Tuesday, August 30, 2011

E-Man Part Four--City in the Sand

by Jack Seabrook

E-Man and Nova are in Egypt!  Nova knocks 'em dead at a dance club, but her real purpose is to get a map to a lost city.  Mr. Bogni gives her the map at the cost of his life; E-Man appears as the god Ra and stuns the killers with a power bolt.

E-Man and Nova follow the map and find the lost city.  Once inside, they discover futuristic machines built five thousand years ago!  The city's central tower is a time machine, and our heroes travel back to 3000 B.C., where they find an Egyptian city ruled by fear.

Ramis, the dethroned ruler of Naab (the ancient city), explains that his people came from another star to escape oppression.  On Earth, they experienced a plague and blamed Ramis.  E-Man and Nova darken their own skin in order to pass as Naabians.

E-Man discovers that the plague that has haunted the Naabians is carried by fleas on pets given to the children by the evil Faro.  He warns the people, and Ramis regains control after Faro becomes infected by the very plague he had set upon his fellow Naabians.

Nova is going far afield to earn money for college!

I see a Gil Kane influence here.
"City in the Sand" is a sixteen-page story with much to recommend it.  The splash page is a treat, as it is the first time we have actually gotten a glimpse of one of Nova's performances.  The humorous touches continue, with signs all over the lost city urging Naabians to join the "Great War Machine."

Joe Staton's art is excellent, as usual, and has a hint of Gil Kane in some of the facial angles.  Nova never looked better.  Near the end of the story, at Faro's palace, she is bathed and dressed in a skintight black costume, which only serves to accentuate her superb figure.

Staton must have loved drawing Nova!
The letter column is replaced this issue by a full-page letter reprinted from "Fantastic Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories."  This letter is addressed to science fiction fans, and it talks about E-Man, praising its satire of science fiction tropes.

The backup story is another Killjoy tale by Steve Ditko.  Much like the prior one in E-Man 2, this is an almost incomprehensible mess in which Ditko criticizes liberal ideas of how to deal with criminals.  The art is not bad, but the storytelling is terrible and so many panels are clogged with dialogue balloons that the artwork is overwhelmed.

A typical Killjoy panel.

This issue has a cover date of August 1974.  While the indicia says it was published bimonthly, the first four issues have been dated October 1973, December 1973, June 1974 and August 1974.  Issues one and two were 20 cents; the price went up to 25 cents with issue three.  Oddly enough, issues three and four also feature a cover price of "UK 6p," perhaps anticipating big sales in England.  Subscriptions were $1.20 a year at 20 cents a copy, then $1.25 a year at 25 cents a copy.  I recall ordering a subscription directly from Charlton because these comics were so hard to find on the newsstand.

E-Man or Plastic Man?

One more thing to note about this issue is the influence of the Ancient Astronaut craze that hit in 1968 when Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods was published.  This idea had a significant influence on Marvel comics mythology and here it pops up in E-Man as well.  One of the fun things about reading the E-Man series is to see what was on peoples' minds in the 1970s.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

E-Man Part Three--The Energy Crisis!

by Jack Seabrook

Back in 1974, the energy crisis was a serious concern.  Our parents got up before dawn to line up at the gas station on alternate days, depending on whether their car’s license plate began with an odd number or an even number.  In New York City, Broadway was no longer the Great White Way—it was the Brown Way.

Nova Kane and her fellow dancer, Rosie Rhedd walk home in the dark when they are attacked by a mugger.  Things take a turn for the worse when Nova sees Rosie pulled through a solid brick wall!  E-Man, being made of pure energy, is busy helping out at a hospital where power is in short supply.  He tells Nova that Mayor Beame has put him on 24-hour alert, so he can’t help.  Nova sees a handbill advertising “Michael Mauser, Private Eye,” and she goes to visit the seedy investigator.

