Monday, September 20, 2021

"...And Fear Shall Follow!"

I would have to credit artist Berni Wrightson for selling me on Marvel's 1969 horror-fantasy anthology title, Chamber Of Darkness, which ran bimonthly with (mostly) new material from the likes of Wrightson, Tom Palmer, John and Sal Buscema, Barry Smith, Don Heck, and even Jack Kirby, whose departure from the company was imminent by the time his Chamber stories were published. I didn't happen upon the series until its penultimate issue in 1970 featuring Wrightson's cover, at which point I took advantage of older issues still being available (if slightly buried) in store "spinner" racks to work my way backward.

A full look at the Chamber series will be forthcoming in the PPC (and high time, too)--but for now, the mention serves to bring to light the rare instances where Kirby was given scripting assignments for Marvel stories. Having already covered his 1970 work on Amazing Adventures where he wrote and pencilled tales featuring the uncanny Inhumans, we turn back the clock a bit to as early as 1966 where Kirby fills in for the vacationing Stan Lee (who still manages a credit on the story as Editor), and see how Kirby's writing would suit the hard-nosed Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Though with Dr. Strange monopolizing that issue's cover, we'd have to turn to the previous issue's cover to get an idea of the circumstances which Fury faces, an image which isn't far off the mark.

"Death Before Dishonor!" reads as a transition story--events set in motion before SHIELD's big push to put an end to Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), the criminal-science organization which currently is trying to secure SHIELD's Life Model Decoy technology while attempting to rid themselves of Fury by concocting charges which force him to appear before a board of inquiry. Yet there's enough action involved to provide Kirby with several changes of pace for his dialog--and as for art chores, Kirby is only providing the story's layouts, with Don Heck handling both pencilling and inking.

Right away, we see that Kirby has given himself a chaotic situation to manage, as AIM attempts to eliminate its captured operatives and thus prevent them from being interrogated by Fury--though if they can kill Fury in the bargain, so much the better.

Yet in the following scene, we begin to see why AIM has set its sights on SHIELD's LMD technology, while SHIELD now realizes that AIM's "sights" are far too extensive:

Whether by design or coincidence, Fury's fabricated trial*--spearheaded by AIM's frontman, Count Bornag Royale--provides AIM with a handy distraction to launch a raid to obtain a LMD, while Fury is preoccupied with the hot seat he finds himself in.

*Kirby, as someone with military service under his belt, nevertheless appears to be mistaken in equating a board of inquiry with a trial. A board of inquiry, held to determine whether an officer remains on or is removed from active duty, is appropriate in Fury's case; a trial, however, would instead be a court-martial, which, depending on a verdict of guilty, would mete out punishment.

Fortunately, SHIELD Agent Jasper Sitwell--unknowingly expected by AIM to be a witness against Fury, due to a blowup he and Fury had earlier which AIM had monitored--testifies in Fury's favor, to Royale's vexation. (Though how Royale can be so taken by surprise at the realization that SHIELD was aware of AIM's monitoring is confusing, given that he was present in the AIM lab when its visual surveillance revealed Fury's knowledge of the fact.)

Fury picks that moment to bolt in order to follow his plan against AIM--where our raiders expecting to make off with a LMD will find they've instead snared a cigar-chomping tiger by the tail.

Which brings us to Kirby's next scripting story--or maybe more of an "insert"--one year later, in the 1967 Fantastic Four Annual--written and drawn in the flair of Marvel's satire mag, Not Brand Echh, and demonstrating a humorous take on how Lee and Kirby collaborate in their creative efforts.

Two and a half years later brings us to Kirby's two-story contribution to Chamber Of Darkness, each of which leads to death for its protagonist. In one, Andres Flec, given a wide berth by the fearful villagers of his town, is misjudged by many who see and refer to him as a monster, leading to a sobering realization by those who persecuted him...

...while in the second tale, it's our lead character who misjudges the one who seeks him out following a plane crash, no matter what may bar the way.

The story's final page, in explaining what has truly happened to our pilot, establishes symmetry with its first, where Kirby's opening narrative set this stage: "Thus, we begin with the end..." The pilot was never given a name by Kirby--but then again, his pursuer, and the story, only need his acquiescence.

As with his contribution to Amazing Adventures, Kirby turned in fine work with his Chamber scripts, reaching each main character on a fundamental level while adding a twist to each which was the staple of this series' stories--whereas in his depiction of Nick Fury, it almost seemed as if he was trying too hard with the character, perhaps making Fury a little more volatile and short-fused than he might be as the director of SHIELD.


Some of the stunning work to be found in Chamber Of Darkness!
(Including a different take on Kirby's fleeing pilot by Bill Everett and Dan Adkins.)


Anonymous said...

That's a striking scene, when those two guys simply walk through the wall.
I really like this story, it moved me a bit. Never saw it before.
It reminds me of the film The Men Who Stare at Goats (which I also liked), where an off-the-books psy-op Army group are trying to develop mental powers that would give them the ability to, among other things, run through walls.
But maybe, like these guys in this story, it's smarter to just try walking through one first.


Anonymous said...

...Now I'm thinking somebody who wrote this saw that Twilight Zone episode with a young Robert Redford portraying the Angel of Death.


Comicsfan said...

Along with Gladys Cooper, M.P., one of my favorite actresses (whom I saw only recently last night in "My Fair Lady," but who also stands out in "Now Voyager" and just about everything else she appears in). I hadn't seen the episode with her and Redford, so this was a pleasant surprise, thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

Walking through walls might be smarter than running at them M.P., but I find using doors makes even more sense. Good luck with that though.

Great piece Comicsfan. Generally in the olden days when it came to mystery/horror anthologies I would read DCs - they just seemed to do that kind of thing better (am I allowed to say that on the PPC?) - so I was not aware Kirby had other Marvel writer credits in 1970.

You can really "hear" that distinctive Kirby voice in those Chamber of Darkness shorts - "And Fear Shall Follow" in particular would easily fit in with the collected Spirit World material - so I'm even more convinced now that he didn't actually script the Inhumans.
That, or some very heavy editing was going with those Amazing Adventures stories.


Colin Jones said...

Both of those Chamber of Darkness stories are very poignant. In those days they could tell an entire story in just a few pages.

Comicsfan said...

sean, no problem with name-dropping Marvel's Distinguished Competition--in fact, you'll find that DC's line of horror anthology titles will be pertinent to this post's follow-up.

Colin, poignant isn't a bad description to apply to those stories, since unfortunately there was usually a good deal of regret involved on the part of the protagonist by the time that final panel was revealed!

Dave S said...

Enjoyed reading this post as I'd never encountered these stories before. May I also just say how much I love the traditional AIM uniforms. Where other than Silver Age Marvel would you see a group of subversives in yellow beekeeping outfits.

Comicsfan said...

I do love those outfits, myself, Dave--and who knows? Those hirelings might actually have been former beekeepers who were poached by AIM to infuse their research labs!