Graphic novels: A timely rediscovery of Hawke

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The Independent Culture

Amid the summer's cinematic cage-rage championship of Wanted, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, we're probably due a reminder of the silent virtues, as well as the virtuous silence, of the comics medium.

The "Jeff Hawke" sci-fi cartoons, published in the Daily Express between the 1950s and the 1970s, are now largely forgotten in Britain. Titan's handsome series of reprints, begun with Overlord and continued with The Ambassadors (both £16.99) shows how revolutionary these three-panel daily strips were. Writers Sydney Jordan and William Patterson were years ahead of their time in making the bug-eyed monsters of sci-fi cliché the protagonists of the stories, with their own ethical conundrums and customs. It's a timely rediscovery, and the capacious Hawke archives should underwrite this goldmine of intelligent sci-fi for some time to come.

"Nowadays I don't get out of bed for less than a murder. I don't get out of bed much." In the rain-shadowed, noirish London-analogue that Fernandez Britten inhabits, who can blame him? Hannah Berry's first graphic novel, Britten and Brülightly (Cape £12.99) is a hand-drawn, hand-painted and even hand-lettered tale of depression and revenge that draws heavily on genre staples like Chandler and Hammett, but mixes them with a strong dose of wayward surrealism.

Like mushrooms about the base of the new Batman film, come a crop of volumes featuring Gotham's chiropteran crimefighter. Of these, Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, from 1988 (Titan £11.99), is much the finest: an inspiration both for Tim Burton's original Batman movie and for Heath Ledger's final performance, it set the template for portraying the hero and his enemy the Joker as complementary entities, two warped sides of the same coin. Far more brash and brutal is Frank Miller's very silly All-Star Batman (Titan, £16.99), a take on the legend that isn't so much hard-boiled as dementedly overcooked. Who else but the writer of 300 could have Batman introduce himself to Robin by barking: "What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I'm the goddamn Batman."