Claw the Unconquered; finally, a DC Adventure Line success! For a while…

The World Trembles Before the Blade of … Claw the Unconquered!

 claw ad

            Other than Warlord, Claw the Unconquered had the most staying-power of any of the Adventure Line heroes; and for a time even outpaced the tales of Travis Morgan in Skataris. Claw lasted twelve issues total – there was a hiatus between issues 9 (October 1976) and 10 (May 1978) of 19 months. Issues #13 and 14 were reprinted in the legendary Cancelled Comic Cavalcade.

            Why? Claw’s premise and stories weren’t as limited as, say, Kong. Tor was basically a reprint vehicle. Justice Inc couldn’t seem to build an audience for its pulpy hero. Beowulf and Stalker were too weird despite excellent stories and premises.

            He was the most Conan-like of the Adventure Line. The huge success of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian was likely the impetus for spawning the entire Line. Claw had long black hair, spoke in pre-Shakespearean jibberish and fought demons and sorcerers.  Plus the stories and art were top-notch. What’s not to love?

claw 

           David Michelinie is the writer throughout the series –and it is obvious he had his ideas for his excellent story arc set in his mind from issue one. Claw’s back story unfolds slowly – perhaps in retrospect too slowly. And much like the Cimmerian, he is not a noble warrior like Beowulf, or a champion of fairness and justice like Tor or the Avenger. But he has honor and will lend a helping, er, hand if he sees it is needed.  I don’t think we ever saw that in Stalker even when he WAS helping damsels in distress.

            The first seven issues were drawn by the legendary Ernie Chua, whose real name was Ernie Chan. If you saw a comic book cover in the 1970s and it was NOT done by Jim Aparo, the odds were fair it was done with his telltale signature mark on it. His drawings were dark and detailed – unlike the lighter touch of the later issues of Kong, for example.  The resemblance between our hero and the Cimmerian were likely intentional, but the minute details of musculature – whether human or demonic – as well as the tone and pacing gave the story the moody look of a DC horror magazine.

***

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            “The World Trembles Before the Blade of …” appears on the cover of every issue from #1-#7.

#1. June 1975, “The Sword and the Silent Scream”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), John Albano Jr (i), Ben Oda (l), Joe Orlando (e). We meet Claw, real name Valcan, who walks the streets of Ithar, capital of the realm of Pytharia. During a meal a serving wench spills ale on him and tries to dry him off. She removes his single red gauntlet (this was long before Michael Jackson’s single white glove) and reveals his right hand – grey and webbed and ending in claws like that of a dragon. The Lord of Pytharia – Occulas of the Yellow Eye – has waited all his life for this man. It is prophesied that a man with such a hand will stop Occulas from ruling the known universe. A bounty is put on Claw’s head. And hand…

            We learn through flashback how Prince Occulas learns of the prophecy. He kills (presumably) Claw’s father – who has a similar hand – and mother, unknowingly leaving infant Valcan alive. Occulas also kills his own father to become king. A mysterious benefactor with a glowing white hand saves Claw – we see the baby’s right hand is identical to his father’s. Claw informs a female companion that he has no memory other than the past few weeks – when he entered Ithar. He knows not how his hand came to be as it is. 

            The companion? It was the serving wench from earlier in the story – when city guards chase Claw she leads him into a trap set by Occulas. Hiding in a temple, Claw is attacked by an ancient god, Kann, the all-consuming – a giant eye with venus flytrap-like appendages. Claw defeats the ancient god by grasping a support rod with his dragon-hand and piercing the god’s center with impossible aim and impossible force. Was it strength and ability through desperation or some other power emanating from his clawed right hand?

            The letter column contains a biography of David Michelinie.

This issue includes a full-page ad for Joker, Justice Inc, Claw the Unconquered and Ghost Castle, with a tease for Beowulf Dragon Slayer and Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter at the bottom.

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#2. August 1975, “The Doom That Came to K’Dasha-Dheen” (there’s a Howardian/Lovecraftian title if there ever was one – another reason fans of the Cimmerian were attracted to this book). Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Elizabeth Barube (i), Ben Oda (l), Joe Orlando (e). Hellhounds attack Claw and the assassin he is currently fending off. They are rescued by a rope dangling in mid air! They climb up to find the city of K’Dasha-Dheen floating amid the clouds. Actually, it is in between dimensions and requires sacrifices to keep it from crashing to the earth. Guess who the next two sacrifices are? Once safely back to earth, the assassin attempts to again kill Claw to collect the reward and is slain for his efforts.

            The letter column contains a biography of Ernie Chua.

            This issue contains the full-page ad for the DC Adventure Line.

