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British Comics and Cultural Darkening

Seen as a kind of ‘flagship’ of IPC Magazines’ children’s range for a while, Valiant was a boys’ adventure comic of the British anthology style which ran from 1962 to 1976.

On 23 February 1963, it merged with Knockout, and later, sadly, as I have written about previously, with Smash! Smash! wasn’t the only great comic which Valiant ended up absorbing - even Gerry Anderson’s fabled TV21 (which I’ve also written about) was assimilated in this traditional British way on 25 September 1971. Valiant absorbed the long-running Lion on 25 May 1974 and itself merged with Battle Picture Weekly in October 1976.

The trend in British-Style weekly comics mirrored the trend in the culture as a whole -away from the simplicities of Epic storylines, and closer to the darker and more twisted tales of the Ironic age. This is why Valiant began to seem old-fashioned once the darker Battle Picture Weekly appeared in 1975, followed soon afterwards by Action in February 1976. But its characters were seared into the memory of children everywhere, while they lasted.

'Captain Hurricane', intended as a humorous strip set in World War II, about a massive ex-sea skipper who became a Captain in the Royal Marines, and who could be provoked into ‘ragin' fury’ berserker rages which gave him great strength, was often featured as the first story in each issue and usually given more pages, though I found his adventures too formulaic and normally skipped them; classic strips, such as 'Billy Bunter'; about the pre-political correctness adventures of an overweight private school boy, and detective strips, such as 'Sexton Blake' (described as ‘the poor man’s Sherlock Holmes’) were more attractive. But the keynote stories for a long time were things like 'Kelly's Eye', in which Tim Kelly wore the Eye of Zoltec, a diamond-shaped jewel obtained from a Mayan idol, around his neck, which protected him from all harm, making him indestructible. Of course, the stories were somewhat repetitive too, placing Kelly in mortal danger in some way in every episode, like a prototype Captain Scarlet. This was later expanded upon by having Kelly partner with the inventor of a time machine, broadening his adventures in Doctor Who style.

Another character, inherited from the comic Thunder, which had been swallowed by Lion and then by Valiant, was Adam Eterno who was thousands of years old, and could only be slain by a fatal blow from a weapon made of gold. Obviously, to grip reader attention, weapons made of gold made frequent appearances, but there was something grimly attractive about the time-travelling Eterno. (Doctor Who’s influence was clearly felt in comics at that time.)

Perhaps the most memorable character, though, was Louis Crandell, 'The Steel Claw', with his power of invisibility (brought on by the dangerous practice of giving himself an electric shock). Assistant to a scientist, a laboratory accident results in the loss of Crandell’s right hand, which he substitutes with a prosthetic metal hand. Another laboratory accident (it’s comics!) gives Crandell a high voltage electric shock which makes him temporarily invisible, with the exception of his artificial ‘claw’. This lead to some spooky panels with elegant-looking floating hands. Crandell decides to use his power to commit crimes, later leaning towards crime fighting. In a nod to cinema’s James Bond and television’s Man from U.N.C.L.E, popular at that time, he joins the British Secret Service’s even more secret ‘Shadow Squad’ and his claw is equipped with a variety of weapons and tools in each finger, being able to fire missiles and gas along with a built in radio transmitter and receiver. Crandell battles the evil geniuses of F.E.A.R. (the Federation for Extortion, Assassination and Rebellion) and even dons a metal mesh superhero costume for a time during his adventures (perhaps an influence of the American comics which had recently flooded Britain). He quickly returns to being a secret agent though, then a detective, then a bounty hunter, before eventually going to South America.

The Steel Claw was an example, in a way, of a character who caught the coming ‘night’ of the Ironic trend in modern comics, film and television. Starting off as a criminal, he became a hero, like the Spider in the companion comic Lion - had he started off as a hero and turned to crime, mirroring what was happening in the culture, he might still be thriving.


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