You’ve never read The Steel Claw, the noir sci-fi anti-hero from the pages of Valiant? In another look at the history of classic British comics, David McDonald explains why you really should...
Comics from the sixties and seventies often featured great art, odd and unique characters with adventure filled stories. But the stories rarely strayed from action filled cliff-hangers and there was never any uncertainty as to who the good guy was.
Louis Crandell, aka, the Steel Claw is different. He’s not just your run of the mill hero. He’s a bitter lab assistant, he’s a villain, a hero, a victim, a secret agent, a loner and even a superhero! His background is a mystery - how he acquired his prosthetic hand, his 'Steel Claw', is never fully explained.
His power of invisibility, gained through a lab accident which surged electricity through his Steel Claw rendering him temporarily invisible (including his clothes but not the Steel Claw!), is like all great superhero origins – simple…..that happened so this happens, now on with the story! His power is uncomplicated, get electrocuted - become invisible. The kryptonite in this story is that his length of invisibility can be unpredictable. It also leaves Crandell depleted; he needs to replete himself which can often leave him vulnerable.
The core simplicity of the character allows him to develop as a character. It allows for influence from TV and Film to seep into the stories, especially in the type of foes he encounters. Quatermass is a likely influence. James Bond, Danger Man and Batman all made their mark too, as did The Prisoner. These influences move Crandell’s character from a bitter lab assistant and villain, to a secret agent and member of British intelligence as a member of Storm Squad, and then to being a disillusioned loner in the Return of the Claw.
The story and character had progression, it changed with the times. The Steel Claw also had multi part stories, rather than 3 page one and done, this gave the character room to grow. Just as Crandell’s character changes, so too does the Claw itself, with various modifications being made, including the ability to move remotely. The Claw itself is as big a 'character' as Crandell.
All the stories carried a certain level of menace and reality, this was NOT Captain Hurricane! This reality was down in most part to the astonishing art by Spanish master Jesus Blasco. His heavy blacks and fine lines combined to give the Steel Claw world a materiality not seen in other strips in Valiant. The Steel Claw looked like our world, but its mix of the fantastic with the ordinary was sublime. Blasco was the main artist on The Steel Claw, drawing the majority of the strip, except for a short period in the late sixties when the Giolitto Studio from Italy provided the art. One of the artists to work on the strip through the Giolitto Studio was a young Massimo Belardinelli of 2000 AD fame.
The Steel Claw appeared in Valiant for over a decade in the sixties and seventies, written initially by Ken Bulmer, an established sci-fi author, and later, british comics legend, Tom Tully. During this time he also appeared in the Fleetway Stupendous series, a 128 page ‘pocket novel’ in the library format. The libraries contained all new material, aimed at an older readership. These stories were generally from The Steel Claw's more Bond-esque period.
Since his adventures ended in the Valiant in the early seventies, his appearances have been sporadic - generally Annuals and Holiday Specials. He has been revamped a few times since the early nineties in the 2000 AD Action Special, the Classic Action Holiday Special, and even in 2000 AD in 'Zenith'. He is mentioned in Rebellion's reboot of classic British comic characters in The Vigilant so hopefully we will see the return of the Claw in new adventures soon.
The Steel Claw is also one of British comics most reprinted comics with various reprints right across Europe He is especially popular in India where the character reprints still appear. It is up there with the great characters of British comics, He is an unconventional hero - long before Action and 2000 AD made them the norm in British comics.
To see why The Steel Claw is held in such high regard, Rebellion has three collections of the Steel Claw's adventures for you to be thrilled by, two from Valiant weekly and one from the Stupendous series.
Just remember readers, The Steel Claw is a professional hero - don’t go sticking your fingers in any sockets hoping for invisibility!
David McDonald is the publisher of Hibernia Comics and editor of Hibernia’s collections of classic British comics, titles include The Tower King, Doomlord, The Angry Planet and The Indestructible Man. He is also the author of the Comic Archive series exploring British comics through interviews and articles. Hibernia’s titles can be bought here www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia. Follow him on Twitter @hiberniabooks and Facebook @HiberniaComics
All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rebellion, its owners, or its employees.