E-MAN was definitely popular with somebody who was making the selections for what to reprint as part of the Modern Comics 3-Bag offerings that would be distributed through discount department stores and supermarkets. Of the ten-issue run of the series, six of them were reissued by Modern, albeit in a haphazard order. I really think that the Modern Comics editions are what truly helped the character to catch on–Charlton’s titles often operated unnoticed below the radar even into the early 1970s, but every comic book savvy kid that I knew in the late 1970s knew about these Modern books. It helps that it was a very entertaining series, both of its time and also just a little bit vintage.
As I understand things, this issue of E-MAN was produced out of sequence with where it was published. Originally, the creative team of Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton had worked up the story for what would be E-MAN #4. But at a certain point, concerned about the worsening Energy Crisis that was gripping the country, Cuti was gripped with the desire to say something about it–and so this story was produced and slotted in before the work they’d done for #4, in the concern that the whole matter might be over before Charlton could get the story into print otherwise.
The story opens in the midst of the crisis, with power brownouts plaguing New York City. E-Man is pressed into duty by Mayor Beame to help keep the metropolis running. Meanwhile, walking homeward with a friend, Nova Kane is attacked by a mugger–and her friend Rosie is abducted, pulled straight through a solid wall. When Nova can’t get anybody to help her, including the overworked E-Man, she decides to take matters into her own hands and seeks out a Private Detective for the job. This winds up being Mike Mauser, one of the more memorable and beloved characters from the series. Mauser was popular enough that he quickly got his own solo feature in the back pages of VENGEANCE SQUAD, another Charlton action-adventure series.
As Rosie was pulled through the wall of a warehouse belonging to a company owned by Oil magnate Samuel Boar, Mauser and Nova follow the trail to Boarsville, where they are accosted for their troubles. While Mauser tries to shoot it out with their unseen assailant, Nova places a frantic call to E-Man. But by the time the energy being can traverse the phone lines, Nova is gone, vanished. As E-Man makes his way towards Boar’s mansion, he’s in turn attacked by the same figure who clobbered Mauser and Nova: the Battery, a killer robot. The Battery is able to suck in E-man’s energy, trapping him within its body and then conveying him to its master, Boar. The Oil Kingpin reveals to E-Man how it is that his self-named township isn’t suffering from the energy crisis: he’s found a way to hook up human beings and use them as a power source. And so, he’s been kidnapping people unlikely to be missed and making them a part of his energy operation–literally.
In a resolution that’s maybe just a bit to rapid and pat, E-Man is able to escape, destroy the Battery who is hunting him through Boar’s mansion, and rescue the kidnapped people, including Nova and Mauser. The Private Eye is impressed enough that he offers E-Man a job, but Nova wants no part of this. While it wouldn’t come to fruition for a few more issues, Mauser would wind up having further adventures with the pair and becoming a regular part of the series. At the end, E-Man turns to the camera and delivers a naked public service message about the need for every person to conserve on power and thus help Mother Earth out. For all that it’s a little bit hokey by today’s standards, it was coming from a place of genuine concern, and is thus pure in its intentions.
The back-up story was another one-off, a pilot for another series that never came about. It too was written by Nicola Cuti and illustrated by Wayne Howard. Howard uses the opportunity to channel the work of Al Williamson and Wally Wood on the EC science fiction titles of the 1950s here. If I’m not mistaken, he swipes certain panels and images outright. But consequently, the artwork is very nice and well-realized. The story features Travis, who is a wanderer throughout time. His computerized steed Anachrom is capable of traversing the centuries backwards and forwards. Left orphaned when his time traveler parents disappeared, Travis journeys throughout the centuries, finding adventure and danger wherever he goes.
In this particular escapade, Travis encounters another pair of time travelers. But their method of time travel, in which they project time gateways through which they pass, is not as sophisticated as his own, and prone to cause problems. Case in point: a dinosaur gets thrown forward into medieval times. Attempting to fix the damage, Travis pursues the creature to the Middle Ages, and dons armor at Anachrom’s urging to protect himself. He’s unable to return the beast to its own era and winds up slaying it almost by accident, winning the affections of a local princess along the way. It’s a perfectly fine little story, but nothing all that memorable.