Nova's friend Rosie is NOT
working her way through college!
Mauser agrees to look into Rosie’s disappearance with Nova, mainly because she is able to pay for his services.  After visiting the scene of the crime, they are attacked on the road by a powerful yet mysterious beam of light.  Nova telephones E-Man, who has been occupied with boosting generators for the power company.  He travels at the speed of light through the telephone lines only to find Nova and Mauser already gone.
Michael Mauser does not
accept personal checks.
In chapter two, E-Man checks into a boarding house in Boarsville, then uses power lines to try to infiltrate Boar Mansion.  Along the way he confronts The Battery, a walking cell that looks like a biker and absorbs energy.  E-Man is carried into Boar Mansion, where he meets Boar, the richest, most powerful man in the world.  Boar has been buying human beings and using their energy to supply his need for power during the energy crisis.  One of the people he has collected in glass tubes is Nova!

The aptly-named Boar!
E-Man escapes and defeats The Battery with trickery, then arrests Boar.  The government dismantles Boar’s empire, saving Nova, Mauser, and Rosie and distributing his energy among the general public.  Nova pays Mauser, who teaches E-Man a handy new phrase to describe his girlfriend—a “tough little broad.”  The story ends with a plea from E-Man to the readers to save the Earth!
Menacing, with a hint of
the Village People.
This month’s letters column features rave reviews of E-Man #1.  Of interest are the comments that discuss Charlton’s 1960s entries into the superhero market, such as Captain Atom, as well as the new “bullseye” logo on the cover.

This issue’s second story is called “Travis in the Dragon Killer!”  It is written by Nicola Cuti, E-Man’s scribe, and illustrated by Wayne Howard, a Charlton artist who studied under Wally Wood and was heavily influenced by his style.  Unfortunately, the story is trite and the art not very impressive.  Travis is a boy who is left alone with a time-traveling robot babysitter.  His parents never return, and he grows up under the robot’s tutelage.  They visit the Jurassic era and a T-Rex accidentally passes through a time warp, emerging in the time of knights.  Travis dons knightly garb and slays the “dragon,” winning the love of a beautiful maiden.

Not bad Wally Wood art, just Wayne Howard art.
Upon rereading E-Man #3 I was struck once again by how good this series is!  Staton’s art is cartoony and evocative at the same time, and the character of Michael Mauser, who would become a long-term, recurring character, is drawn in a “comic-noir” fashion that fits the story perfectly.  Nova continues to be a feast for the eyes, and Boar is the second major villain to challenge E-Man.  Like the Brain, he would return.

It is also interesting to be catapulted back to the social problems of 1973 and to remember the energy crisis and the looming problems in and around New York City.  It’s both funny and sad to see that E-Man’s plea to conserve energy is one that continues to resonate almost 30 years later.

Even blown up, this
Wayne Howard signature
is not easy to make out!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

E-Man Part Two--The Entropy Twins

by Jack Seabrook

Having established the characters and relationship between E-Man and Nova Kane in the first issue, Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton began to expand their storytelling in the second, bi-monthly issue.

It turns out that The Brain was not killed at the end of the first story.  Instead, the badly injured mass of grey matter was able to repair itself and contact its home planet, Sirius, for another weapon.

E-Man and Nova continue to live together and develop their flirtatious relationship.  During a trip to the zoo, they meet a young blonde couple who look like twins.  Nova introduces E-Man as Alec Tronn, a name she makes up on the spot, and Staton obviously relishes drawing the beautiful redhead in revealing costumes and alluring poses.  She discloses that her real name is Katrinka Colchnzski!

Nova continues to favor
as little clothing as
E-Man battles and defeats a monster comprised of millions of tiny amoebas working together, as well as one made up of pieces of every animal in the zoo.

In chapter two, cars float into the air as if magnetized, and the earth shakes and splits open.  Nova falls through a fissure and lands atop a speeding subway car.  E-Man makes himself into a giant net to save her.

In the Catskills, Michael and Juno, the young couple that E-Man and Nova met at the zoo, are revealed to be Entropy--the forces of order and disorder.  All is well when they are together, but when they are apart, chaos reigns.

E-Man appears on the scene and kills each of them with a bolt of energy--or does he?  He later explains to Nova that, instead of killing them, he changed their chemical composition so that they can never be near each other again.

This always struck me as a very sad panel.

