E-MAN #4 was another issue of the series that came into my possession sealed within one of the plastic 3-Bags of reissued classic Charlton releases put out by Modern Comics in the late 1970s and sold in discount department stores, supermarkets and the like. There was a feeling of these books being a bit “off-brand” to a young comic book reader of the period, but I really loved a bunch of the characters and stories that they showcased. It would take a while before I would learn of the Charlton origins of these titles–I would occasionally wonder about the missing issues in this and other runs, which were never reissued by Modern for whatever reason. Their selection process was haphazard, wich made these books seem all the more weird and mysterious.
The story in E-MAN #4 was actually the third E-Man adventure to be worked up. As we discussed in last week’s review of E-MAN #3, it was bumped in favor of a story addressing the then-current energy crisis that author Nicola Cuti felt simply could not wait.
It’s a more globetrotting adventure than the previous ones had been, and showcases new sides to female lead Nova Kane–albeit sides that feel a little bit like they’ve been added to facilitate the story, rather than the story revealing them. It openw with Nova performing her exotic dance numbers in Egypt, where she’s gone on an expedition to locate a mysterious hidden city. This seems like a strangely discordant things for the Nova we’ve known up to this point to be doing, but it turns out that she’s apparently studying Egyptology, and has come into possession of a map to a lost city said to be the source of all the ancient Egyptians’ superior knowledge. Got to check that out, right?
Well, maybe not, as people who are investigating the claims of this hidden city keep getting murdered. But Nova has an ace to play, her friend E-Man who has accompanied her as a protector, and who chases off some assailants in the form of a servant of Ra. Following their map across the desert, Nova and E-Man locate the tower of the Lost City jutting out of the desert. But when they venture inside, they discover it’s an unearthly technological wonderland. Deciphering some of the writing, Nova learns that the inhabitants had attempted to escape a plague by journeying to the future using a time machine, but they lacked the power necessary to make it operate. But E-Man has all the power they need, and so he and Nova use the still-functional device to journey back in time. Mind you, this has all happened by Page 8. It’s zany Bronze-Age plotting at its finest.
E-Man and Nova waste no time in linking up with Ramis, the dethroned ruler of the technological city of Naab in which they find themselves. Ramis confirms that he and his people are aliens from another world, who came to Earth to escape oppression. But now, a mysterious plague is wiping them out. In an unfortunate moment in hindsight, Nova uses grease to darken her complexion so that she and E-Man can investigate further. (E-Man, being energy-made-matter, can simply adjust his skin tone). They learn that the new ruler, Faro, has separated the children, who are said to be carriers of the plague though they are immune to its effects themselves, and is having them raised in seclusion by machines–all the better to turn them into soldiers for his army. E-Man makes himself into a child in order to learn more, but as he heads off,. Nova and Ramis are captured by Faro’s men and sentenced to death.
As he makes friends with one of the local children, E-Man realizes that the plague is being carried by fleas that live on their canine pets. Confronting Faro in time to prevent Nova and Ramis from being executed, E-Man reveals his findings to the crowd, and Faro admits that he introduced the plague so that he could swell the ranks of his army. In a discordant bit of ruthlessness, E-Man throws him a pet that is monstrously contagious, giving Faro the disease and sentencing him to death (even though it’s the restored Ramis who makes the death sentence official.) This seems a bit out of character for the more whimsical E-Man, but when in Ancient Egypt, I guess. The story ends with the children of Naab returned to their parents, and not a word said about E-Man and Nova being able to return to the present, nor how much history may have now been changed given that they’ve saved a super-civilization that had previously been wiped out. Again here, the plotting is a bit shoddy and ill-thought-through. This really isn’t one of the better E-Man stories, for all that Joe Staton’s artwork continues to develop nicely in its pages.
The back-up story is a second outing for Steve Ditko’s silent comedic crusader, Killjoy. For all that I don’t agree with Ditko’s political point of view at all, it’s a very funny story, and wonderfully cartooned. The runner for the short adventure follows Killer Ded, who swears not to be taken by the law alive, but whom Killjoy captures and imprisons several times in the space of this sort tail. Ded’s efforts to be killed in action–“Suicide by Cop” we would call it today–are foiled again and again, until he eventually takes the hint and stays in prison to serve out his time.
Most of the rest of the story is more of Ditko’s usual rhetoric, in which criminals are aided by public opinion spurred on by left-leaning advocates who claim that it’s against the crooks’ rights to prevent them from committing their crimes. An assortment of newsmen, lawyers, judges and spectators express these opinions comically, but the silent and righteous Killjoy just keeps on knocking villains down, as they all contend for the massive Jewel of Jewels, which is on display. It’s a real virtuoso performance from Ditko visually, but it’s position is so exaggerated and absurd that it’s difficult to take the point that he’s trying to get across seriously.