 

#3. October 1975, “The Bloodspear”. Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua & Pat Boyette (a), Pat Boyette (l), Tatjana Wood (i) Joe Orlando (e). This issue is noted in price guides as containing nudity. It shows a naked lady with careful covering – tame compared to what we see nowadays… Claw rescues a beautiful maiden being attacked by lizard men while she is stuck in quicksand. He pulls the maiden, named Elathia, from the muck to reveal she is a centaur! She is, in fact, a human turned into a Centaur. A kindly wizard can turn her back if she retrieves Kyriach – the spear of the story’s title. Claw agrees to help. Fighting off monsters galore, Claw retrieves the spear. Once safely in Elathia’s hands, she uses the spear to assassinate Claw – you see, THAT was the bargain the wizard made with her. Claw’s armored hand grabs the spear with inhuman speed and strength and drains it of power – another manifestation of Claw’s power of which he is unaware. He kills Elathia. As she dies she thanks the gods she will finally turn back into a human. She does not. She was a centaur all along and tricked into this mission to kill Claw. The wizard? It was Miftung – the chief wizard of Lord Occulas of the Yellow Eye.

            The story in issue #2 had no threat by Occulas or Miftung – though they do appear in every subsequent issue. Smart move, even if #2 was a bit of filler. It kept the comic from being too repetitive. However, this issue stilled echoed #2 – an ally turns on Claw when all is safe … makes one hope this isn’t going to happen every issue.

#4. December 1975, “The Coming of N’Hglthss”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua & Pat Boyette (a), Ben Oda (l) Joe Orlando (e). Occulas threatens Miftung if he fouls up again and allows Claw to live. So he opens an interdimensional gate from which N’Hglthss (geshundheit) is “unleashed upon an unwary world … N’Hglthss, whose vile passage brings naught but death and decay … yet who cannot himself be touched by death … it had taken Avistar, the Burning Man, to reveal the only weapon effective against N’Hglthss :a silver sword called Moonthorn, whose origins lie buried deep in Claw’s unknown past … a blade attainable only by uniting the three facets of an arcane talisman known as the Grimstone …” (this was the description from issue #6 – ok, so I’m lazy, but they already did the work FOR me…).  This issue introduces Claw’s ally Ghilkyn, Prince of the Thousand Hills. He is an interdimensional traveler trapped on Claw’s world. During his travels he obtained small horns jutting from his forehead. For the first time in three issues, someone allies with Claw and does NOT try to kill him at the end of the issue.

 

#5. February 1976, “Grimstone Quest”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Joe Orlando (e). The first talisman is held by an ancient wizard. He will give Claw and Ghilkyn the talisman if they retrieve the crystal eyes of the Oracle. They must defend themselves from a giant lobster and a beautiful maiden to get it!

            The letter column contains a map of the known world. Gotta love maps – especially since this one was designed by David Michelinie and Debra Urlich, with some help from legends Tex Blaisdell and Joe Kubert!

            This was my first issue of Claw – I got it fresh off the presses! Literally! Most DC comics back then were printed at Sparta Printing in southern Illinois. Workers were allowed to take home bundles for their kids. My father worked for the Air Force, but he carpooled with a lady whose husband worked at Sparta Printing. “You have kids, here!” And thus my future was set in stone…

 

#6. April 1976. “The Sunset Doom of Dhylka-Ryn”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Joe Orlando (e). Claw and Ghilkyn seek the second talisman in the village of Dhylka-Ryn, a town tormented by a young villager that was bullied as a youth, until he found a certain talisman … during the battle Claw and Ghilkyn despair for their lives – they knew the end was near. Claw’s hand thrust upward and absorbed all the magical energy in an excellently drawn few panels. Another power has manifest from Claw’s demonic hand…

            The letter column announces the coming of a companion magazine – Starfire! I remember that comic. Fun stuff! I would have made an excellent addition to the Adventure Line. If it actually existed. And lasted…

 

#7. June 1976, “The People of the Maelstrom”, Cover by Ernie Chua. David Michelinie (writer), Ernie Chua (a), Joe Orlando (e). With this issue Claw becomes the longest running magazine of the Adventure Line – all the others by now had been cancelled; the last two being Beowulf, the last issue of which was the month before, and Tor, the last issue being the month before that. Claw bests even Warlord, which had since gone on hiatus months ago with its issue #2. Warlord would eventually win out … as will be explained in its entry. But for now the winner is Claw!

