You want to understand the context of the adventures of Valcan of Pytharia, better known under the moniker of Claw the Unconquered ?
Then you have to look both at other worlds and into the past.
One of Valcan’s distant ancestors dabbled in magic. He sought arcane power to better his beleaguered world.
Things then inevitably went wrong and demonic.
Hark, a curse – first account
One account is that the demon tried to possess the researcher, leveraging a mistake in the ritual.
Using desperate counterspells, the man repelled the demon. But he wasn’t wholly successful. Part of the demon’s essence remained trapped in his hand.
As usual with void things, this meant that the ancestor’s hand mutated into something bestial and repugnant.
Hark, a curse – second account
Another account is that Valcan’s ancestor didn’t botch his spell casting.
Rather, a demon looking for power happened to perform the exact same Ritual at the exact same time in one of the seven voids. The two Rituals interacted. As the two magicians reached into the small portal they had opened, they found themselves grasping each other’s hand.
This fluke attracted the attention of both the shadow deities and the light gods. Since both ritualists were behaving in ways judged inappropriate by their masters, they were cursed to have their touching hands switched.
Though this version sounds more interesting, it may have only been a lie concocted by a Shadow-God.
In either case, the evil power of the demon hand grew slowly – over several generations.
It was discovered that the trait passed from parent to child (or perhaps specifically from father to son). With the demonic essence passing from the parent’s demon hand to the child’s upon his death.
Another 1970s genre movie for a chronologically correct ambiance, lessee… Oh, somebody on YouTube has the score for the 1974 version of The Land That Time Forgot. Neat !
(And IIRC the script for that movie was written by Michael Moorcock, too. Which’d be fitting).
History (part 1)
Generations later, the demon hand had become potent enough to interest the gods of chaos and order.
Law-aligned god, the Lords of Elder Light, decided that the next demon hand bearer would be their champion in the Known World. Using the power of chaos to fight chaos seemed a sweet idea.
However, the shadow-gods foresaw this. Thus, their main agent in Pytharia — Prince Occulas of the Yellow Eye — received omens that a man with a bestial hand would be his downfall.
Child of destiny
Occulas’s men scoured Pytharia.
They eventually found one Kregar of Kanon Wood, the current bearer of the hand. Unsuspecting, Kregar was willing to defend his good name in court from the strange accusations of regicidal plot. But the corrupt Occulas’s servant murdered him “while attempting to flee”.
They then murdered his wife so there wouldn’t be a witness.
However, the assassins didn’t see Kregar’s baby. The infant’s tiny demon hand was soon possessed by the demonic essence.
(One flashback depicts an unearthly hand reaching for the baby and mutating his mitt. This is a misreading of the original scene, where the infant already has a demon hand.)
I fought (for) the Law
At this point the law gods whisked little Valcan to their realm.
As he grew up they :
When the adult Claw was ready, the gods teleported him to the balance world. There he was to win the struggle for the multiverse.
But the shadow-gods were aware of Claw’s existence. They bollixed the teleportation. Claw did return from the realm of Elder Light to Pytharia, but without his sword or his memory.
Furthermore he was near Ichar, the throne-city ruled by now-King Occulas.
Occulas then received further omens about a man with a demon hand. Again, he let it know far and wide that he would pay handsomely for his head.
Sun-bronzed barbarian wanderer
Not knowing whom he was or that he had a mission, Valcan wandered. But a waitress accidentally uncovered his demon-paw.
Thus came bounties, informers and guards. Valcan’s name and likeness now could be added to the wanted posters.
Being hounded by corrupt lawmen and betrayed at every turn greatly soured Valcan on the people of Pytharia.
Fleeing Ichar, Valcan ran across more traitors and some deadly wonders.
The desperate inhabitants of the cloud city, the Golden Ones, attempted to sacrifice Claw. They sought to repower the enchantment keeping them alive and their wondrous city aloft. However, the barbarian escaped.
He later met with a centauress. The hapless mare had been lied to by agents of Occulas. She thought that she was a human woman cursed into the form of a centauress.
She allied with Claw on her quest to recover her presumed humanity. Then turned against him in despair due to the falsehoods she had been fed.
But Valcan would finally come to encounter a person he could trust. He was Ghilkyn, Prince of the Thousand Hills, a green-clad adventurer from another world.
Against the giant
Occulas intensified his efforts to kill the man with the demon hand. He had the chaos giant N’Hglthss the Damned summoned close to Claw and Ghilkyn.
However, it soon became apparent that the giant would randomly kill thousands as it aimlessly shambled across the world.
