I love sword & sorcery fiction, and am a big fan of the genre in comics, too. Conan, of course, but I also dug all the other S&S comics from back in the sword-slingin' Seventies: Atlas’ Ironjaw and Wulf, Marvel’s Kull, Red Sonja, and Skull the Slayer, DC’s Warlord, Beowulf, Stalker… and Claw the Unconquered.
In fact, while black-haired barbarian Claw was by far the most blatant rip-off of Marvel’s version of the Robert E. Howard Cimmerian swordsman (even to the point of being drawn by Ernie Chua, the most prominent inker of John Buscema on the Marvel barbarian book), I always found something distinctive and appealing about the character. Probably it was his grotesque, twisted talon of a right hand, clearly demonic in origin, sheathed in a heavy crimson gauntlet – a unique defect that hinted at great evil in the character’s past and future.
In fact, when Conan made his triumphant return to comics, courtesy of Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord and Dark Horse Comics, followed soon after by the successful reincarnation of the flame-haired Sonja by yet another publisher, it looked like S&S was back... big time. Hoping to capitalize on it, I contacted an artist friend of mine about working up a Claw pitch for DC. Simply titled Unconquered, the proposal teamed the raven-maned mercenary up with several other obscure DC fantasy heroes in an Alamo-like last stand against a cosmic necromancer and his unstoppable, interdimensional army of the undead.
For various reasons, it never made it onto the desks of anyone at Detective Comics Comics (like, for example, the fact that no one at DC has any friggin' idea who I am!), and eventually, thanks to the online news sites, I got wind of a Red Sonja-Claw team-up miniseries (which I still haven't seen), followed by the battling barbarian’s own, brand new solo series from Wildstorm. It was difficult to be bitter about missing the boat, though, as the new Claw series was placed in the skilled hands of Chuck Dixon, a writer I rate very highly. In fact, for my money, he’s one of the top two pure action-adventure writers in the medium, coming in just behind the late Archie Goodwin.
Now, as we’ve established in earlier blog posts, I read very few new comic books, but last Friday evening, I happened to be in a comics shop for the first time in about a year, and they had the first four issues of the new Claw the Unconquered still on the shelves.
Needless to say, I picked them up.
While I thought the first issue was just a bit too Crossgen-lean, the script picked up and filled out with the second issue, and I was ultimately quite impressed and satisfied by the writing. Dixon, as usual, deftly delivered action, mystery and characterization in well-chosen doses, and the plot itself was pure, no-bullshit, Gardner Fox/Lin Carter-styled sword & sorcery. And that’s a compliment.
I personally felt that Andy Smith’s art was a little inconsistent (and maybe a bit too imitative of Dark Horse’ Conan book, with uninked pencil art being directly colored on computer; I think Smith would benefit from a skilled inker embellishing his pencils), but overall, it served Dixon’s script more than adequately.
Unfortunately, I understand that the series has been cancelled with Issue #6. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get my hands on those final issues without too much difficulty, as I can't count on Wildstorm reprinting this in trade. I still haven’t been able to snag a copy of the last issue of Dixon’s Iron Ghost miniseries from last year, and no trade of that excellent title appears to be forthcoming, either.
On a related note, I also picked up the first two issues of the Dixon-written DC title Rush City. You may have heard about this: it’s a co-publishing venture between DC and Pontiac, featuring a heroic wheelman who drives a customized Pontiac Solstice GXP. I was dubious initially, but Dixon’s great at this sort of stuff. With luck, DC will collect this eventually.
One has to have hope, right?