This was another book that I picked up out of my local drugstore’s Big Bin of Somewhat Older Comic Books. It wasn’t my usual fare on the surface of it–at the time, Marvel had a full line of monster/horror titles, to say nothing of reprints of 1950s Atlas suspense tales and their 1960s giant monster output. None of it was of any real interest to me, and MARVEL CHILLERS seemed on the surface to be exactly that. But I knew Tigra from issues of FANTASTIC FOUR, and this cover was not only by Jack Kirby, giving it a decidedly super hero flavor, but also featured the Super-Skrull, who I knew as a bonafide Marvel super-villain. (and also Red Wolf, who wasn’t a factor in either direction.) So I went ahead and took the plunge, risking my 20 cents. (the books in that bin were sold five for a dollar.)
As it turned out, this was the final issue of MARVEL CHILLERS, and it was scripted by Jim Shooter. I’m not convinced that Jim also plotted the story–he’s talked about coming back to Marvel in the mid-1970s and being handed books to write, which typically meant to just dialogue, the artwork having already been completed. Either way, this would have represented his first contact with the character, whom he would later memorably bring into the Avengers on his watch, in a run that’s justifiably still controversial. Here, though, it looks like he was simply trying to make sense of the artwork that he had been handed and do a good job of wrapping the series up.
The story, such as it is, is a bit of a mess, and has that feel very specific to the 1970s where different writers took over a series mid-story, decided they didn’t like where the previous writer was going, and so tried to change direction mid-course. The artwork was provided by George Tuska, one of the older practitioners in the field who had been active since the Golden Age. Tuska could always be depended upon to tell a straightforward story, but he had some quirks to his artwork at this point–his strange single-toothed mouths being one of them. His work was always solid, but he wasn’t one of the hot artists of the period, and so he could usually be found occupying the midlist, pitching in wherever needed on assorted assignments in between issues of IRON MAN, which was his home base for several years.
So what is going on here? Well, last month Tigra and Red Wolf joined forces in order to track down Joshua Plague and his group of heist artists, the Rat Pack, who had swiped the totem called the Soul Catcher from Red Wolf’s tribe. Unfortunately for all concerned, one member of the Rat Pack turned out to be a robot–and Plague himself was revealed to be the Super-Skrull, operating incognito for some bizarre reason. Despite being totally overmatched by the Super-Skrull’s Fantastic Four-derived powers, Tigra and Red Wolf, along with the latter’s lupine companion Lobo, put up a good fight and manage to hold their own. And Lobo manages to get the Soul Catcher and take off with it. This diverts the Super-Skrull, who flash-fries the wolf, then disappears as the authorities arrive. Tigra and Red Wolf are stunned that Lobo has survived the inferno and that he’s still carrying the Soul Catcher in his teeth.
Seems obvious that the Super-Skrull has replaced the torched Lobo, doesn’t it? Wrong! Lobo’s survival, while unexplained, is genuine. The Super-Skrull instead has decided that he’d rather switch than fight, and so he’s taken on the identity of one of the cops that shows up in response to the ruckus. So when Red Wolf and Tigra accompany him back to the station to fill out a report about just what has been going on, the Super-Skrull is able to claim the Soul-Catcher and ambush them. There’s some nonsense where the Super-Skrull tries to plausibly account for the time he spent as Joshua Plague, which it looks as though even Shooter didn’t buy even as he was typing it–the reality seems to be that somebody earlier didn’t like Plague and decided to make him the Super-Skrull arbitrarily. Either way, it’s now time for round two–though why the Super-Skrull is bothering to duke it out with these two lightweights when he’s got what he came for, I’ll never know. This whole story is full of weird beats like that.
What’s more, it’s an extended fight, which doesn’t so much make Tigra and Red Wolf look formidable as it turns the Super-Skrull into a piker, a lame-o. Unable to finish off Tigra with his super-strength, elasticity, invisible force-fields and power to generate flaming plasma, the Super-Skrull decides to use his prize, the Soul-Cather on her. It’s supposed to be a cosmic-level weapon, which is why the Super-Skrull wants it in the first place (and clearly, why he needs it. ) Its ultimate power is to steal the essence of its target, imprisoning it within the wand–hence the name. Tigra’s been concerned for the past several issues that the mystic rite that turned her from Greer grant into the were-woman cost her her soul, so this is a bit of a moment of truth for her.
And of course, rather than consuming Tigra, the wand instead sucks up the Super-Skrull himself, and the battle is done. In the aftermath, Tigra and Red Wolf discuss this development, with the were-woman convinced that this proves that she’s soulless but Red Wolf instead declaring that the Soul-Catcher took the Super-Skrull rather than her because he was evil and she was not. And that’s all she wrote for MARVEL CHILLERS, though Tigra would turn up again–in those FANTASTIC FOUR issues I mentioned earlier, among other places. It’s easy enough to see, though, why Tigra didn’t catch on. There isn’t a whole lot to this story, and Tigra herself is relatively generic–this could almost have been any other Marvel character without changing the trajectory of the tale.
The letters page in this issue featured a long note from Ralph Macchio, who would go on to have a long career as a marvel editor. At this point, he had just been hired as an assistant editor on the black and white magazines, but he was still enough of a fan to dash off a missive about recent issues of MARVEL CHILLERS that is printed here.