One Fan's Opinion: Issue #58

Fri, October 6th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

I started buying "E-Man" with #4.

"E-Man" was a superhero comic book that came from the now-defunct Charlton Comics. It wasn't a straight superhero book exactly, but it wasn't really a humor book either. It was humorous to some extent, sure, but it wasn't slap your knee and roll-on-the-floor-laughing funny. It had a gentle humor, somewhat akin to that found in the old "Captain Marvel Adventures" comics from Fawcett publications that my dad bought when he was a kid.

"E-Man" was a gem.

"E-Man" was written by Nicola Cuti and drawn by Joe Staton and by the time I became aware of the book it was 1974.

I was 11-years old.

"E-Man" was a big favorite. I wish I could say I bought every issue, but distribution was spotty and I'd missed the first few. I started with #4 and bought #5 and missed #6, but found #7 and bought it up until the book ended with #10.

The "E" stood for ENERGY. E-Man started life as a "formless packet of energy" and he came to Earth and took human form. He encountered a lovely redheaded geology student/ exotic dancer named Nova Kane (a.k.a. Katrinka Colchnzski) and the two became something of an item. He may not have immediately grasped what it meant to be her boyfriend, but he caught on with relative ease.

Joe Staton became something of a favorite and as "E-Man" was winding up its run, Joe took on other assignments at both Charlton (where he drew everything from "Space1999" to the "Six Million Dollar Man") to Marvel (where he inked Herb Trimpe's pencils on the "Incredible Hulk" and later aided and abetted "our pal" Sal Buscema on the same) to DC where he drew "All-Star Comics" and "The Creeper" (which ran as a back up in "Adventure Comics," which starred, at that time at least, DC's undersea hotshot Aquaman).

The backup stories in "E-Man" were remarkable as well. "E-Man" #4 introduced me to Steve Ditko's wacky Killjoy character and "E-Man" #5 ushered in another Ditko drawn superhero tale starring the lovely Liberty Belle in a tale penned by comics legend Joe Gill. The story purported to be the pilot episode, but there was no follow up that I was aware of, which was a real tragedy - Steve was in swell form for this outing and Liberty Belle was a dish and a half.

Like I said earlier, I missed #6, so my first exposure to Rog 2000 and the artistic wizardry of John Byrne was in "E-Man" #7. I was pretty well taken with both of them and, like I had with Joe Staton, I followed John Byrne's career from book to book and company to company. First at Charlton as he continued "Space 1999" after Joe moved on, then to "Doomsday +1" and then to Marvel as John took on "Iron Fist" and everything that came after (including "Marvel Team Up," the "Avengers," "Fantastic Four" and "Uncanny X-Men" among others).

Joe Staton was developing his style on "E-Man." It wasn't exactly straight superhero stuff, but it wasn't all that cartoony either. Joe walked a precarious tightrope between the two and the combination (for this reader) was pure magic. Things were cartoony when they needed to be, but Nova Kane was a stone cold fox. Joe lettered and inked "E-Man" in addition to pencilling it and he may have colored it as well - there were no coloring credits in the book.

In ten issues, Nick and Joe took us to the future and the past and to other dimensions and back again. In ten short issues Nick and Joe introduced enough cool bad guys and amazing occurrences to keep me enthralled and entertained and all the rest. At one point Nova got energy powers as well and she became E-Man's partner in fighting the forces of evil.

In 1974 there were few new titles on the market. Sure, there were plenty of comics being pumped out by Marvel and DC, but those continued the adventures of characters that had been created before I was born. There was no way to really get up to speed on the Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Superman, Spider-Man, Batman and the rest.

Interestingly enough, my own "Savage Dragon" has been going strong for longer than most of those Marvel book were at that time. Because of my age it seemed as though the Marvel Mags had been going on forever, whereas it seems to me that I'm just getting started on the "Savage" Dragon. But I digress…

And then it was over. "E-Man" was cancelled. I had a friend who had a subscription and he opted to continue it with "Doomsday +1" (an excellent choice, by the way) but "E-Man" was gone. Later on I found some of the issues I'd missed. They were reprinted with a "Modern Comics" logo slapped on their covers in place of the familiar Charlton Comics bullet, but their crappy printing indicated to me that they were printed on the same crappy presses that the Charlton books were.

Nicola Cuti took a staff job at DC and didn't do much writing thereafter (which was a real shame). Joe Staton moved on to inking Marvel books and drawing DC ones. At some point his work tipped a bit more toward the cartoony side and I suspect that's what kept editors at Marvel from embracing his work and giving him pencilling assignments. Joe penciled "All-Star Comics," featuring the Justice Society (following the legendary Wally Wood - talk about a tough act to follow, yikes!) and he drew a number of issues of "Showcase," helping to revive the Doom Patrol (and redesigning Robotman to resemble Byrne's baby Rog-2000), giving Powergirl her first solo outing and drawing the book's 100th anniversary issue (which featured nearly all the characters that had been introduced in "Showcase Comics" over the years).

