Jeff Hawke Club, 2004, revised second edition, Jeff Hawke Club, 2009, reprinted 2015), Sydney tells us that the Martians’ faces were inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Martians with their ‘gold coin eyes’. The exact phrase is in ‘The Summer Night’, one of the linking passages in Bradbury’s story collection The Martian Chronicles, first published in the UK as “The Silver Locusts” (Hart-Davis, 1951). But one of the best known of those stories, ‘Dark They Were and Golden Eyed’, wasn’t in that collection but in The Day It Rained Forever (Hart-Davis, 1959). The other surprise of William Rudling’s cover for The Martian Quartet, revealing that Sydney Jordan visualised the strip in colour, is that the Martians’ skin is dark reddish-brown. Like ‘Red’ Indians, who were actually just sun-tanned, it seems that in their mutaforming they were compensating for the ultra-violet radiation which penetrates Earth’s atmosphere. We didn’t know then that the ultraviolet at the Martian surface is much stronger than it is here – in fact there was reason to think not, because the dust suspended in Mars’s atmosphere strongly reflects blue light.
Given the purpose of their physical change, perhaps it was inevitable that after it they should find they have more in common with us than their creators. The visitors of ‘The Intelligent Ones’ (1966) notwithstanding, there’s nothing ‘biologically perfect’ about parts of the human body like knees or elbows: the forearm is a particularly inefficient lever, and knees are a great problem to the elderly. To quote Patrick Moore, the Autobiography (Sutton, 2003),
The majority view in science today is that we are very unlikely indeed to meet extraterrestrial beings who look like us. Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart make the point in Evolving the Alien, the Science of Extraterrestrial Life (Ebury Press, 2002). The alternative view is that we can expect ‘convergent evolution’, as a result of which intelligent beings will look more or less like us. It’s still an article of faith with many UFO believers, because the ‘Greys’ and other such creatures are so very humanoid, but Jack Cohen argues that knees and elbows are the critical issue. It appears that the six broad divisions of animal life on Earth, including vertebrates like us, insects and fish, share the same genes which govern the growth of appendages such as legs, arms, claws, fins and antennae. They originated with a worm-like creature called Urbilateria, 600-700 million years ago, which was the common ancestor of all those animal forms. All four-legged creatures with pentadactyl limbs like ours are descended from a fish that left the sea in the Devonian period: Gogonassus, the ‘Gogo fish’, whose 370-million year old remains are found in Australia – just as all land plants derive from a variety of freshwater algae 450 million years ago. Our knees and elbows are where they are because they correspond to the fin joints of the Gogo fish; that’s what allows a human being in costume to act the part of a great ape, or a dinosaur, or even allows two humans in costume to play a recognisable caricature of a cow or a horse.
Many of the extraterrestrials whom Hawke encounters appear human, from the story ‘Out of Touch’ by Harry Harrison (1956) all the way to ‘Morratorro’ in 1975, with more examples in the Lance McLane/Hawke stories. In the highly populated Galaxy of ‘Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos’, it might just be possible that convergent evolution might produce some near-matches. Several of the Hawke ones are mutations (or throwbacks) from less human-looking species, for example in ‘Daughter of Eros’ (1969); but Jena’s humanity in ‘The Comet’s Tale’ (1973-74), for example, is too close not to need explanation. The opening sequence of ‘On the Run’ (1973) depicts a prisoner named Krek making a run from a prison complex on an otherwise uninhabited planet, and raises some curious questions. Krek is described as a ‘first millennium Terran’, but first millennium of what? Not BC or AD, at any rate, since he has ‘first-millennium ability to thought-read’. We’re told that his distant forbears shipped out, or were shipped out, from Earth, and the prison world seems to coexist in time with ours, despite the psychic powers which they seem to have developed meantime while Earth has remained ‘a primitive culture’. That raises the possibility that there are extensive numbers of human beings already living off-Earth, and that has a bearing on the appearance of the prison Governor, since there’s a creature quite like him on a panel in ‘The Book of the Worlds’ below. The controllers of the prison world have limbs unlike ours, whereas the Governor appears to share our descent from the Gogo, despite his facial appearance. If he’s human, he’s presumably from a high-gravity planet, and he dislikes the appearance of the officer sent after Krek, although she looks normal to us.
