Brand Echh: E-Man #6

E-MAN was a short-lived but well-remembered (and often revived) Charlton title of the early 1970s, representing a last gasp on the part of that firm to establish a presence in the super hero marketplace. E-Man was a bit of a throwback character, crafted in the mold of Plastic Man or Captain Marvel. A super hero with a whimsical bent to it. It was a very good strip, and expired way too early, unable to overcome Charlton’s typically awful distribution, its crummy production values and the lackluster reputation of its output. But we’re not here today to specifically speak about E-Man, but rather for a strip that ran in its back pages for the last half of its run. Up to this point, E-MAN had tried out a number of different back-up features–Steve Ditko’s Killjoy was memorably one of them. But with issue #6, it found a regular companion for the Energy Man.

ROG 2000 (pronounced “Rahj” as in Roger Stern) was the creation of a young up-and-coming cartoonist from Canada, John Byrne. The character had initially been developed as a sort of a mascot for the fanzine group CPL (Contemporary Pictorial Literature) headed up by Bob Layton and the aforementioned Roger Stern. Byrne had designed the character in a spot illustration, and went on to feature him in a full-length fan story written by Stern and inked by Layton. All three men (as well as several others who worked on the fanzine) had aspirations of going pro. But ROG 2000 gave Stern a leg up on the competition.

At a certain point, the CPL consortium had gotten in contact with Charlton and contracted to produce Charlton Bullseye, a Charlton-themed in-house fanzine, the equivalent of an AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS or a FOOM. This gave the CPL creators access to Charlton and its editorial staff. Editor Nick Cuti took notice of the fan strip that had featured Rog 2000 and asked Byrne if he’d ever considered trying to do more mainstream stories with the character. (That first story featured all of the CPL editors as characters in a typical fannish fashion.) Cuti liked the look of the design and thought there might be something to the character. And Byrne was a talented newcomer who was already being eyed for other Charlton freelance work.

So Rog 2000 made his professional debut in the back pages of E-MAN #6, in a story written by Cuti (though I would guess that Byrne likely had a strong hand in plotting it) and illustrated by Byrne. This represented Byrne’s first color comic book sale, and the first character that he’d created to make its way into a professional publication. The start of a long and glorious career. There were four ROG 2000 stories in all, each one semi-serious and satirical, but not so outlandish that it devolved into parody. There was a nice sense of reality to the Rog 2000 material–especially as further installments were crafted. It seemed to fit into the world of E-Man quite smoothly.

Rog 2000, the title character, was a self-aware robot, the creation of a scientist named Burns. No particular backstory beyond that was ever given for the character, but he made his way in regular society, working primarily as a cab driver. Rog would inevitably get drawn into crazy adventures with crazy characters–super villains, monsters, witches and the like. He wasn’t a super hero per se, just a regular joe trying to get by, and as such, his stories were very appealing. The fact that Byrne’s skills as an artist were beginning to develop rapidly didn’t hurt things at all either. (His design for Rog 2000 was so strong that E-MAN penciler Joe Staton pretty much knocked it off when he later had to redesign Robotman for DC’s DOOM PATROL revival–a fact that didn’t go uncommented on by Byrne.)

The four ROG 2000 stories were eventually collected in a single slim volume by Pacific Comics in the early 1980s, less on the strength of nostalgia for the character and more as a reflection of the immense draw-power of creator John Byrne, who was about the hottest property in the field for most of the 1980s. Unfortunately, Pacific managed to print one of the stories with pages out of order, marring the collection a bit. But it’s still the easiest way to locate the run of the strip. In later years, Byrne has toyed with Rog 2000 on a number of occasions–adopting him as a sort of unofficial mascot of his own web presence and almost featuring a slightly disguised version of him in an issue of SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK. (This last bit wouldn’t come to fruition due to Byrne leaving the series due to a conflict with editorial.)

2 thoughts on “Brand Echh: E-Man #6

  1. One of the Big Two needs to buy the rights to E Man and then find someone who can channel Cuti! I liked the revivals but the mean spirited attack on X-Men and its then creators was so jarring it ruined it for me.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s