Graphic Novel Reviews

The Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man

(2005) Ken Bulmer and Jesus Blasco, Titan, 14.99 / US$19.99, hrdbk, pp unnumbered, ISBN 1-845-76156-1


This graphic novel is a collection from the British Valiant comic of the first three Steel Claw adventures originally published in 1963. Louis Crandell is a lab assistant for a researcher when an experiment goes wrong. It needs to be noted that Louis Crandell has a replacement steel hand following a lab accident. Now he is going to have another lab mishap. The experimental ray being tested caused an explosion that somehow transformed Crandell so that when he gets a massive electric shock through his steel hand (or 'claw') the rest of his body (except his steel claw) goes invisible for a period of time. Crandell in his first adventure gets psychologically affected by this and attempts to use his new abilities to gain power. In the other two adventures, others are criminals who need to be stopped and the Stell Claw is the person to do it.

The stories are fine though the science -- invisibility excepted as that's the SF bit -- is a bit shaky. Poor old Ken Bulmer apparently is not aware that you need to be part of an electric circuit (which commonly means being grounded) to get an electric shock. Leaping through the air onto a high voltage cable (which is done a couple of times) will not give you an electric shock. (Which of course is how come birds can happily fly up to and perch on high voltage cables strung between pylons.) I wish I could say that this error dates the work but sadly a number of modern SF books have erroneous science, or conflicting logic, as this site's scientist regulars are all too aware.

This Steel Claw collection will be certainly bought by those of a certain age who remember the original Valiant strip. However it should also be interest to those into a couple of other SF dimensions. First, those into SF comic strips for this character's series ran for a full decade and so it was a significant contribution to British comic-strip aspects of SF. Second, those into written SF as one Ken Bulmer wrote the storyline for these first three adventures. Ken, if you did not know, was a prolific British author of the 1960s and '70s and who also was very active in the UK SF community up to the early 1980s (less so after that and after along life he died in 2005). Third, in one real sense the first Steel Claw adventure is a re-working of H. G. Wells The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance (1897) in which a scientist becomes invisible and gets corrupted by the thought of the power this ability will bring. Finally, this graphic novel is very much a collector's edition. There is a 3-page introduction to the character and a one page profile of the character's original adventure writer and artist. Then at the book's end there is an appendix list of all the Claw adventures with their artists and writers, date of publication etc.

Jonathan Cowie

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