Chamber of Chills #3 (1973)

It seems hard to believe, but in the early ’70s super-heroes seemed to be on the decline in comic books. As I talked about yesterday, America’s sense of national self-esteem at that time was at its lowest ebb in the 20th century, as the Vietnam War, Watergate, high gas prices and the disillusionment with the Hippie movement combined to help create the feeling that America was past its prime, a feeling that the American Dream of the post-World War II generation was falling into a slow and prolonged decline.

Of course, the national mood was both right and wrong in retrospect. We were certainly sowing the seeds of our own downfall, as Detroit produced godawful ugly gas-guzzling monstrosities, and people became consumed with the idea that government created rather than helped prevent problems. At the same time, our national economy as a whole was never stronger than it was at that time, a growth that seemed to likely never end.

In that era of general national disillusionment and frustration, horror comics became ascendent. It seems a logical fit for the time. When people are plagued by uncertainty, it’s good to escape to a place that acts as a funhouse mirror to our own uncertainties, a place where the problems of long gas lines and rising mortgage rates pales in comparison to the problems of dealing with vampires, zombies and other creatures of the night.

So from that era we got such wonderful horror comics as Swamp Thing, which I’ve written about before here, not to mention his Marvel cousin the Man-Thing, which was very different but just as wonderful. There was the amazingly bizarre Son of Satan, the wacko Morbius the Living Vampire, Tomb of Dracula, perhaps the finest long-running comic of the ’70s, and a whole slew of other, less-well-remembered characters and series. And then there were the horror anthology books. House of Mystery, House of Secrets and their many sister titles from DC featured some wonderful art by the stars of the time.

Marvel’s horror anthologies are much less well remembered than their DC counterparts. One reason is that most of them only featured a few issues of all new content before moving over to endless reprints of ’50s horror stuff. Titles like Creatures on the Loose and Where Monsters Dwell seemed to spawn additional titles on the newsstand each month, reprinting wretched monter comics that seemed plain awful to my young mind. These days I can appreciate some of the better aspects of those books, but at the time those sorts of comics were mind-numbing in their repetition.

The issues with new work are, however, much more entertaining. The first issue of Tower of Shadows, for instance, has some brilliant work. But it was quickly obvious that after good first issues, the bloom quickly went of the rose of the horror titles.

Take Chamber of Chills #3 as an example. This issue contains three short horror stories behind a really very stupid cover. At first glance, the first story looked the most promising. An adaptation of a story by Robert E. Howard called "The Thing on the Roof!", this story was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by the wonderful Frank Brunner. Thomas was well-known and acclaimed as the writer of the then highly-acclaimed Conan series, which was also adapted from the works of Robert E. Howard. And Brunner was then drawing Doctor Strange for Marvel and doing a masterful job. Brunner’s art is up for the occassion, with some charmingly creepy images. But this story definitely didn’t reach the heights of Howard’s other works, with an ending so idiotic and expected that you will probably guess the twist on page one.

The second story is by George Effinger, Don Heck and Bill Everett. Effinger is one of those cryptic figures in ’70s Marvel for me. According to the Grand Comics Database, Effinger wrote 14 stories for Marvel’s horror comics between 1972 and ’74. I’ve never read anything about the man, his life before or after comics or any other information. Why did he stop in comics and what did Effinger move onto doing? The story is probably less excitng that the question, but I sure am curious.

Anyway, Effinger’s "All the Shapes of Fear" is a very average and dopey horror yarn enlivened slightly by the unique combination of Don Heck’s scratchy pencils and Bill Everett’s awkward inks.

The last tale, "The Girl Who Cast No Shadow," is a completely unmemorable piece by writer Gardner Fox and artist Ernie Chan. If you’ve ever wanted to see a guy attacked by a griffin, this is the comic for you. If not, you can pass.

Marvel failed to completely capitalize on the horror fashion of the times by putting out such mediocre comics. It’s really a shame they didn’t invest more resources in these comics; Marvel could have really ridden high on the mood of the times.

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2 Responses to “Chamber of Chills #3 (1973)”

  1. Unknown Says:

    Just to help you with your writer mystery, George Alec Effinger was a fairly well known Science Fiction writer. You can find out a bit about his other written works here http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/authors/George_Alec_Effinger.htm . I hope this helps.

  2. Jason Says:

    Jim, thanks!

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