Claw was one of the swords-and-sorcery heroes DC launched in the mid-1970s. He was the most successful of the lot along with the Warlord.
Part of his (relative) popularity is that he’s essentially the DC version of Conan. With a strong hook — a demon hand — grafted on.
Claws’s original setting, the Known World, was sketched out by writer David Michelinie. It feels very much like a 1970s or 1980s home-cooked Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
(For historical context, Claw was published in 1975 and the very first edition of D&D was released in 1974.)
The interpretation of Claw varies from series to series.
For purposes of characterisation and stats, this profile considers that Michelinie’s 1970s take on the character is the most authoritative one. Therefore, we downplay or rationalise changes introduced in other takes.
The 1970s version was obviously inspired by Howard’s Conan. Whereas the subsequent versions are shaped by the movie version of Conan starring Schwarzenegger.
The latter thus feel more… generic to readers familiar with the 1982 movie. Since it greatly influenced the popular view of heroic-fantasy barbarian warriors. Claw can thus end up as “generic ripped barbarian, but with a curse”.
Scope and caveat
This article ended up covering a *lot* of ground. It’s thus much too long for most readers.
So for everyone’s comfort it’s broken up into four chapters :
- The Fifteen Worlds of the DC Implosion.
- Claw the Unconquered (part 1). This here entry.
- Claw the Unconquered (part 2).
- Claw the Unconquered (part 3).
There are S P O I L E R S therein for everything from the 1975 series to the 2006 series and beyond.
- Real Name: Valcan of Pytharia.
- Other Aliases: Vulcan the Claw (misinformed reference), Valcan Scaramax.
- Marital Status: Single.
- Known Relatives: Kregar of Kanon Wood (father, deceased), mother (name unrevealed, deceased), an ancestor whose name wasn’t mentioned (deceased), Claw of Pytharia (possibly a descendant, see above), John Chan (aka Claw, descendant). Valcan once described himself as a member of the “Valcan clan”, but that was presumably sarcasm to indicate that he had no living relative.
- Group Affiliation: None.
- Base Of Operations: Mobile.
- Height: 6’2” Weight: 225lbs.
- Eyes: Steely ice blue ! Hair: Jet black !
Music from a 1970s fantasy movie would be nice here, but that means we have little material to draw from. There wasn’t a tonne of those.
Mmm, Zardoz would be a bit of an oddball choice, but it fits. The opening music was a version of Beethoven’s seventh.
Powers and Abilities
Having been trained by the gods, he can easily fight groups of men with little effort. He has excellent endurance. His killer instinct is exceptional, and he can enter a fighting frenzy whenever needed.
All that and brains too
Claw is not just a musclebound barbarian with quick reflexes. When he’s in trouble he swiftly comes up with clever strategies, often relying on understanding basic physics and an ability to quickly consider what’s available around him.
If the direct approach — his favourite one — doesn’t work, he’ll probably find a good alternative.
His understanding of physics is close to that of a modern person. He has used such things as :
- Focusing heat through a prism to dry an invincible muck monster.
- Throw his sword *to* a monster. So it would brandish it on top of a mountain during a raging lightning storm.
- Spread oil on top of water and set it on fire to destroy killer weed.
He also had notions of zoology despite his amnesia. Thus he could reason that a somewhat lobster-like giant monster likely had a soft underbelly.
- His exposure to his demon hand (more about that later).
- The greater quantity of demon blood in his body (more about that later).
- Sleep deprivation from the nightmares the hand occasionally subjected to.
Claw’s gauntlet has magical protective properties. In could :
- Ignore the heat from magical fire of infernal power.
- Short out a life-draining enchantment on a spear by preventing it from feeding.
Claw has also occasionally wielded some magical items for a while, including :
- The Moonthorn sword forged for him by the Gods of Elder Light.
- A helmet with unspecified properties.
Generally, though, Valcan’s equipment — with the notable exception of the gauntlet — has a transient quality. It tends to disappear, gets broken, be abandoned, etc. and quickly replaced by similar gear.
The demonic hand of Valcan of Pytharia
Valcan’s right hand is a demonic entity.
It looks like a webbed, clawed, vaguely draconic hand. It has an intelligence of its own, and its own instincts and agenda.
Claw’s red gauntlet was given to him to shield him from the hand’s influence. But the appendage has been getting stronger, and has been known to take over Claw even when he’s wearing the gauntlet.
TTRPG approach (part 1)
In game terms the Hand is simply considered as an asset. Claws’s player is the one who decides when to resort to the hand’s Powers.
In the story having the hand take over is a terrible curse and something evil. But the reader cannot help but to observe that the hand only ever takes over to get Claw out of a problem. One that even his great skills cannot solve.
When the hand is thus free to act, it is evil and bloodthirsty. This sinister aspect is best left to role-playing – and in DC Heroes RPG terms the Catastrophic Rage Drawback that the exposed hand activates.
TTRPG approach (part 2)
Sometimes, Valcan deliberately gets the gauntlet off to claw at something with the hand. Most often, the gauntlet is accidentally taken off and the hand lashes out at Claw’s enemies.
Sometimes, the hand just takes over as Claw seems doomed. It puts Claw in a trance and controls his body. For instance to have him mumble incantations as the hand casts a spell to save him.
Sometimes, the hand reacts on its own before Claw can notice. One example was grabbing the dagger of a man about to backstab Claw and twisting the man’s arm to pierce him in the heart with his own weapon.
All of these cases are under the control of Claw’s player. Even though in role-playing terms they involve a struggle of influence.
