The Claw terrorizes a bunch of Riccan natives. Artist: Jack Cole.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Lev Gleason Publications
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Jack Cole
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Superheroes began their take-over of American comic books in 1938, with the introduction of Superman — and with them came the super villains, some great and classic such as The Joker or The Red Skull, and some — not so great, and there's no need to name those because nobody's ever heard of them anyway. But one of the classics — in fact, perhaps the very first …

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… great, classic super villain to come from comic books — arose independently, not as a necessary complement to a superhero — a menace starring in his own series, with no good guy to hold him back.

The Claw first appeared in Silver Streak Comics #1 (December, 1939), published by the company that soon became Lev Gleason Enterprises (Crimebuster, Little Wise Guys). He was created by Jack Cole — before the advent of Cole's Comet, Midnight or Plastic Man, but displaying much the same creative spark and design sense that later made him famous. (The comic, by the way, was named after publishing partner Arthur Bernhard's car — only in its third issue did it add a super-speedy hero called The Silver Streak.)

When first seen, The Claw (no relation to a 1970s DC Comics barbarian hero) was the despotic ruler of Ricca, an island in the Pacific, which newly-appointed American ambassador Eloise Pearsall called "an enchanting place, so far from the troubled world". Aside from rendering the natives "So — so beaten! So hopeless!" (in Eloise's words two panels later), he had a piracy operation going wherein his minions would strip docking ships of all valuables without leaving a clue. But before the story was over, the piracy ring was finished and The Claw had disappeared (no doubt in a vehicle he later used, which could take him anywhere by boring through rock), to work his mischief elsewhere.

Tho he appeared human-like, at least from a distance, The Claw was definitely not human. He could be toweringly huge when he so desired, for one thing, and possessed long, sharp teeth in addition to the bony talons that gave him his name. He also had great but ill-defined powers that waxed and waned with the phases of the Moon. No explanation was ever given as to where he came from or how he got that way. Later, natives from his part of the world (eastern Asia) referred to him as the god of hate.

A villain as protagonist was a viable concept, as shown by Desperate Desmond and Frankenstein — but Desmond had a regular hero, Claude Eclair; and Frank quickly acquired one, Bulldog Denny. After only two outings with heroes as incidental "adversary of the month" types, The Claw was set aside for re-thinking. He was back in #6, but was the same as usual (with the exception of being called, in this issue only, "The Green Claw"). The seventh issue (January, 1941) was the one where he really caught the eyes of comics readers.

Daredevil had been a minor hero from Silver Streak's back pages. Cole revamped him and pitted him against The Claw, in a five-issue story that wound up making stars of them both. Six months later, when Daredevil took on Hitler himself, The Claw was there as well (as were Dickie Dean, Lance Hale, The Pirate Prince and other Lev Gleason heroes, making it the closest the publisher ever came to its own version of The Justice Society of America).

After that, The Claw's series transferred from Silver Streak to Daredevil Comics. Jack Cole had moved on by then, but with other writers and artists it ran there until #31 (July, 1945). In that issue, they killed him off.

Of course, killing isn't always a completely effective way to get rid of a super villain. He was back in Boy Comics #89 (May, 1953), where Rocky X (no relation), an outer space hero like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, opposed him when he led an invasion force from the planet Zylmarx (making him alive wasn't that story's only retcon), in a struggle that lasted three issues.

When that was over, The Claw disappeared for good. But he wasn't forgotten — in fact, AC Comics, where no superhero is left behind even (especially!) if his publisher is long-defunct, used him in 2002 as an antogonist for Femforce. He may be dead, in more ways than one, but he still has what it takes.


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Text ©2006-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Lev Gleason Publications.