BHOC: E-MAN #1

This first issue of E-MAN was another book among the second batch of releases put out by Modern Comics in plastic 3-Bags that were sold in discount department stores and supermarkets and similar outlets. They were somewhat like off-brand comic books, and they pulled from Charlton releases from more than a decade, cherry-picking the most noteworthy or super hero-relevant material most of the time. For whatever reason, there didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the order in which Modern released issues of the same series, or which issues they selected. It’s as though they asked Charlton for some material and the guys at the warehouse just gave them whatever was at the top of the stack. So while E-MAN #2, #9 and #10 (the final issue of the series) had been part of the first wave of Modern releases, they didn’t get around to issue #1 until this second flight.

E-MAN was the creation of writer Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton, and it represented one of the last real forays Charlton made into the super hero genre, a field where they’d never quite been able to break through in the past. They were more comfortable, it seems, publishing random anthology series into which any particular genre content–western stories, science fiction, mystery, war–could be poured indiscriminately. Still, E-MAN is fondly remembered to this day and has been resurrected on and off over the years by a succession of later companies. This is largely due to the fact that while E-MAN was a super hero series, it was much lighter in tone and more whimsical than the typical fare being offered elsewhere in 1973 when it debuted. E-MAN had more in common with Jack Cole’s Plastic Man and C.C. Beck’s Captain Marvel.

E-Man has one of the stranger origins in comics, which we learn about on the opening pages. He came into being when a star exploded, a sentient, aware packet of energy. In this state, E-Man travels through the cosmos for millions of years, eventually coming upon an alien space ship. By this point, E-Man is desperately lonely, so he’s trying to locate some other life form with which he can communicate. Unfortunately, the ship that he finds is completely automated apart from a single entity: a gigantic brain from another world. The ship is en route for Pluto, where it intends to test a destructive weapon. But when E-Man transforms himself from energy into matter in emulation of the servo-robots who serve the Brain, the additional weight is enough to throw the ship off course. Instead, the ship winds up crash-landing on Earth, and E-Man, having resumed his natural energy state, abandons ship before it collides with the planet.

From here, the story segues to the dressing room of exotic dancer Nova Kane, who is just ending her shift, intent on going home. The last thing she’s expecting is for one of the light bulbs on her dressing table to start speaking to her. It’s E-Man, who got entangled in some high-tension wires and wound up trapped inside the bulb. After Nova shatters his confinement, the energy being once again takes on physical form, in this case that of a nice-looking man. E-Man is looking for a place to stay, and Nova is entirely up for that, offering to take him home. As it turns out, though, E-Man is more comfortable inside the battery of her jeep than on her couch, but the pair have formed a fast though strange friendship. Neither of these people was somebody who you would typically be focused upon in a comic of the era.

The next morning, in Nova’s apartment, E-Man sees a poster of Einstein on his host’s wall and identifies with his principle that E=MC2 , But before they can do anything further, Nova is suddenly attacked by her landlord. Using his ability to turn portions of himself back into energy and fire them las bolts, E-Man saves Nova from the rampaging menace, and learns from her that the guy had just come back from a trip upstate where the spaceship had crashed. Figuring that his strange behavior must be related, E-Man journeys there by traveling through the phone lines as energy, much as the Atom would. Not one to be left behind, Nova also heads up that way in her jeep–only to find that the entire town is hostile towards her, and to strangers of any kind. Eluding her pursuers, Nova is able to link up with E-Man once again, who has been prowling around for information in the form of a cat.

E-Man as by this point designed a super hero costume for himself, and Nova points out that he acts like a man trying to impress a girl–which embarasses him. The pair drive out to where the spaceship crashed, with E-Man theorizing that the strange behavior of all of the people in town must be due to a leak from the weapon it was meant to test. (Why this stuff doesn’t affect Nova is never addressed–maybe her proximity to E-Man somehow shields her from the effects.) But they find the craft empty–the Brain itself is missing, as is the bomb it was meant to test. E-Man and Nova follow its tracks, eventually locating it in a a nearby field where it is determined to go through with the testing that was its mission. In order to prevent this from happening and negatively affecting the Earth, E-Man battles the Brain, seemingly destroying it with an energy bolt. (In actuality, the Brain would return in the following issue, which we covered here:)

And at that point, the story wraps up. You can see why this series made such an impact at the time. It’s a lot lighter and breezier than the more pseudo-serious comic books that were very much in vogue in this era, so it stood out strongly by contrast. And if Cuti and Staton weren’t entirely polished in their presentation, their enthusiasm carried the day.

For its initial run of issues, E-MAN featured one-off stories in a try-out manner in the back of the book. Only one of these merited a second installment, apart from John Byrne’s ROG-2000, which took the slot over completely starting with issue #6. This first issue features the Knight, a super-spy adventure also written by Cuti and illustrated by Tom Sutton, who was then doing a lot of work for Charlton’s mystery titles. It doesn’t really have the snap of E-Man, it’s a dead-straight strip that isn’t really very innovative–I suspect that it may have been prepared for some other usage and burned off here.

It’s a pretty straightforward 8 pages. The Knight is a field operative for C.H.E.S.S., and in this story, he needs to find and eliminate a spy in a defense contract plant. He’s aided in this by a Rook and a Bishop, who function as his wingmen. It turns out that there is no spy, the entire plant is an enemy front, and the Knight and his allies need to blow it sky-high. Which they do, all getting out with their lives. Boiler plate stuff, but engaging enough for a few pages. Sutton’s artwork here is broad and open, very much in keeping with what Staton does in the lead feature. But there really isn’t much of anything that makes The Knight stand out.

3 thoughts on “BHOC: E-MAN #1

  1. E-Man — co-created by Nicola Cuti (RIP), not Cuit — might have been made of indestructible energy, but it seemed that every publisher who printed his escapades went defunct in short order: Charlton, First and Comico!

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  2. I finally had an opportunity to read E-Man in the early 2000s and immediately fell in love with the series. I’ve since tracked down all of the revivals that Nick Cuti & Joe Staton have done at various publishers over the past four decades.

    The Knight sort of sounds like it could have been a source of inspiration for Checkmate at DC Comics. It’s definitely a rather average story, but that final panel, with the Knight falling asleep on his date with the beautiful woman, is a pretty funny subversion of “spy-fi” tropes.

    Liked by 1 person

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