Now that Dark Horse Comics has a critical and financial hit with its take on Conan the Barbarian, DC should resurrect Claw the Unconquered! What’s that, you ask? Claw the Un-what? Well, truth be told, Claw may have been unconquerable in his own title but he certainly never conquered low sales.
In January of 1975 DC Comics (then officially National Periodical Publications) expanded its lineup by introducing a fantasy/adventure series of titles. These included Beowulf, Dragon Slayer; Justice, Inc.; Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (who is making his own comeback); Stalker; The Warlord, Kong the Untamed and Claw the Unconquered. Claw #1 was released in February of 1975. I believe Claw was DC’s third attempt to jump on the Sword and Sorcery bandwagon (Nightmaster in Showcase was first, Sword of Sorcery second). As with SOS, Claw didn’t quite catch on with the comics-buying public, but it did last for nine bimonthly issues before taking a hiatus and then returning for three more issues in early 1978. Marvel had virtually cornered the Sword and Sorcery comic book market with Conan the Barbarian.
At that time in 1975, I would ride my 3-speed bike to the various stores that carried comics: 7-Eleven, Circle K, Bungalow News, The Pantry supermarket, and Don’s Paperbacks. All of them carried the popular titles: such as Superman, Batman and Justice League of America, but I had to really pedal around to locate some of the more obscure ones. Stalker came in a 3-comics-in-1-bag at The Pantry, while Justice, Inc. and Claw wound up at Circle K convenience mart. (And DC Special #17, which featured reprints of my favorite superhero, Green Lantern, never even arrived in my hometown of Pasadena, California as far as I could tell, and it would be another twenty years before I discovered it at a local comic book convention.) I’ll never forget picking up that first issue of Claw at Circle K, thinking how wonderful it was that DC was creating a Conan of its own. DC had done away with its line of 100 Page Super Spectaculars, but they were pushing the genre boundaries now, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Life was swell (okay, I was a four-eyed poindexter-type in junior high and I didn’t have a girlfriend like most of the dyno’mite dudes did, but as far as reading comics was concerned, life was still swell).
Ah, how times change. When I read Claw as a kid, he seemed so much older and wiser. He had crackling muscles and spoke eloquently even while violently waving his sword and tossing bodies across the bar-room. Now I read Claw and he comes across as kind of an oafish, egotistical guy in his early twenties, spouting a vocabulary that no barbarian would possibly have the time or inclination to learn. I look at the situations he finds himself in throughout Claw #1 and think, “Man, don’t turn your back on anybody!”, when as a kid I would think, “Whew! He turned around just in time!” I’m not being critical, really, just looking at it from a different perspective now. It’s still a great (subjectively speaking, of course) comic.
David Michelinie wrote all twelve issues, sending Claw on the obligatory fantasy quest, dropping clues about his origin until revealing all in issue 9. Ernie Chua was the artist through issue seven. Keith Giffen came on board with issue eight and provided the artwork through issue 12. When Claw the comic was canceled in 1978, Claw the character remained in comic book limbo until the early 1980s when he returned as a back-up feature in The Warlord (of the fantasy line, Warlord was the biggest success; Stalker and Justice, Inc. lasted only four issues; Kong five; Tor and Beowulf held on for a year; and Richard Dragon must have exceeded expectations by lasting eighteen issues). The story picked up right where it left off at the end of Claw #12. After that series ran its course, Claw returned to comic book limbo. I remember that he sort of returned in the 1990s, revamped and reinstated in the DC Universe in the short-lived Primal Force. I think he also appeared in an update of the Creature Commandos a few years back (my short-term comics memory pales compared to my long-term comics memory). Claw may never have been very popular, but if ever there was a time to give him another chance at finding a niche in the comics market, this is it! And if it pays off, next in line is Arak, Son of Thunder!