And then came Plastic Man. Having drawn E-Man, who could transform his body into damn near anything, Plastic Man seemed a natural fit. Plastic Man was given a home in "Adventure Comics" starting with issue #467 alongside with Starman, a new feature drawn by sturdy Steve Ditko. Joe was paired with writer Marty Pasko. But the feature struggled. Marty's ham-fisted approach to humor seemed forced and rather than going with the "Seinfeld" approach to humor (humor comes from the characters and their reactions to an absurd situation), Marty chose the "Airplane" approach (jokes are everywhere and it's all funny all the time). It fell flat and Plastic Man's run in "Adventure Comics" was short-lived.

Time passed.

And then it happened - in the '80s a brand spanking new company was announced and it was to introduce all new characters from a number of talented creators. "Warp" drawn by Frank Brunner, "Jon Sable, Freelance" by Mike Grell, "American Flagg" by Howard Chaykin plus the return of a character I thought was doomed to be forgotten in the mists of time - "E-Man!" And Joe Staton was at the helm!

What could be better?

But there was a hitch.

Nicola Cuti was nowhere to be seen. He was still at DC doing whatever it was he did, so "E-Man" would have to continue without him and continue it did. And who was the writer that would continue to chronicle the adventures of E-Man?

Marty Pasko.

And I hated it.

I loved "E-Man." I wanted nothing more than for "E-Man" to succeed and flourish but this…was…not…"E-Man." Right out of the gate Marty had E-Man's girlfriend having an affair (and I'll be damned if it wasn't the same guy that John Byrne had shagging Betty Ross over in the pages of "The Incredible Hulk"). E-Man was helpless and wimpy and almost apologetic for being there. Added to that was the same ham-fisted approach to humor Marty used and abused with Plastic Man. Parody was the order of the day and each issue was a wacky send up of some other comic from an amalgam of Elfquest and the Smurfs to the F-Men and others too pitiful to recall.

When Nicola Cuti had introduced private eye Michael Mauser back in "E-Man" #3, Michael said, "Don't call me Mickey or you'll hurt my feelings" and the reader had to think about it in order to get the gag. Marty Pasko had him screaming "Don't call me Mickey Mauser" at the top of his lungs and the gag felt forced and fell flat. The introduction of a nephew, named "Donald Duke," didn't help matters.

It was painful.

Marty Pasko didn't last long, but Paul Kupperberg wasn't much of an improvement. Soon Paul was gone and Joe Staton flew solo. The book got better, sure, but it wasn't quite the same. The stink that accompanied its First Comics launch remained in the air.

And then - a miracle - Nicola Cuti returned!

And it was magic all over again. Mr. Cuti penned an outstanding tale focusing on Michael Mauser that confirmed once and for all why he should be the only guy pounding the keyboards when it came to the ever lovin' Energy Man!

And then it was over.

Nicola Cuti wrote another issue, but by then sales had slumped and the writing was on the walls. "E-Man" was, again, relegated to the back issue bins.

"E-Man" bounced around a bit, resurfacing from time to time for an issue here to an issue there. He was at Comico for an issue or three and at Alpha Productions for a few more. He was never anywhere long enough to settle in and get any momentum going.

The book went through tough times as it bounced from company to company. Sometimes it had blotchy painted color or worse - blotchy black and white.

E-Man made a cameo appearance in my very own "Savage Dragon" at one point. He was a guest at the wedding of Barbaric and Ricochet in "Savage Dragon" #41 along with Nova and their lovable pet Teddy Q and a host of others from the DNAgents to the Sentinels of Justice to Bone, Zot, Monkeyman and O'Brien, Cerebus and Hellboy.

At some point a character called Vamfire was introduced into the E-Man universe. She was E-Man's sister and she was a somewhat darker character that I didn't warm up to particularly. She appeared first in a Nicola Cuti written tale that ran in "Charlton Bullseye" and she was reintroduced during one of E-Man's issues elsewhere. Once back, she seemed to stick around, despite this fan's feelings toward her. E-Man and Nova were enough, I thought. The book didn't need a third wheel - especially a third wheel with superpowers and an attitude. This wasn't a team book, after all.

Most sites and scholars have, thankfully, omitted the Pasko-penned travesties from E-Man's official history and if ever a collection of E-Man tales was to be tossed together, I'd suggest doing the same. The harsh reality is that unless it was written by Nicola Cuti and drawn by Joe Staton, it really didn't (and shouldn't) count as an official E-Man comic book.

These days Joe Staton is primarily over at DC drawing "Scooby Doo."

I'm not sure what Nicola Cuti is up to.

But every now and then the two men get back together for another go at E-Man -- and thank god that some creators out there still love their creations enough to do that! E-Man's latest outing is coming our way from the fine folks at Digital Webbing. I'm not sure when it's coming (or even if it's - ulp - already out) but when I see it, you can bet your ass that I'll be there reading and loving it.

I'd recommend that you do the same.

"E-Man" was (and is) one hell of a funnybook.

But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.

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