Another classic from the archives of British comics as the Treasury of British Comics brings back The Steel Claw:
Okay, if there’s one series that really makes you question just what was in the water back in those days it’s The Steel Claw.
Seriously, this is a comics character who, thanks to not one but two lab accidents (health and safety was a lot less strict back then) first lost his hand and then gained the ability to become invisible when he absorbed enough electricity.
That’s right, to use his powers Louis Crandell has to electrocute himself. Hey kids, comics! For God’s sake just don’t do it, okay?
But the kicker? After that first accident, his hand was replaced with a steel hand. And after the second accident that ‘Steel Claw’ was the only thing that didn’t go invisible. Seriously? Aquaman has better powers.
Frankly, if Crandell wasn’t a nasty piece of work to start with, this would have been the thing to set him off. And set him off it does, as he heads off on an egomaniacal quest for power before seeing the error of his ways and eventually ending up as the most unlikely stylish secret-agent you’ve ever seen.
Yep, this is the reason we love these old Brit comics.
And there’s a hell of a lot to love here beyond the wonders of the concept itself. The writing by the sci-fi novelist and comics writer Ken Bulmer is wonderfully over the top by necessity – with only two pages a week the pace had to be quite ridiculously high, but the brilliance is that Bulmer really does manage to get away with the silliness of the concept and deliver something genuinely exciting that packed in an awful lot of action and exposition.
But the real reason it works so well is because of the great Jesus Blasco. To make something work so well in two-page bursts takes incredible storytelling skills, but to make it work AND make it look as good as he did – that’s talent.
And Bulmer and Blasco do make it work, and it does look so good. Every episode gives you something satisfyingly whole, whilst also building the bigger story.
Sure, in terms of plot, it’s decidedly simple – Crandell becomes the Steel Claw and heads off to take over the world, eventually ending up in America where he manages to end up turning down an offer from the mob to join forces. This is the slightly daft moment where Bulmer pivots the series by having Crandell at last realise he’s been a bad, bad boy and it turns out that he was trying to take over the world because he reckoned he could do a better job and save it by conquering it.
Yes, yes, it’s a magnificent bit of shoehorning a twist into the tale and yes, I don’t reckon the American authorities would be quite that forgiving to anyone else who tried to take over the country… but hey, we’re reading a comic about an invisible man with a visible steel claw here, we can let it go.
But the simplicity of the plot doesn’t matter all that much, this is a fun ride of a read. And as things go on and Crandell as The Steel Claw begins that transformation into a super-spy, you’re going along with it all the way.
It’s genuinely one of the most ridiculously British strips, a protagonist who’s basically a complete sociopath yet still makes himself a hero of sorts, a quite absurd power that still manages to look cool thanks to Blasco, and a storyline that’s so wonderfully over the top. You can keep your ‘With great power comes great responsibility‘ tales America, we’ve got an egomaniac with a steel hand who has to electrocute himself every time he wants to use his powers.
The Steel Claw Volume 1 – Written by Ken Bulmer, art by Jesus Blasco. Published by The Treasury Of British Comics on 2 February 2021. Also available with a rather nice Brian Bolland cover for the hardback edition. Originally published in Valiant, October 1962 – September 1963 and Valiant Annual 1965 & 1966.
Now, the first three episodes of The Steel Claw, featuring the creation of a wonderfully British sort of hero. And that’s both a sort of hero and a very British sort indeed…