By Ken Bulmer & Jesús Blasco (Titan Books)
One of the most fondly remembered British strips of all time is the startlingly beautiful Steel Claw. From 1962 to 1973 Jesús Blasco and his small studio of family members thrilled the nation’s children illustrating the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, secret agent and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell. Initially written by science fiction novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by comic veteran Tom Tully.
Our eventual hero began as the assistant to the venerable Professor Barringer working to create a germ destroying ray. Crandell is an embittered man, probably due to having lost his right hand, which has been replaced with a steel prosthetic. When the prof’s device explodes, Crandell receives a monumental electric shock which, rather than killing him, renders him invisible. This change is permanent. Electric shocks cause all but his steel hand to disappear. Kids, don’t try this at home!
Whether venal or simply deranged, Crandell goes on a rampage of terror against society culminating in an attempt to blow up New York City before coming to his senses. The second adventure pits the Claw against his therapist, who in an attempt to treat him is also exposed to Barringer’s ray, becoming a bestial ape-man who frames Crandell for a series of spectacular crimes. Bulmer’s final tale begins the character’s shift from outlaw to hero as the recuperating Crandell becomes involved in a modern day pirate’s scheme to hijack an undersea weapons system.
More than any other the Steel Claw was a barometer for reading fashion. Starting out as a Quatermass style science fiction cautionary tale the strip mimicked the trends of the greater world, becoming a James Bond-like super-spy complete with outrageous gadgets, and a masked and costumed super-doer when Bat-mania gripped the nation, before becoming a freelance adventurer combating eerie menaces and vicious criminals.
The thrills of the writing are engrossing enough, but the real star of this feature is the artwork. Blasco’s classicist drawing, his moody staging and the sheer beauty of his subjects make this an absolute pleasure to look at. Buy it for the kids and read it too; this is a glorious book.
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