Valcan was reluctant to save the unreliable Pytharians. Still, the altruistic Ghilkyn convinced him to embark on a quest to find a weapon that could harm N’Hglthss.
An oracle, Asvitar the Burning Man, told them that the weapon they needed was the sword Moonthorn. He also said that it belonged to Claw in the first place.
Quest for Moonthorn
As is traditional, Moonthorn had been handed over to a servant of the Shadow-Gods residing in a pocket dimension in one of the chaotic void realms.
As is traditional, the talisman that could access this dimension, the Grimstone, had been broken into three fragments.
As assaults by mutated monsters conjured by Occulas’s court mage continued, Claw and Ghilkyn quested.
- They stole the eyes from a sapientCapable of intelligent reasoning oracular statue to pay for the first fragment.
- They took the second fragment from an outcast youth who had established himself as a summoner after stumbling upon a necromancer’s tomb.
- They found the third fragment in a magical city under a lake, inhabited by peace-loving humans who had mastered the elements.
With the assembled Grimstone talisman, Claw and his demon hand defeated Mahan K’handra, the guardian of Moonthorn.
Returning to confront N’Hglthss with Ghilkyn’s help, Claw triumphed. The demon giant was slain before he could ravage yet another settlement.
But in this moment of triumph the barbarian warrior was whisked back to the plane of the Gods of Elder Light.
Interlude – sweet taste of India
One amusing hypothesis that came up during the discussion is that the Known World is actually India. On either Earth-616The main Marvel Comics version of Earth (during the Hyborean age) or on New Earth.
… as in weird European fantasies
This fanciful hypothesis uses tropes that were well-known during the birth of the sword-and-sorcery genre, in the late 1920s.
Obviously, these tropes have since been thoroughly discredited in the real world. Particularly the weirdly racist notion of pale-skinned Aryans from India who migrated to found European cultures.
This theory was among those that ended up in Blavatsky occultism. These myths influenced early science fiction and includes stuff such as Hyberborea, Lemuria, the “master race of Atlantis” and so on and so forth.
Know then, o prince…
In a Hyborean context, the-Known-World-is-really-India idea requires ignoring the depiction of Vendhya seen in Conan the Victorious (which is Jordan material, not Howard’s).
Instead, use the approach where the Golden Kingdoms are :
- Vendhya (north-northwestern India; the word likely later became “Vedic”).
- Kosala (southern Hyborean India).
- Uttara Kuru (Hyborean Tibet and Bangladesh).
This aligns well with Sonja’s Hyrkania being a fantasy version of the Mongol Empire. In this approach what Pytharians call the Central Steppes is bordered on the other side by Turan, Hyrkania, Irakzai, Iranistan, (Af)Ghulistan and Shem.
Crisis of unconqueredness
On DC’s New Earth… Well, the sundry Indian cultures have barely played a role in the DCU, except for the theological material that inspired the Kobra cult.
Still, Nanda Parbat would exist beyond the Central Steppes. Perhaps it is related to the temple of blind monks seen in the second Claw series.
Plus, Rama Kushna as a Goddess of Elder Light is credible.
History (part 2)
The divinities of law welcomed their agent back. They told him what his background was, and why he had forgotten about it.
However, Claw of Pytharia broke Moonthorn, and told the gods that he would be no one’s pawn. Learning that he had been raised a weapon since before he was even born did not sit well with him.
Claw left and returned to Pytharia. After a chance encounter with the necromancers Those Who Abide, he returned to Ichar to kill King Occulas of the Yellow Eye.
After destroying the King and his castle, Valcan left. The parents he had never known had been avenged, but his heart wasn’t much lighter.
Claw the one-handed
Claw rode on, unwittingly getting caught in the war between the realms of Boske and Kyfirth. He decided to work for the Kyfirthians since they were hiring.
However, other mercenaries stole his gauntlet and fled to sell it. Claw decided that he did not need the glove and could counter the demon claw’s bloodlust using his naked willpower.
That didn’t work at all. Claw killed and maimed at the least provocation.
He eventually turned against his own trainees, massacring everyone around him as he went berserk during a battle.
Horrified and wanting to be free from such possessions, Claw cut off his demon hand with an axe. He cauterised the wound in a fire.
(The events that follow were not published. The book had been suddenly cancelled as a consequence of the “DC Implosion”).
The hand that stalks !
He then resumed his travel as an amputee. This condition often resulted in mockery from the cruel inhabitants of the Known World. And thus, quite often, in shed blood.
One such brawl attracted the enmity of an entire village. To avoid being lynched Valcan agreed to work for a woman called Trysannda, who the locals greatly feared.
