by Kevin McCluskey
“Earth, 8162. Not a nice place to live… But a good place… To die!”
Simon Furman and Geoff Senior are set to launch their new creator owned web-comic series ‘To The Death’ on September 10th, details of which, such as a synopsis, world building previews and some choice pieces of Senior's artwork have been gradually leaking on the official Facebook page. In addition to these, there are also a series of informative character profiles on the website, as well as a brief run-down of credits for both the creators. Whilst they are obviously taking care not to reveal too much before the official launch, what is available is enough to provoke comparisons to their dystopian, futuristic, ensemble cast book from the 1980’s.
‘Dragon’s Claws’ is a seminal comic in my life. It was launched during the explosion of acid house, rave culture and recreational use of ecstasy in the second summer of love, yet was soundtracked in the mainstream by the number one singles ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You’ by Glenn Mederios and ‘The Only Way Is Up’ by Yazz & the Plastic Population. The ten year old version of myself was far too young to indulge in any illegal, hedonistic shenanigans, but that summer did mark a maturing in my life as I settled into my second decade and this was reflected in my taste in entertainment, including comic books. It is also worth considering that this took place a full year before the explosion of Batman into the mainstream public consciousness again, due to the Tim Burton directed movie, and also my subsequent discovery of the only specialist comic shop at the time in my hometown of Dundee, The Black Hole. Both of these events would play pivotal roles in the moulding of my comic reading life and my life in general heading into my teenage years.
The comic that was titled 'Dragon's Teeth' right up to the very last second signified my first successful move away from licensed toy comics. I had attempted to do so a year earlier, starting with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ issue 289, but struggled with the transition from the weekly schedule of my UK comics to the monthly schedule of their American counterparts. This, combined with the unreliable nature with which my local RS McColl (and Dundee newsagents in general) stocked American comic books doomed this particular attempt to failure. To have to wait an entire month feels like an eternity as it is when you’re an impatient pre-teen, never mind two or perhaps even three months, as it often took that long to get your hands on another issue. All this conspired to make it much too difficult to hold my short attention span and as a result, I retreated back to the comfort of the Marvel UK ‘Transformers’ comic and subsequently became aware of 'Dragon's Claws' through their promotion of it, such as the advertisement below. Considering Furman and Senior were my favourite creative team working on 'Transformers,' I was probably as excited for 'Dragon's Claws' then as I am for 'To The Death' now.
My primary school held a daily collection for the charity organisation SCIAF, (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund) taking donations for the starving children in Africa that they, inappropriately by today’s standards, referred to as “the black babies.” It would seem that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. In retrospect, as well as ill advised use of politically incorrect language, it also seems like bizarre recompense for destructive foreign policy, as well as imperialist actions in the past by the United Kingdom. We were now living in a post-"Live Aid' world. A world in which the British public had been exposed, many of us for the first time, to horrific images of starvation and tales of suffering from the “dark continent." My parents provided my brother and me with 20p each per school day to donate to this incredibly worthwhile cause. However, if the money was not collected, I would, to my eternal shame, combine it with my pocket money and whatever change I had left over from my dinner money. These additional funds acted as supplemental income with which to buy ‘Dragon’s Claws’ and its sister title ‘Death’s Head.’ My catholic primary school may very well have paved my road to hell, but I conducted the band as I marched straight into its fiery depths apparently.
Not all my issues of ‘Dragon’s Claws’ were attained by questionable financial practices however. I recall being shipped off to my grandparents to stay over occasionally and in two particular instances being afforded the luxury of an extra comic to keep me occupied. I chose 'Dragon's Claws' and read the first two issues repeatedly as I lay on their livingroom floor whilst they killed me with kindness, as grandparents tend to do. Each subsequent issue was awaited with bated breath, yet for whatever reason, possibly the Simon Furman cited difficulty in finding the smaller format comic on the newsstands, I missed issue three and was never able to find it as a back issue until the advent of ebay. Praise the Lord for ebay. As a result of this later, adult acquisition, issue three of 'Dragon's Claws' is in by far the best condition of the ten I own. In fact, it is the only issue of my original collection that is not currently either falling apart, or being held together by sticky tape and sheer force of will. However, as a consequence of its later arrival into my life, it is also the only issue of which I have no fond childhood memories.
