Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Secret Of The Silver Sword!

Conan the Barbarian got his start at Marvel in a strange way in an offbeat comic. Chamber of Darkness was an important comic book in a number of ways. It marked a rare instance when Jack "King" Kirby was given a writer's credit in his first stint at Marvel, a moment at the end of that era when he just about to slip away to the Distinguished Competition. His story "The Monster" is somewhat cliched but is a highly charged emotional tale.

Its cover featured with a handsome image by Kirby and Bill Everett. The design is likely Marie Severin's as we know she had a few goes at this particular layout.

But here is another layout by "Mirthful" Marie for the same issue which features another cover idea for the same Chamber of Darkness issue. This one is for the last story by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith, but more on that in a moment. 

The second story is a whopper by Tom Sutton who uses the then approved device of introducing the story himself. While Chamber of Darkness, like its companion Tower of Shadows had a ghost host (Headstone P. Gravely and Digger respectively if I recollect) he was dispensed with soon into the run and Marvel allowed the creators to intro their own stories. "The Man Who Owned the Worlds!" is a nifty little thriller in the vintage Twilight Zone mode.

But as interesting and important as these first two stories might be, it's the final story "The Sword and the Sorcerers!" (called "The Secret of the Silver Sword!" on the cover) which really is remembered from this issue. Written by Roy Thomas this is the story of Starr the Slayer a barbarian monarch from another dimension who has to take some profound steps to insure his own survival. The story was a practice run for Barry (Not-Yet-Windsor) Smith before he and Roy teamed up to bring the world the most famous barbarian of all -- Conan.

The story has a wild energy thanks to Smith's offbeat layouts. He wasn't afraid to try things, that's for sure. It's easy to see how the design of Starr would influence Conan who would debut on the stands in just a few months.

Rip Off


  1. I only saw this story for the first time when I bought the Conan Omnibus a few years ago. Strangely, Smith's art here seems a little more accomplished in places than it was in a couple of his early Conan strips - though possibly I'm imagining it.

    1. He inks himself on this story and that might make a difference for sure. His first Conan was inked by Dan Adkins and his second by Sal Buscema (my preference).

  2. Chamber of Darkness was a bit of a hidden gem that was (imho) better that DC's excellent House of Mystery/Secrets titles . Some really strong stories and art and it always amazed me it wasn't a success. "The Sword and the Sorceress " was a big favourite of mine at the time

    1. I'd love to see a collection of both Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows. Excellent titles!