            Also with this issue, the cover price goes up from a quarter to thirty cents. Sales naturally plummet across the board…

            The final talisman is being used to keep an underwater city from being inundated by the sea, er, lake. The city is filled with an advanced civilization of pacifists. Claw tries to take the talisman; Ghilkyn tries to stop him and they cross swords. A small girl asks them to stop fighting. Claw realizes he will destroy these peaceful people and stops. Occulas again threatens Miftung to destroy Claw and the wizard sends a muck-thing from the seafloor to destroy our hero! The city gives Claw the talisman anyway – the needs of the many outweighing the needs of a few, and all that. Claw realizes this is not a civilization of cowards and that bravery comes in many forms.  They lock the talismans together and disappear into the void!

            The letter column announces Ernie Chua is leaving as of this issue to concentrate on his excellent work on the Batman titles.

 

#8. August 1976, “Master of the Seventh Void”, cover by Ernie Chua, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin, Ricardo Villagran and Oscar Novelle & Luis Dominguez (Luis is mentioned in the letter column, but not in the splash-page’s credits) (a), Liz Berube (i), Joe Orlando (e). Another milestone issue – a new art team debuts. And they do an excellent job – they better, they had some huge shoes to fill. The first thing I noticed was Claw looked more like a Native American than a certain Cimmerian. The artwork certainly fit this excursion into weird worlds.

            Claw and Ghilkyn enter the seventh void. By page two Ghilkyn is thrust back to … well, who knows where, leaving Claw on his own…

            Tell you what, let me use the author’s own synopsis from #9. I’m lazy that way: “traversing that demonic plane alone, Claw had come upon the object of his worlds-spanning search – the enchanted silver0hued blade called Moonthorn. But Moonthorn had a guardian – the malevolent politician-cum-sorcerer (snicker) Mahan K’Handa … a creature whose corrupt soul lay captive in a crystal egg about his waist … a vulnerability Claw’s twisted right hand had somehow sensed and had crushed into oblivion allowing the elusive prize to fall into Claw’s grasp and allowed the Grimstone quest to at last end in success.” I will give my collection of Claw comics to the first reader who successfully diagrams that sentence. Now it is on to defeat the evil N’Hglthss (geshundheit)! Remember him? The readers are promised Claw’s origin next issue!

 

#9. October 1976, “Long Die N’Hglthss!” Cover by Ernie Chua, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & Bob Layton (a), Liz Berube (i), Milt Snappin (l), Joe Orlando (e). The South American Crusty Bunkers (a name given to a core of artists who occasionally helped out Neal Adams and Dick Giordano at deadline time…) are out. The artwork is still well done, but it has lost some of its more macabre qualities … perhaps because this issue takes place on Claw’s home plane. Perhaps. This is the last issue of Claw during its first run and with it, the last comic published as part of the Adventure Line. Next month, in a cover dated November, Warlord #3 is brought back from its hiatus and runs for the next twelve years. Warlord picks up the mantel after being dropped, but by now the Adventure Line had run its course.

            Ironically the issue contained a full-page ad for another non-imprint: the DC/TV Line! Shazam, Isis, Welcome Back Kotter and Superfriends! Don’t worry – it won’t be another blog series…

            Claw returns to his world to find Ghilkyn in pitched battle with mechanical hounds. The friends reunite and finally kill off N’Hglthss. Upon the death blow, Claw is whisked to another dimensional realm and his story is revealed. Claw’s ancestor was a seeker of knowledge. He unwittingly channeled a demon and before he could return the fiend and was cursed to forever have the inhuman power of the demon’s tainted right hand. A synopsis from Claw #10 (remember? I’m lazy – oh, and reread the tale of Claw’s parents’ death in issue #1, it will help with this next part): “… the orphaned child … (was) … raised by the Gods of Elder Light to be trained in all forms of weaponry and, after receiving a mysteriously sentient gauntlet to shield him from the diabolical influence of the hand, to be released to walk the world as an unwilling warrior against the Shadow Gods, creatures of inconceivable eveil whose struggle for control of the fifteen worlds threatens the cosmic balance itself … demons who have chosen as their own dark champion Occulas of the Yellow Eye, the same despot who had ordered Claw’s parents murdered and against whom Claw even how seeks retribution…”. Claw says farewell to his friend Ghilkyn and leaves for Darkmorn to exact his revenge against Occulas of the Yellow Eye. Meanwhile, surprise-surprise, Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry.

 

#10. May 1978, “The Eater of Souls”, Cover by Joe Kubert, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & John Celardo (a), Mario Sen (i), Clem Robins (l), Paul Levitz (e), Joe Orlando (managing ed). HOLD IT! You just said the Adventure Line had run its course! The title was brought back (after Metal Men was cancelled and a slot was available) a year and a half later! THIS isn’t officially part of the Adventure Line anymore – why bother?