In ‘The Book of the Worlds’ (1970-71), human extraterrestrials lead Hawke to a circular valley in Peru, enclosing the titular Book. Geologically it’s a cenote, which belongs in Yucatan rather than Peru: they’re giant wells, where rising fresh water has cut away the limestone from below, which lie along the stress rings, concentric with the impact point offshore, produced by the Chicxulub impact which killed the dinosaurs. This one evidently has a Brigadoon-style existence, only occasionally accessible, because it’s never been spotted by overflying aircraft despite being lined with gold panels, carved with illustrations from the Book of the Worlds. “Egyptian! Celtic! Hebrew! – Most of them I can’t recognise…” Only one figure is superficially alien, and even that is sufficiently humanoid that it could be a human being adapted to life on some other planet, with a higher gravity than Earth’s – very possibly the homeworld of the Governor in ‘On the Run’.
The one humanoid extraterrestrial who doesn’t fit the pattern is Chalcedon, the galactic warlord who takes refuge on our uncrewed spacecraft orbiting Venus, in ‘Sanctuary’ (1956). He reappears in ‘Overlord’ (see Part 1), and thereafter in stories throughout the Hawke canon, with a final appearance in ‘The Comet’s Tale’ and a final mention in ‘Heir Apparent!’ (1975) – usually with an entourage of non-human beings who’ll be discussed next time. Although he’s physically bigger than the humans, Chalcedon is the same shape and his knees and elbows are in the same place as ours. He attempts to exploit the resemblance by proposing marriage to Hawke’s girlfriend, and is amazed by her refusal.
He is indeed humanoid, even in his facial features, and looked very similar in black-and-white. But Chalcedon was coloured green on Brian Bolland’s cover of Jeff Hawke Book One (Titan, 1986, Fig. 6) and that was confirmed in 1998, when Sydney Jordan produced a Christmas card strip with Jeff Hawke and Chalcedon flying over the Face on Mars, in a Mars glider out of Lance McLane (Fig. 7).
Chalcedony is a family of precious stones including chrysoprase, which is apple-green. And although Sydney once told me that he felt his life had been defined by black-and-white squares, every so often there were indications that he visualised the strip in colour. The friendly Martians above were a case in point, as was Chalcedon’s colour-coded booby trap on his ship’s control panel, the purple and yellow extraterrestrial of ‘The Castaway’ (1957), and the orange spacesuits of the ETs in ‘The Changeling’ (1963).
When I was researching my book Children from the Sky (2012, Fig. 8), investigating the mediaeval mystery of the Green Children of Woolpit, I spent a lot of time looking into what could turn people green, summarising the results in a chapter called ‘Green Children and Red Herrings’. The short answer is that virtually nothing does, despite the many suggestions put forward which don’t work when checked. Almost the only plausible one is protective colouration, and indeed the green girl said that all the people of the land or world that she came from were ‘dyed with same green colour’ (as the plants, by implication). Chalcedon’s colour is never explained, and since he’s so like us in shape, it remains a mystery throughout.
But it’s when we turn to the truly non-human beings of Jeff Hawke, the ones who couldn’t be turned into humans or lookalikes by any ‘mutaforming’ process, that Sydney Jordan’s imagination and Cohen and Stewart’s insights in Exobiology come into their own.
(To be continued)
All the Jeff Hawke stories have been reprinted, in five books, 30 magazine and a supplement, by William Rudling for the Jeff Hawke Club, with critical notes by Duncan Lunan throughout. For details see their website, www.jeffhawkeclub.co.uk.