The Steel Claw: Reign of the Brain

The Steel Claw: Reign of the Brain
The Steel Claw Reign of the Brain review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Rebellion Treasury of British Comics - 978-1-78618-681-2
  • Volume No.: 2
  • Release date: 2022
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781786186812
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

One of the most fondly-remembered British strips of all time is the startlingly beautiful Steel Claw. From 1962 to 1973, the stunningly gifted Jesús Blasco and his small studio of family members thrilled the nation’s children, illustrating the angst-filled adventures of scientist, adventurer, secret agent and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell.

The majority of the character’s career was scripted by prolific and versatile Tom Tully, and continuing from The Invisible Man, another stunning salvo of graphic wonderment is supplied by The Reign of the Brain, gathering two serials spanning 1963 and 1964. It’s accompanied by an introduction from writer and editor John Freeman (treat yourself to his site for all your nostalgia and comics needs!)

What has gone before: Louis Crandell was an embittered man, probably due to having lost his right hand in a lab accident. After his recovery and its replacement with a steel prosthetic, he returned to work as (a rather surly) assistant to venerable boffin Professor Barringer, who was attempting to create a germ-destroying ray. When that device exploded, Crandell received a monumental electric shock and was bathed in radiation. Rather than killing him, the incident rendered him totally transparent and changed his body chemistry. Although he couldn’t stay unseen forever, the bodily mutation permanently affected him, and subsequent electric shocks caused all but his metal hand to disappear.

With this volume, Crandell continues his gradual shift from victim to reluctant hero: accepting his powers and an elite if danger-ridden role at the fringe of society. During the first saga reprinted here, he makes a decision affecting the rest of his life.

Taking stock at a time when super-spies and science fiction were globally ascendent, Tully began with Crandell still courting obscurity. Building a life in San Lemo, capital of fictional South American republic Curacos, Crandell is recognised and chased. The frantic pursuit drives him to a power station where someone takes a shot at him, and he is given a message by a dying man. The victim warns of the end of the world and supplies a phone number, but the real convincer that it’s all deadly serious is the assassin with an electric raygun who starts shooting at him. Caught in a sea of lethal intrigue, the Steel Claw falls into an ongoing operation by British Intelligence group “Shadow Squad” and becomes point man in their investigation of a deranged super-genius dubbed ‘The Brain’.

Amidst an increasing tide of man-made disasters and thanks to his uncanny gifts, angry determination and sheer dumb luck, Crandell infiltrates the Brain’s cult, invading his booby-trapped tropical island and exposing a scheme to destroy all life on Earth.

The series is made unmissable by the astounding art of Blasco, although the master is supplanted for a few episodes in the first story by fill-in artists who might or might not be Eric Bradbury and Mike Western.

The Claw’s clash of powers against the Brain is protracted, suspenseful, action-packed and in the end a close-run thing, but inevitably results in victory for the reluctant good guy who becomes a very special agent of the Shadow Squad and an operative of British Intelligence. Those connections next lead him into a secret war on home soil, as he faces the uncanny, barely-perceived threat of ‘The Lactians’.

The thrills of the writing are engrossing enough, but the real star is Blasco’s artwork. Captivating classicist drawing, moody staging and the sheer pristine beauty of all participants make this an absolute visual pleasure. Blasco ensures the stories hold up against anything made for today’s marketplace.