            …

            …

            meh.

            The author tells us a bit of the sales history of the title in the letter column and why this issue is something of a fill-in. The story intended for the December 1976 issue of Claw will be told in the next issue.

            Claw is attacked by another beastie invoked by Miftung and defeats it. {edit/paste} Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry. During a Miftung-invoked storm, Claw takes refuge in a palace in which dwell Those Who Abide. Claw discovers that Those Who Abide are not, in fact, dudes, but men granted immortality by the Shadow Gods. But at a price – their bodies age if they do not regularly perform a human sacrifice. Guess who they’ve elected to be their sacrifice. You get a cheroot…

 

#11. July 1978, “Death at Darkmorn”, Cover by Joe Kubert, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & John Celardo (a), Carl Gafford (i), Ben Oda (l), Joe Orlando (e). The world map from issue #5 is reprinted in the letter column. This story, if last issue’s letter column was telling the truth, was slated for Claw #9 back in December of 1976 and has been in a vault languishing for the past 1-1/2 years. I am skeptical – the tenor of the artwork – the hue of it – seems more akin to issue #10 than #9. The author may have had the story  back in 1976, but the art didn’t look like something done in the weeks following issue #9.

            Claw is attacked by Occulas’s elite guard. {edit/paste} Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry. Oh wait, his wizardry had nothing to do with the defeat of Occulas’ elite guard. He threatens the wizard anyway. Miftung makes the castle compound float to the clouds. Claw manages a foothold in the floating fortress and climbs his way into the castle. {edit/paste} Occulas threatens Miftung with his life for his incompetent wizardry and demands Miftung cast the Spell of transfiguration. Claw defeats a wax guardian and finally faces Occulas – who transfigured into a giant red-hued demon! Claw kills the demon but Occulas survives! The transfiguration was linked to Miftung’s life, not Occulas. Miftung, in his last bit of sorcery, teleports Claw back to his horse. He explains that with his death, all his magic ceases … including causing the castle to float. Claw watched the castle crash to the earth. He walks away with a victory, but an unsatisfactory one.

 

#12. September 1978, “The Slayer”, Cover by Joe Kubert, David Michelinie (writer), Keith Griffin & Bob Layton (a), Mario Sen (i), Ben Oda (l), Larry Hama (e), Joe Orlando (managing ed). Now the Michelinie/Giffin/Layton team WAS the same team as #9 … having the same art crew would better convince me that #11 had sat in a vault for eighteen months. But now that the talisman/Moonthorn/Occulas saga is over, it is time to move on…

            Claw is caught in a border war between Boske and Kyfirth. He is employed to teach fighting skills to the mercenaries, but not before he is tricked into losing his crimson glove. The demon hand slowly takes over his sense of honor and he begins to slay enemy and friend alike. When he realizes he is about to lose his humanity, he cuts off the demon hand.

            The letter column tells us of Trysannda – a female companion introduced in this issue. She isn’t. The column tells us that five letters were received. If they do not receive any more responses, the title may be cancelled again. It was.

            The issue contained news of the upcoming DC explosion! An event that would change comic book history forever!! Why are you snickering?

***

            Claw #13 and 14 were prepared but never published – except in the first “issue” of the famous-but-mostly-unseen Cancelled Comic Cavalcade… I took the descriptions of these issues from http://comicattack.net/2009/11/retcon-cancelled-comic-1/. As I have said in the past – if someone else has done the work for me … (Note: my additional comments are in italics)

 

#13. “Tthe Travelers of Dark Destiny” was written by David Michelinie with art by Romeo Tanghal and Bob Smith (with Mario Sen (i), Shelly Leferman(l), Larry Hama (e), Joe Orlando (managing ed)). Claw has lost the gauntlet that protects him from his demonic hand’s influence, and as the story opens, he’s recovering in a tavern after severing the appendage. He meets Trysannda, a beautiful sorceress, who is seeking his aid to destroy an evil wizard. Claw declines, citing his maimed state, but the two are forced to flee together. After they finally reach relative safety and set up camp for the evening, Claw’s hand catches up to them and reattaches itself to his arm while he sleeps. Realizing he cannot escape his curse, he must reclaim his stolen gauntlet to hold his hand in check. In a coincidence that can only happen in comics, the thieves who stole the gauntlet sold it to Dalivar the Unethical, the very same wizard Trysannda wishes to kill!

            Ironically, perhaps sarcastically, after telling us Claw had only received five letters, what would have been the letter column of #13 tells us that letters are “cascading in”. Publisher Marty Greenberg (of Gnome Press’ Conan and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books in the 1950s) has a letter published.

