The Comic Creators Project at the Cartoon Museum in London has original artwork from one of the most popular heroes from the 60s and the 70s: The Steel Claw. Currently on display in the Comic Art Gallery is a page created by Jesús Blasco for Valiant & TV21 between 1971 and 1973. This blog post offers additional information on the history of publication and a biography of this comic strip character.
In 1962 IPC Magazines inaugurated Valiant, a British boys’ adventure comic anthology that ran until 1976. This became one of IPC Magazines’ major adventure titles throughout the 60s and 70s, despite the number of mergers that it went through with Knockout, Smash!, TV21, Lion and Vulcan comics.
Among the innovative science fiction strips that debuted in Valiant from the start, The Steel Claw became one of the audience’s favorites. Its eponymous hero was a secret agent with a metal hand and the power of invisibility, fighting bad guys and aliens. Fleetway editors Ken Menell, Jack Legrand, and Sid Bicknell put together this strip, among others, but it was Ken Bulmer who refined it accompanied by the artwork of the Spanish comic artist Jesús Blasco. Originally, the feature was intended to run for 15 weeks with a full story coming to an end on the last week, but its great reception led to the continuation of the strip for an eight-year run. Curiously, after the first three serials were done, Ken Bulmer left and he was replaced by Tom Tully who wrote the remainder of the stories up to 1970. During this year there was a break in the publication of the Steel Claw, but in 1971 Tully and Blasco brought it back under the title The Return of the Claw, which lasted until 1973.
In 1967 Fleetway decided to feature The Steel Claw in their Stupendous Series of Super Library comics, a digest-size comic edition for which they commissioned original work. The Steel Claw alternated with another comic strip character known as The Spider in these editions, with The Steel Claw taking the odd numbers. Due to the time constraints and deadlines of these monthly titles, The Steel Claw ended up being written by several authors and drawn by different artists during this time period with the Italians Giorgio Cambiotti (pencils), Di Maio (pencils), Massimo Belardinelli (backgrounds and inks), and Sergio Rossi (inks), and the Spanish artist Carlos Cruz.
Finally in 1975, when Valiant merged with Battle Picture Weekly, The Steel Claw moved to Vulcan in a series of reprints. Still, the comic strip remained immensely popular outside of the UK with syndication in France (Maine d’acier), Germany (Eiserne Hand), Spain (Zarpa de Acero), Portugal (Garra de Aço), Finland (Teräsnyrkki), Sweden (Stålhanden), The Netherlands (Stalen Vuist), former Yugoslavia (Čelična Pandža / Čelična Kandž), Slovenia (Jeklena pest), and India (in the region of Tamil Nadu as Irumbukkai Maayavi, in Andhra Padresh as Ukkupidi Maayavi and in Kerala as Urukkukai Maayavi). These countries continued to publish strips of The Steel Claw well beyond the last appearance of this character in the UK, which is a testament to his popularity even abroad.
The Steel Claw remained in the collective imagination of fans and artists and it was not long before he was reintroduced into the comics in the late 1980s by the hands of Alan Moore and Alan Davis during their run on Captain Britain. Renamed The Iron Talon (for copyright reasons), he made a brief cameo in a story featuring other thinly-veiled Fleetway characters. Then, in 1986, Quality Comics reprinted material from Valiant in a four-issue series of The Steel Claw, but this time the character’s name was changed to Louis Randell and the stories were colourized. In addition, Garry Leach drew new framing material for these issues. Then, for a while The Steel Claw returned to comic strip limbo until Grant Morrison revived him in phase three of his Zenith strip for 2000AD (1987-1992). The Steel Claw was part of the army of heroes that fought the Lliogor; unfortunately he met his demise after one of them ripped his right arm off from the shoulder. This was followed by 2000AD’s one-off Action special that featured The Steel Claw amongst other 1960s characters, this time written by Peter Hogan and drawn by Sean Phillips.
Despite this attempt to revive the character, The Steel Claw did not inspire the same kind of enthusiasm that he once had and he went back into oblivion. That is, until in 2005 the Wildstorm imprint of DC Comics announced the launch of a six-issue mini series that revived old IPC characters from the 60s, including The Steel Claw. The mini series received the name of Albion and it was plotted by Alan Moore and written by Leah Moore and John Reppion with art by Shane Oakley and George Freeman. A complementary album collection was issued shortly after by Titan Books that included the early Valiant strips by Ken Bulmer and Jesús Blasco.
Paul Grist’s 00s comic Jack Staff featured several doppelgangers of old IPC favourites, including a thief called Ben Kulmer (a nod to the Claw’s original writer) that tries to steal a metal glove from a museum but winds up with it attached to his left hand. From that moment on, Kulmer receives the same invisibility powers as Louis Crandell but remains a thoroughly amoral character.
In the novel Sherlock Holmes y los zombis de Camford (Sherlock Holmes and the Camford Zombies, Ediciones Dolmen, 2010) written by the Spaniard Alberto López Aroca, the Steel Claw (Louis Crandell) appeared under the name “Lewis Crandle”, and his career as an agent of the Shadow Squad (a branch of the Club Diogenes from Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories in this version) was set back to the beginning of the 20th century. “Lewis Crandle” is not the only IPC-Fleetway character that López Aroca used in his novel. Timothy Jekyll aka Tim Kelly from Kelly’s Eye, Seth Pride aka The Spider, Mightech aka Mytek The Mighty, also made an appearance among others.
Finally, in 2012 The Steel Claw as it was published in Valiant had its own stamp issued by the Royal Mail’s Comic Collection which celebrated 75 years of British Comics.
The Steel Claw: A Biography
After a laboratory accident took his hand, Louis Crandell had a steel claw prosthesis attached and soon after he was back working as a lab assistant for the talented Professor Barringer. Then, a second laboratory accident changed everything for Crandell: his steel claw received ultra high voltage with the unexpected consequence that Crandell was immediately rendered invisible except for his artificial hand. In order to activate this strange new power, Crandell had to receive an electric shock (power sockets, tension cables, etc.) through his prosthesis. The duration of his invisibility was random, but Crandell learned to use his ability very quickly and very well.
Unlike other origin stories, Crandell used his ability not to combat evil, but to commit crimes. It was later discovered that his criminal tendencies were the result of the electric shock that he received the first time. Apparently it not only gave him invisibility powers, but it also rendered him temporarily insane. In time he reformed and became a secret agent for the Shadow Squad, a division of the British Secret Service. It was then that each finger of his artificial hand was outfitted with additional gadgets such as a pistol, nerve gas dispenser, blade, skeleton key, and a two way radio in the palm with the aerial in the little finger. In addition, he could deliver electric shocks through his prosthesis.
While working for the Shadow Squad, Crandell faced many strange enemies, among them a man who shrank entire towns and kept the population hostage, in addition to his nemesis, the Builder, the leader of the organization known as F.E.A.R. (Federation for Extortion, Assassination, and Rebellion). He also battled creepy electrical aliens that possessed the bodies of genius children whose ultimate goal was to take over the world by killing all the adults.
For a brief moment, after he left the Shadow Squad, Louis Crandell actually wore a metal mesh superhero outfit during his adventures, but it was a short lived period. By then his metal prosthesis had evolved to be almost a true bionic hand, which he could also control remotely since it was retrofitted with a propulsion system. He then went back to his secret agent roots, but he left again to become first a detective and then a bounty hunter. In the end, his criminal past caught up with him. The public began to distrust him so much that he ended up leaving for South America where he continued to fight crime.
We would like to thank John Freeman, internationalhero.co.uk, and Wikipedia, for providing some of the information used to create this post.We would also like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting our work.
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