Claw at metal, rake flesh !
The ungloved hand can claw at foes with a speed, ferocity and strength that outshine even Claw’s. Usually the claw viciously gouges the flesh of opponents. It is extremely strong, and can crush and break metallic chains it grasp.
If Claw surrenders to the hand’s influence, he will usually fight with a sword and the demon hand. This ferocious fighting style has nearly superhuman effectiveness.
The hand does not need to sleep, eat, breathe or drink, and it doesn’t feel pain.
That it doesn’t sleep means it can perceive a danger when Valcan is sleeping, and take control of his body as he wakes up. This has saved his life several times given the treacherous nature of Pytharia.
Demon magic !
Furthermore, the hand can cast spells such as :
- Sucking black necromantic fire into very small dimensional gates to the void before it would consume Claw and Ghilkyn.
- Setting a sword on demonic fire that could destroy a conjured soul-eating minor god.
The hand could also set itself ablaze with demon fire without holding a sword. But in both cases this incendiary ability was used to harm entities closely linked to chaos, and it’s never used otherwise.
We’ll thus assume that this spell is specifically meant to hurt chaos entities, and is not useful under other circumstances.
The hand demonstrated an affinity for portals to the chaos hells (“void planes”). Beyond sucking evil fire into said hells, it was once able to grasp the astral projection of a sorceress by the throat. Normally, this is impossible.
Doing this requires a particular effort and mindset. Most of the time the hand cannot touch astral beings any more than a normal person can.
The hand likely could hurt people through other sorts of magical connection such as clairvoyance or scrying. But this is an hypothetical.
Some rituals have a demon’s hand just like Valcan’s as a key component. These usually have to do with opening major dimensional breaches.
When the demon hand is hacked off Valcan’s body, it has several options.
- Run around shadowing Valcan, and reattach itself to the stump as he sleeps or is otherwise unconscious. The hand has done so at least once, perhaps twice.
- Channel its regenerative ability and regrow from Valcan’s stump. The hand first appears as a tiny version of itself, but quickly regrows to its full size. Any regenerative ability (below) it may have been bestowing to Valcan is greatly weakened by this feat for years.
- As it turned out, when the hand decided to regrow, the hand that had been hacked off did not die. There were now two hands, one regrown on Valcan’s arm and one running around in its own. Since the hand did not do that before, it is possible that reproducing in this way required preparations and/or prerequisites.
Furthermore the free hand grew itself a clone body of Claw. This took months, and required the blood and meat from hundreds of large animals and people. Both the ability to “reproduce” and the ability to grow out a clone body are likely Rituals, in DC Heroes RPG terms.
My No-Prize Hypothesis would be that the hand had been preparing a ritual to be able to exist as two hands once Valcan would again chop it off – which he was bound to do sooner or later. But that was a long-term investment.
Furthermore, the magic came at a steep cost in making the hand less wilful – and less able to control its own evil.
In this hypothesis, the hand expected that the intelligence and maturity of both hands would regrow back to their original level in time.
Demon’s blood ! (part 1)
When he encounters Red Sonja, the blood of the hand has mingled with Valcan’s blood in greater quantities than ever before. This gives him the regenerative powers of a demon.
Presumably this was a gradual process.
It also would be reasonable to assume that Valcan already had a very minor level of regeneration during the original stories. Back then nobody would have noticed, as it would still have been within the remit of being a fast healer. Not a surprising trait in a hardy barbarian warrior.
Our No-Prize Hypothesis is that it follows a power law progression, staying at low levels for years then quickly building up until it hit its ceiling within weeks.
At the end of the encounter with Sonja, Claw lost his healing factor. The hand needed to focus its regenerative powers back into itself to grow back after having been severed. Afterwards Claw had, at most, the recuperative powers that he had in the classic stories.
Demon’s blood ! (part 2)
When he had this level of Regeneration, Claw was slower — physically and mentally — than he normally is.
One hypothesis is to assume that the demon blood fatigues and confuses him. This physical and mental haze lifted when he was convinced to surrender to the evil within himself.
This profile uses these regenerative abilities as a No-Prize rationale for why Claw’s characterization, swiftness and acumen are different in the Claw/Red Sonja miniseries. The material itself never establishes a link between the new regenerative powers and Claw’s personality and abilities.
But the No-Prize Hypothesis matches all observed facts.
Who is Valcan Scaramax ?
The two 20055/2006 Claw series have an unclear continuity status relative to the original.
- The character in the 2005 Claw/Red Sonja one feels like a different person. Yet his background is clearly that of the original.
- The Claw in the 2006 Wildstorm miniseries might be the original, if allowing for some character growth. But there is zero reference to the original series. And it seemingly takes place outside of the Known World.
The Wildstorm series also makes a point of using a new name of unknown origin (Valcan Scaramax) and never calling him Valcan of Pytharia. However, a key plot element is that Claw’s demon hand has regrown after it was severed. Which references the Claw/Red Sonja story.
In the end I’ve decided to do the No-Prize Shuffle. My stance is that both series were about the same Claw and formed a single continuity with the previous appearances.
This profile’s History section offers various hypotheses and hacks as to how it all can fit together.
The version that appears in the Creatures Commando LS, however, is considered in this entry not to be the same character, but a descendant. As usual, the hypothetical parts are signalled as thus (or as “No-Prize approaches” or something).
In the next chapter, we’ll recap Valcan’s barbaric history !
Source of Character: Claw the Unconquered (DC comics) and later appearances and crossovers.
Writeup updated and expanded on the 7th of May, 2011.