Trysannda wanted to hire Claw to kill the wizard who had taught her sorcery. But Claw was less than enthusiastic about it.
Furthermore, he was preoccupied with the feeling that something had been shadowing him for days.
What was following Valcan was his disembodied hand. It soon stealthily reattached itself to his stump as he slept.
He wants his gauntlet back
Fearing that the next murderous urge from the reattached demon hand would come soon, Claw started looking for his stolen oraculum gauntlet. Trysannda’s conjurations were invaluable in that quest, and they did track the thieves down.
However, the mercenaries had already sold the gauntlet to the main sorcerer in the area – Dalivar the Unethical. Who was the man Trysannda wanted dead.
Claw and his companions managed to confront the wizard, recover the gauntlet and narrowly flee with their lives.
Running into the dark dungeons, they found themselves trapped among insane mutants under the wizard’s fortress, in the Lair of Lunacy.
What happened next is unrevealed.
History (part 3)
(Another Claw story was published a few years later. It started where the published books had ended, with Claw chopping off his hand. The unpublished stories with Trysannda, chronicled above, couldn’t be taken into account.)
After further lone wanderings, and possibly another attempt to hack off his demon hand that ended in failure and stealthy reattachment, Claw was contacted anew by the Gods of Elder Light.
They offered a reforged Moonthorn, plus a helmet. They encouraged him to return to Ichar to take power and reign as a just king.
His alternative being a life of aimless wandering, Valcan took the deal.
When Valcan again came to Ichar, the city was being besieged by armies from the void. Reportedly, these infernal forces had been trying to take Ichar ever since Claw had killed Occulas.
The battle at Ichar
Seeing Valcan, the leader of the demonic hordes removed his own magical gauntlet. He showed him a human hand at the end of his demonic arm.
The creature stated that he was the demon whose hand had been allegedly exchanged with Valcan’s ancestor generations ago.
The two fought until a defender of Ichar, one Shalieka, told them that it wouldn’t solve their hand problem. She offered to conduct a ritual that would :
- Allow the most worthy of the two to erase the curse.
- Result in the death of the other in the jaw of the god of death.
Man and demon agreed to her offer. Valcan was the one who emerged alive.
Their leader gone, the demon hordes departed.
It’s a trap !
Valcan’s new hand, belonging to an ancestor long since dead, crumbled to dust. This was apparently the goal.
Shalieka and others were secretly agents of the Shadow-Gods. It all had been a plan to deprive Claw of his greatest curse and asset. Hence the incredibly convenient coincidences – such as Shalieka just happening to know the proper ritual.
The demon with a human hand may also have been a catspaw fed a false story.
What happened next is unrevealed. But when Valcan appeared again he had the webbed draconic hand.
History (part 4)
The next appearance features a version of Claw with the same backstory as the original Claw. But with less impressive agility and intelligence, minor regenerative powers, and operating in a different milieu.
Our No-Prize hypotheses :
- The regenerative powers are what explain the different characterization and lowered abilities.
- The new setting is a “mild” chaos void between Claw’s Known World and the Hyborean era of Marvel’s Earth-616.
Land of nightmares
When Valcan was next seen, he was wandering in the wasteland between Hyborea and Pytharia. Those are forsaken lands rife with murderous banditry – and little else.
The demon blood from the hand had further colonised Valcan’s body. This was perhaps in part thanks to the chaotic influence of the land.
Valcan was beset with constant, harrowing nightmares in which he was ravaging, slaughtering, killing, raping, burning all sorts of settlements. He also saw himself killing a fetching woman warrior with red hair on several occasions.
Worn and haggard from the nightmares and demon blood, Valcan considered making another attempt at hacking his demon hand off. It seemed that this time he meant to bleed to death and die free of taint.
She-devil with a sword
As he was considering this he was beset by one of the numerous groups of local bandits.
He also met with the woman he had dreamed of, as Red Sonja was riding by. She decided to help since without Claw’s presence the bandits would have attacked her instead.
Sonja took Claw with her to her destination. It was the capital of the small, impoverished kingdom of Brissendyn, near the not-quite-border between Kyfirth and the steppes.
Sonja had already been there years before with fellow Hyrkanian warrior Thanador. They had allied with the teenaged king Älgren and his wizard Baxla to repel a horde of berserkers.
As the two swordbearers reached Brissendyn, they saw that it was now wallowing in chaos and misery. The young king was long dead and the hostile locals told Sonja that the wizard had taken over.