‘Dragon’s Claws’ was intended to be the first in a wave of homegrown American format comics by Marvel UK that could be distributed more easily across the Atlantic, as well as provide them with titles starring characters that they owned outright and were not merely licensed. The goal was that these properties could exist within a shared universe and that they would also help them break into the lucrative ‘2000AD’ market. Due to their huge popularity and success on ‘Transformers,’ which was selling in the region of ‘2000AD' at the time, Furman and Senior were the logical choice to spearhead such an initiative and with ‘Dragon’s Claws’ they opened my young eyes to a beguiling dystopian world of futuristic high drama, thinly veiled social commentary and stylised ultraviolence. Content the likes of which, depending on whether the hyper sensitive, histrionic trigger of social media had been pulled that day or not, would either elicit thousands of angry tweets and Facebook comments of complaint, or seem tame enough in comparison to a generation of parents whose children have been raised on an entertainment diet of Grand Theft Auto V, soft porn pop music videos and Harry Potter slash fiction to provoke no response at all. However, this was back in the 80s and adults seemed to feel less of a need to police their offspring's every waking move. Then again, in many ways, they weren't required to the way they are since the advent of the internet. Furthermore, my parents and grandparents probably just assumed it was similar in tone and content to the 'Transformers' comics I loved so much back then. Lord only knows what they would've made of '2000AD' itself, had I been reading that.
The story opens in the far distant future of 8162, on an Earth that is rapidly running out of natural resources, is suffering the effects of things such as crumbling societies due to the consolidation of wealth into the hands of the few, a subsequently agitated populace, global warming because of the planet drifting ever closer to the sun and a multiple homicide by a group of shadowy, cult-like serial killers. Troubled by the swell of civil unrest, the World Development Council charges N.U.R.S.E. (the National Union of Retired Sports Experts) with repurposing the top team of their now defunct panacea for the masses, 'The Game,' as a peace-keeping militarised unit. The members of 'Dragon's Claws' themselves prove to be the main stumbling block to this plan, as they are either unenthusiastic or incarcerated. Indeed, the team captain, Dragon himself, has to be manipulated into coming out of retirement, albeit only semi-unwillingly, by chief N.U.R.S.E. "lackey" and Dragon wannabe, Deller. This sets in motion a series of events that pits 'The Claws' against their main 'Game' rivals 'The Evil Dead' and several other ex-Game teams of various repute, a volatile political situation in France, a futuristic "freelance peacekeeping agent," (who would have been very familiar to readers of Marvel UK's 'Transformers') a vigilante copycat of Claws team member Mercy and ultimately N.U.R.S.E. itself.
The cover dated April 1989 issue ten ultimately transpired to be the last in the series. Despite in retrospect feeling precisely so, an eleven year old living in a pre-internet age had no way of knowing for sure if this was the conclusion to the series and this led to many months of waiting, like a puppy dog for its owner to arrive home from work, for an eleventh instalment. It would take fifteen years for the next official 'Claws' material to appear and when it did it was in the form of the 2004 'Just One Page' charity effort by Simon Furman and Paul Ridgon. This piece did exactly what it said on the tin and provided fans with a one page continuation of/conclusion to the 'Dragon's Claws' tale. It was followed in 2008 by an incredibly welcome collected edition, proving that there was a certain level of confidence in the strength of the audience for the series, or at the very least, Furman's belief in it, as he has stated that it was he who pushed for the collection to be published.
Despite the seemingly infinite amount of content in the online world, 'Dragon's Claws' has a relatively small presence on the internet. Other than a few reviews of the series as a whole and interviews with Simon Furman, there has been less fan service to the title than one would expect. This is unusual considering the current passion for anything pop culture, or particularly cult, that originated in the eighties. With that in mind, one of my oldest friends, David Scrimgeour and I have decided to embark on an issue by issue retrospective of the series which will conclude with an additional epilogue reviewing the 'Just One Page' finale and considering the series as a whole. We will be releasing one of these reviews on the first Sunday of each month, so feel free to drop by on those dates to find out whether we discover that the adventures of Dragon, Steel, Mercy, Digit, Scavenger and Mutt/Scratch survive the scrutiny of adult eyes, or whether we are gazing upon the series through the warm, hazy glow of nostalgia and seeing the comic through cyan, magenta, yellow and key tinted spectacles?
Earth 2016. Not a nice place to live for a 'Dragon's Claws' fan. 'We See The World In Ben-Day Dots' could change that.
Next: 'The Game.'