Papercuts: Chamber of Chills from Marvel Comics
By Ryan “HB” Mount
In the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s DC Comics was not the only producer of many horror genre comics. Marvel seemed to be in an arms race against DC with the amount of horror comics they were producing at the exact same time.
Chamber of Chills was just one of Marvel’s titles and it was published from November 1972 through November 1976 and ran for 25 issues.
Much of these books remain uncollected and unavailable digitally, making the only way to consume these titles is visiting your local comic shops and searching back issue bins or tracking them down online.
Chamber of Chills #1 (Marvel)
This was a heck of a first issue.
First issues are always difficult. Typically, it is either a cold opening with just enough to grab onto or on the other side of the spectrum, it is an info dump and ruins a series before it event gets started. Well then, how do you start an anthology series that has no overarching story thread and give readers enough to want to come back for the second issue? This issue solves that quandary.
It was hand curated by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas in a true collaborative effort.
Out first tale might have been the most straight forward tale of Werewolves with a very specific twist. The turn was so great, that to this day, I have not seen it been used in any other interpretation of Werewolves.
The second tale was written by Stan Lee himself. For a man known for his fantastical tale, this was a very dark, reality based commentary on the prison system. It was the darkest tale of the three. Stan was certainly playing with his narrative style as most panels were surrounded by dialogue which may have been perceived as over writing but the last panel makes it all come together and deliver a crushing blow.
The final tale was clearly to appease Roy Thomas who spent much of his career introducing sword and sorcery tales into the Marvel Universe. However, the actual tale was written by Gerry Conway, another great comic writer of the 1970’s. The story was mainly one of a barbarian, but with modern day consequence.
It is clear that the further most horror anthology series are published, the quality begins to dip and rely more and more on reprints, but this first issue was simply spectacular.
Each tale was very well written and the art complimented it well. While there was no top notch artists listed on the creation of this book, they all did their best with workman style art that still holds up over time, perhaps more than even those of newer generations.
Ratings: 4.5 out of 5
Chamber of Chills #2 and #3 (Marvel)
Issue #2 contained two very different tales of Vampires. One in the Old West and another millions of years into the future. Hard to image back to back tales featuring similar monsters being compelling, but one was more of a cursed story and the other one felt like the original Alien film, only the aliens were vampires. The third story was another Roy Thomas influenced tale of sword and sorcery which may not entirely fit the genre, but would certainly appeal to a larger audience.
Issue #3 may have contained less sword and sorcery, but ventured into adventure genre comics with a horror bent for the first tale. The real gem of this book was “All the Shapes of Fear.” Written by George Effinger and art by Don Heck, it clearly took place during then present day and had the artwork to match. However, it was one of those haunting tales with a tale of redemption and if you can find this issue in the wild, might be worth picking up. It may be one of my favorite anthology style stories featured in any comics.
Ratings: 4 out of 5
Chamber of Chills #4 (Marvel)
The main highlight of this book, was that one story contained very early artwork of comic book legend, Howard Chaykin. While it was done in a style of that time and looks much different than modern era Chaykin, it still had elements that he uses today. Each character has his signature strong chins and was already drawing very seductive and sultry women into his work.
If you are a fan of Howard Chaykin, this issue may be worth tracking down just to be able to see his early starting points. While the overall issue was fine, filled with weird and interesting tales, his artwork began to stand out even back then.
Ratings: 3.5 out of 5
Chamber of Chills #5-#7 (Marvel)
Issue #5 marked the beginning of the reprints for the series. The issue contained four total stories, with three being new and one tale a reprint of a previous pre-comic code story. The unfortunate part of the reprint is that there was no credit given to the artist or the writer in the book. Also, given that it was surrounded by modern storytelling, it really stood out amongst the issue and not necessarily in a good way.
Issue #6 was three more tales, with two new stories at the beginning and the final tale one being a reprint. This issue overall felt fresher than #5.
Issue #7 was fine, but it already seemed like this was the end, even though there were 18 more issues to be printed, the remarkable care and thought put into issue #1 seemed long gone.
Ratings: 3 out of 5
After the publication of #7, #8 began to be all reprints of older materials. And #7 also happens to be the last issue that was available immediately. Overall, I think if you are a fan of Marvel from the 1970’s this should be a series you track down. If you want to see where modern horror anthologies really started to take their shape, I’d also recommend these first 7 issues.
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