 

#14. “When the River of Ravenroost … Ran Red!” written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Romeo Thangal and Bob Smith (Shelly Leferman(l), Larry Hama (e), the colorist’s name was left blank – as it was likely not yet colored, nor was there a managing editor named as there was no indicia on the title page), opens with Claw and Trysannda arriving at Castle Ravenroost, Validarr’s stronghold (somehow, Dalivar has now renamed himself Validarr since the last issue!).  As Claw battles the elemental guardian of the gates, Trysannda is kidnapped by Validarr. Claw defeats the monster and storms the castle. Confronting Validarr, he comes almost within reach of his gauntlet but is defeated and thrown into the dungeons. Escaping, he finds Trysannda and saves her from a demon. The two flee deeper into the catacombs but end up in a bizarre realm called the Lair of Lunacy.

***

            Warlord was scheduled to run a back-up feature starring Kamandi. It didn’t pan out and something was needed for a back-up until a replacement was found. DC decided to wrap up the hanging threads of Claw’s cliffhanger from #12. Rather than reprint the issues from Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, they ran a new two-part sixteen-page story completing the cliffhanger … again … for the first time … in other words, from scratch. Scratch. Claw. Get it?

 

            Warlord #48, August 1981, “Curse of the Claw”, Jack C. Harris (writer), Tom Yeates (a), Jerry Serpe (i), Pierre Bernard Jr. (l), Michael C. Carmichael (Asst Ed), Ross Andru (e). Claw accepts his coming death until the clawed hand he lopped off back in 1978 reattaches itself. He curses the gods of light who come to him and convince him to be their champion and rule the known universes. He is to go to Ichar (the original run called the city Ithar) whence ruled his nemesis Occulas and conquer the demon horde attacking the city. The leader of the demon horde … um … has a human hand…

            Ironically, this issue of Warlord also has a preview of the upcoming Arak, Son of Thunder series by Roy Thomas and starring another red-hued barbarian who is compared to the Cimmerian. I always considered Arak to be Claw’s successor in DC’s sword and sorcery slot, although Arak is grounded in reality (taking place on earth during a specific period of history, meeting characters who actually existed, etc.). This preview, and the first several issues of Arak, were drawn by Ernie Colon and inked by Alfredo Alcada – who masterfully drew the first two (and best two) issues of Adventure Line alumni Kong the Untamed. The circle is thus complete.

 

            Warlord #49, August 1981, “Hands Across the Hells”, Jack C. Harris (writer), Tom Yeates (a), Jerry Serpe (coloring), Gaspar Saladino (l), Ross Andru (e). Claw and the demon fight for hours to a draw. Before Claw succumbs to fatigue, the wizardess Shalieka performs an incantation to switch their hands forever; although it is likely one shall die. Claw overcomes his opponent and slices off the human hand of the demon – who falls into the maw of the god of death. Claw realizes this hand is not “his”, but his ancient ancestor’s, and it crumbles to dust. Claw and Shalieka ride into Ichar/Ithar in triumph. In the distance, an avatar of the Shadow Gods commends Shalieka on job well done …

            Only one letter in Warlord’s letter column (in #53) made mention of these stories and was favorable – especially enjoying Yeates’ art.

***

            The character appeared in a cameo in Star Hunters #7 (October 1978) along with fellow-David Michelinie-creation Starfire (Star Hunters was also a Michelinie creation).

            This is the total of Claw’s appearances in the Bronze Age. Claw appeared through the DC universe since: in a cross-over miniseries with Dynamite’s Red Sonja, and in his own revived title as part of DC’s Wildstorm imprint (an actual imprint – as opposed to the DC Adventure Line) for six issues. Earlier, he appeared in Swamp Thing (with Adventure Line alum Stalker), the 2008 Wonder Woman story arc Ends of the Earth, along with Stalker and Beowulf, and in issue #1 of the series Time Masters Vanishing Point. His demonic gauntlet appeared in Justice League: Cry for Justice as the villain’s artifact.

            So with his (somewhat) amount of staying power we will likely see Claw again in the future. If you see any future appearances or even in his own title, pick them up! It’s fun while it lasts…

claw by hembeck

         This wonderful drawing was done by the legendary Fred Hembeck. Like him on Facebook and check out his many auctions on Ebay – where I found this sketch card. He has many, many cards featuring comic book characters and figures from literature to pop culture – from Shakespeare to the Three Stooges from Superman to the Beatles!

Original material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

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One thought on “Claw the Unconquered; finally, a DC Adventure Line success! For a while…

  1. Pingback: Claw the Unconquered #8! Bicentennial weirdness … | Currytakeaways

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