(And a chainmail bikini)
The two warriors repelled an assault by the lawless locals. So the wizard sent in a pack of elephant-sized chaos hounds.
Sonja had to knock Claw out and drag him away from a battle they couldn’t win, as he was being overcome by demonic bloodlust.
The Brissendynian military pursued. When they cornered the duo Claw, tired of having his problems impact the lives of others, tried to die in battle. He grabbed the champion of the wizard, a man as tall as two tall men, and hurled himself and his surprised victim off a cliff.
The hand forced Valcan to save himself. Dejected and seeing that Sonja had been captured, he doubled back toward Brissendyn to free her.
But upon riding into town but came to realise that it was the setting for his recurrent nightmares of carnage.
The sins of Thanador
Sonja’s capture was a trap.
Though she had assumed that Baxla was the one who had grown corrupt, it was actually her compatriot Thanador. He had learned sorcery and had become an agent of chaos.
Thanador had conducted rituals related to the one Valcan’s ancestor performed long ago (the “Unconquerable Conjuration”). Thus he had deliberately exchanged his two arms for demon arms whose hands looked exactly like Claw’s.
Thanador wanted to confront Claw to finish corrupting him, which would make the Pytharian his slave.
Free from desire
Though the dazed Claw resisted for long minutes, Thanador eventually succeeded in corrupting him through his hand. Thanador then turned him against Sonja, whose death would mark Claw’s abandonment of his humanity.
However, the mighty Sonja managed to sever Valcan’s demon hand. Both warriors turned against Thanador.
Claw’s demon hand was burned along with Thanador’s body. But after Sonja left, Valcan realised with a shock that a new one was regrowing from the stump.
History (part 5)
Claw continued to travel away from Pytharia, but not toward Sonja’s Hyborea.
He eventually came to a new area. It had signs of civilisation roughly similar to Pytharia, and spoke the same language. But it didn’t seem to be in the Known World.
Valcan had grown tired of being called “Claw”. It reminded him of his infernal appendage and how he had nearly killed Sonja and succumbed to darkness.
Thus he adopted the name “Valcan Scaramax”. It is possible that it was a title he earned during an unchronicled adventure. Or a word meaning “foreigner”.
Or some such.
Killer for hire
When he was seen anew, he was one of the numerous mercenaries of the kingdom of Rotha. They had been hired to war against nearby tribes.
But unbeknownst to him, Claws’s severed demon hand had survived the bonfire in Brissendyn and fled.
It followed Valcan from afar. And kept killing to stockpile blood and meat.
The creature seemed considerably more savage and chaotic — less calculating and mature — than Claw’s hand usually was. It just indulged in the endless carnage of everyone it encountered.
The world where the action of this story takes place has some interesting characteristics. It is a bleak, tired, dreary world with a lawless quality.
There are forces defending the law but these are weak and banal. Though they have the trappings of badass knightly orders and monasteries of warrior monks, they can’t really get traction, are fading out into mediocrity, and are but meat for the beast.
The history of this place is that it was once dominated by awful magical aliens, the Shades. But the Humans cast those out in a rebellion culminating in a terrible, horrible battle. The gates to the place of exile of the aliens are at the edge of the known world.
Part of the problem is fools and occultists worshiping the alien things to obtain magical power.
There is no reason to assume that this place is not the same one as where the adventure with Red Sonja occurred – only farther to the West. A “mild” plane of chaos would explain that the forces of law there are weak. And can only gain reprieves from complete domination by void horrors that are going to obliterate them in most circumstances.
As a side note :
Claw was recruited by the witch Satarina Kal Quillion.
A demonist, she wanted to ally with the Shades to rule as Empress. She explained to Claw that his demon hand could be a key component in a ritual to open the way for the Shades to return.
Claw’s somewhat desperate reasoning was that, if his hand held such power, then it could be used as a bartering piece with the Shades. He thus might convince them to take it away.
Brusquely leaving his mercenary posting, Valcan was joined by other sellswords working for the witch. These three cousins secretly were werewolves.
Satarina then made one last recruitment. After Valcan told her that his hand had been chopped off some months back, the witch guessed that the severed paw would still be active. And what its likely undertaking would be.
Floating like a duck
She found the hand after it had massacred yet another village. The severed hand was using the blood and meat to build itself a demonic clone body, based on Valcan’s.
Satarina told the creature that the Shades were its fathers. The savage and immature thing therefore decided to also travel to the place of ritual so the Shades would reward it for freeing them.
The battered, ragged forces of law tried to stop the Claw-thing. But it massacred them at every turn.