The story ends with an image of The Brain, undefeated and surely planning another attack.

Don't miss the groovy jacket!
"The Entropy Twins" features outstanding artwork by Joe Staton.  E-Man "wears" cool 1970s duds, as do Michael and Juno, and Nova is stunning.  The rescue by web of the speeding subway car prefigures a similar sequence in the film, Spider-Man 2, and the scene where E-Man "kills" the Entropy Twins is chilling.  The story's next to last panel is tragic.

This issue features a letters column entitled "E-Mail," which is certainly a look into the future.

In 1973--who knew!

A good example
of Ditko's "subtlety."
The second story is called "Killjoy" and, although uncredited, it is written and illustrated by Steve Ditko.  This is a strange little story that fits in well with Ditko's growing fondness for Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy.  Criminals cry "He's prejudiced against us because we're a minority group fighting exploitation!"  A lawyer works for the "Foundation to Protect the Guilty From Justice," and so on.

Ditko's heroes always
could move!

Ditko's draftsmanship was as strong as ever, but plotting is virtually absent and the script is filled with slogans. I recommend this book for more on Steve Ditko:  http://www.amazon.com/Strange-Stranger-World-Steve-Ditko/dp/1560979216.

E-Man #2 is thus a mixed bag.  The E-Man story is excellent, while the backup story is a disappointment.

We think E-man has killed them, but not so!

A rather menacing shot of our hero, appearing out of nowhere!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

E-Man Part One--The Origin of E-Man

by Jack Seabrook

Note two things not seen anywhere
in the story:  the Brain's tentacles
and Nova's skintight purple outfit!
Back in the 1980s, when I sold off my comic book collection, I saved two series:  Will Eisner's The Spirit and E-Man.  I have long wanted to look at E-Man in more detail.

The first issue hit the newsstands in the summer of 1973, and I can remember standing at the magazine rack in a grocery store in Corsicana, Texas, when I spotted the words "First Edition!!" and "Collector's Item!" on the cover.

The E-Man story, which is untitled, is in two parts, spanning sixteen pages.  Part one, "The Beginning," follows a sentient burst of energy from its genesis millions of years ago through its encounter with a star-ship from Alpha Centauri.  The ship is guided by a giant brain in a glass dome.  The energy burst changes itself into a duplicate of one of the Brain's robots, and the extra weight causes the ship to change course and crash land on Earth.

The energy burst travels along high-tension wires and ends up in a light bulb on the makeup mirror of Nova Kane.  This page, with drawings of Nova in her dancer's outfit, both attracted and frightened me, and I have never forgotten it.  Nova explains that she's working her way through college as an exotic dancer.

I have never really gotten over this page.

In part two, "The Brain and the Bomb," the energy burst, having taken the form of a handsome young man, christens himself E-Man.  He and Nova are menaced by her landlord, who has suddenly gone crazy.  E-Man deduces that the man had been near the site where the star-ship crashed; E-Man travels there instantly by telephone line, while Nova takes her jeep.

The residents of the small town in upstate New York react violently.  E-Man shows off his new orange and yellow costume, and he and Nova track down the star-ship and the Brain.  E-Man destroys the Brain, saving New York from a bomb that would have turned everyone into a violent maniac.

E-Man #1 was the first time I saw Joe Staton's artwork, and I always liked it after that, especially when he started drawing superheroes for DC.  This story is filled with fun little touches, including a couple of off-the-cuff references to Tolkien.

Sauron to testify--against Baggins?!?
Baggins indicted?!?
The issue is rounded out by an eight-page story called "The Knight--Operation: Rotten Apple!"  This is a throwaway story illustrated by Tom Sutton.  Both stories were written by Nicola Cuti, who would write almost all of the best E-Man stories.

I had a similar reaction to this
filler story.
E-Man #1 is a Charlton comic, so its distribution was never very good.  It is packed with wonderful ads, some of which are reproduced below.

For more information on E-Man, I recommend this cool website:  http://alectronn.homestead.com/Eman.html

Had I only known
hair loss=power
and prestige!

I think these have another
name today...

How I wish I
had one of these!