Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Steel Claw

The Steel Claw is one of the great British comic strips, of any era, mostly because of the incredible chiaoscuro art of Spanish genius Jesus Blasco.
The Steel Claw originally appeared in 148 issues of venerable British weekly Valiant, and was Louis Crandell, a lowly lab assistant who'd had his hand replaced, even before the story started, by the titular talon.
When the story starts proper, Crandell gets into ANOTHER accident in the lab, and is electrocuted, causing him to gain the power of invisibility for as long as the charge holds. To become completely invisible, that is, except for his Steel Claw!
Driven insane by his new powers, it's safe to say he doesn't immediately go down the hero route.

For the first serial at least, Crandell is a cowardly psychotic, threatening to blow up New York, and generally behaving like his direct inspiration, H.G.Wells' original Invisible Man.
But the strip became so popular, he just had to become a good guy
 ( though is still clearly more than a little screwed up, like all the best British comic heroes ) and eventually turns into a secret agent, and then into a sort of superhero.
Actually, even as a kid, as much as I loved this strip, I always had the creeping thought that it probably wasn't the best role model for kids. Never mind getting his powers via electric shock, in order to continue using his powers, he has to get MORE electric shocks!
So Crandell is always climbing up electricity pylons or breaking into power stations to spark himself up. Not the best message for his young fans, methinks...

Anyway, here's the first part of a classic tale from the secret agent days of the strip, where our slightly unsettled hero goes to Wales for a relaxing holiday. And has to fight off an alien invasion.....
It sort of reminds me of an old episode of The Avengers, but without the gags, with creepy goings on in an isolated village. There really should've been a b/w Steel Claw TV show in the late '60's, shouldn't there?

By the way, I've cheekily ended this at a suitably cliffhanging bit, so let me know if you want the second half!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Black Goliath
We never, ever got first issues in our home town of Haverhill in the '70's. Whenever Marvel came out with a new comic, we'd scour the Bullpen Bulletins, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a great ( or sometimes not so great ) new character, and knowing damn well that collectors item, pulse-pounding premiere issue wouldn't come anywhere near our newsagents'. Which is why I'm always weirdly nostalgic about 2nd issues of comics -to me they're actually the first issue.

And sure enough, that's how it went with Black Goliath, one of the most freakishly short-lived series of the Bronze Age ( 5 issues and out. Whoosh. What was that? That was Black Goliath, did you enjoy it? )

I think even the most generous fan would struggle to call Black Goliath anything more than a 3rd, or even 4th division character. But at least he was brand new and didn't have tons of back story to catch up on.
Well, sort of. Black Goliath was Bill Foster, a minor back-up character from Roy Thomas' run on The Avengers, best friend and lab buddy of Hank Pym.
That week, Hapless Henry was bouncing around The Defenders in his Yellowjacket guise ( think I've got the chronology right there ), and as there seems to be some kind of unwritten law that Mighty Marvel must have at least one giant hero in place at all times, Big Bill was promoted to size-changing superhero, by virtue of basically messing around with Pym's original formula in the lab one night.

Saddled with such a derivative origin, Black Goliath never really stood a chance. I mean, couldn't he just have been a brand new character rather than warmed up leftovers? And why was he wearing Iron Fist's unfeasibly large collar and a belly button revealing T-Shirt?

Still, in it's bizarre 5 issue run ( even Skull The Slayer got a longer crack of the whip ) there is some primo Bronze Age fun to be had, and in this 2nd outing, sure, there's the really clumsy introduction of the rent-a-supporting-cast and the obligatory flashback to the origin, but George Tuska and the much maligned Vince Colletta make a really good art team ( there, I said it ), plus BG gets some hot blaxploitation chick action, presumably without taking his mask off, so y'know, swings and roundabouts.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Leopard From Lime Street
We talked about the UK's answer to Spider-Man a while ago, but now I can finally show off a full story of this delightful strip, from the pages of kids' weekly Buster.

Interesting how it follows the Spidey template so exactly, not just in Billy ( The Leopard ) Farmer's choice of career, or his J. Jonah Jameson-like boss Thaddeus Clegg, but in the fact that The Leopard From Lime Street is as much of a klutz as Spidey ever was. I mean, tripping over power cables? Nice move, Billy!

Art here by Marvellous Mike Western, and isn't The Leopard's title logo / illustration the greatest lead in to a strip ever?

( Aside to any fans from the other side of the pond / the states: ' Lime Street ', not so much these days, but certainly in the days this strip premiered, was the downmarket, low income area of a british city. Generally where the docks / warehouses were ie. where poor people lived. Which is why Billy is so keen to score a whole Twenty Five Pounds  from his boss. )

This is the story everybody's talking about, pals! Don't miss it!