Satarina thus no longer needed Valcan. She decided to kill him – but it didn’t work. Furthermore, Claw used his demon hand to somehow strangle her astral form, forcing her to break contact for a while.
Hand to hand combat
Now realising that his hopes of bartering with evil gods were a fool’s endeavour, the Unconquered decided to put an end to this. He set out to intercept Satarina’s new agent.
When he discovered the demonic clone thing loosely looking like him, he grew furious and attacked. But the ritual was already too far underway.
Valcan thus discovered that they all had been mistaken as to the nature of the Shades. While Satarina, the demonic Claw doppelgängerEerily exact double of a person. Often supernatural and evil. and others expected something akin to the evil god Dgrth of Stalker’s world, the Shades where gibbering Great Old OnesLovbecraftian shorthand for unfathomably alien and ancient creatures of cataclysmic power. with a different form of sapienceCapable of intelligent reasoning.
The enormous god-thing H’kothadaztlonta Rzahl led his host of sacrilegious alien things to ravage everything. The first being they tore apart was the warped clone.
The Shades spared Satarina and Valcan Scaramax for some unknowable reason. They were dragged, haggard and in chains, along with other human slaves spared for some unguessable purpose.
What happened next remains unrevealed.
History (part 6)
The next appearances of Claw are impossible to place. There’s too little context to work with.
Though they were published after the episodes chronicled so far, the Claw they depict seems closer to the original. Thus, from Claw’s point of view they may have occurred before he entered the Central Steppes.
For this article we’ll assume that the Time Master appearance occurred before the Wonder Woman appearance, but this is arbitrary.
Swords against destruction
Claw briefly met Rip Hunter. Interference had thrown the Time Master through the timestream at random, landing him at the hooves of Claw’s horse.
Claw was operating in a barren, morbid milieu. It may have been somewhen in New Earth’s past, though it’s impossible to place.
Valcan had just been hired by impoverished villagers to kill the wizard and conqueror Serhatuu. This man was himself dabbling in time travel, with an ambitious notion of acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
Hunter allied with Claw after explaining that he wasn’t a wizard. The Time Master and his allies opposed and defeated Serhatuu, stopping his attempt to steal the first atomic bomb in 1945.
Though Claw was very wary of Hunter and his allies, he sensed the nobility of Superman. He agreed to trust him, in particular when time came to return to his home world.
Who was this clawed man ?
This Claw wasn’t as cunning and quick as the Claw seen in the original stories. Here are two ideas :
- It was the original Claw, but undergoing renewed colonisation by demon blood. That works well with the material.
- It was one of Claw’s first descendants on New Earth. Since we know that the demon hand has been on Earth since at least the Xth century. This might work slightly better than the previous take.
Swords against the Devil (part 1)
A man who likely was the original Claw was recruited by three other adventurers. It is impossible to place this event in Claw’s personal chronology.
The swordbearers Princess Diana of Themyscira, Stalker and Prince Beowulf of the Geats had been looking for Claw the Unconquered across the dimensions. They needed him for a Ritual that would destroy the hell lord Dgrth.
The initial encounter went poorly. Claw thought it was an ambush, but the three powerful warriors subdued him long enough to talk. Even then the Unconquered was reluctant to help, not seeing why he should bother with saving worlds.
But the noble and charismatic Beowulf convinced him to join the party.
Claw also came to respect Diana’s bravery and incredible skill.
Swords against the Devil (part 2)
During the confrontation with Dgrth, the situation went south as Stalker betrayed the party. Beowulf was also badly wounded while protecting Diana’s back from Stalker.
The daughter of Themyscira had to engage Dgrth solo, leaving Claw behind. Valcan had to tend to Beowulf’s wound and fight off Grendel, Beowulf’s great enemy and now Dgrth’s servant.
What happened is unrevealed. Perhaps Claw managed to fight Grendel off despite the creature’s immense strength, then trick it into falling off the nearby world’s edge.
Or perhaps Grendel just followed Dgrth in an attempt to help him.
Thanks to Claw, the great Beowulf survived. Stalker also survived as Beowulf had deduced why he had betrayed them. The Geat therefore asked the Unconquered not to beat Stalker to death.
Diana returned with Dgrth’s severed head. Stalker agreed to help, and the four swordbearers completed the ritual. They plunged their blades into the Devil’s eyes and apparently destroyed it for good.
In the next chapter, we’ve got description notes, the characterisation and quotes, and ’em stats.
Source of Character: Claw the Unconquered (DC comics) and later appearances and crossovers.
Writeup updated and expanded on the 7th of May, 2011.