E-Man #1 – #10 Review

by Stuart Lindberg, CMRO Contributing Writer

E-Man

Volume #1 – #10

Written and Drawn by Joe Stanton

Published: 1976

Okay, time for the second installment of “The Grass is Greener”, where I take a look at what was going on in the world of comics outside of Marvel, more or less contemporary with my place in the Order. Last time I reviewed the first volume of Koike and Kojima’s seminal manga series Lone Wolf and Cub, a sweeping, unabashed examination of ‘bushido’ in the context of Feudal Japan. In light of the serious nature of my previous subject I’ve chosen more lighthearted fair for this edition; Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton’s cult classic E-Man. First published in 1973 by Charlton Comics, E-Man ran for 10 irregularly published issues before its cancelation in 1975. Despite its short run, the series inspired a devoted fan following that would prove strong enough to support various revivals over the years, most recently in the form of a 2007 One-Shot.

Long story short, E-Man is just plain fun. The series features the misadventures of, you guessed it, E-Man, a packet of sentient energy released by a supernova that makes its way to Earth and assumes the form of a man, complete with “E=mc2” as his symbol. In tandem with his new friend Nova Kane, a university student working her way through college via an exotic dancing career, E-Man fends off global threats with his ability to transform into anything he can imagine. Much in the tradition of Jack Cole’s Golden Age oddity, Plastic Man, E-Man’s ability to become anything is masterfully used by Cuti and Staton to produce top-notch situational comedy. Indeed, it is the comedic tone of the series, marked by satire and slapstick, which gives E-Man a unique flare and ultimately makes it successful.

In contrast to the often over-the-top plot lines in the series, Cuti’s writing is marked by its subtlety. There is often a brief philosophical digression at the start of a given issue, apropos to the cosmic scope of the series/character, but never to the extent that it becomes off-putting; just enough to get the reader thinking. From there the shenanigans ensue with Cuti’s low-key delivery allowing the comedy to be developed almost organically by Staton’s art. To that point, Staton’s work is on par with much of the upper level talent working for the Big Two at the time and is reminiscent of Gil Kane and Howard Chaykin. The crowning artistic achievement for the series is Staton’s cover work, highlighted by stunning painted covers for the final four issues.

Cuti and Staton’s understanding of the medium, its conventions and those of the super-hero genre are evident throughout. The entire series reads like a spoof of the genre, but one that is inspired by a clear respect and appreciation for it. Nothing is off limits as Cuti and Staton take aim at social issues, industry figures and even a Disney classic. To that end E-Man will be a particularly rewarding read for those who have devoted sufficient time to exploring Silver and Bronze Age comics.

It is important to me in these reviews that I not give too much away in terms of plot or story but I will note that the characterization in this series is top notch, particularly as pertains to the two protagonists. E-Man himself may remind readers of Marvel’s Beyonder, particularly that character’s Secret Wars II incarnation, but significantly less annoying. That is to say, E-Man has an innocence and playful curiosity about the world that is truly endearing but not without understanding of the scope and significance of his abilities. This leads to realistically playful interactions between Nova and him in quieter moments but appropriate response to threats when the time comes. The end result is the rare hero, particularly for the time, who can maintain a healthy balance between his personal life and his “professional” duties.

Nova Kane is the perfect compliment to E-Man; she’s a smart, confident working girl, who’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in or let her opinion be heard. Most importantly, she doesn’t play second fiddle to E-Man; instead Cuti and Staton in just a few short issues manage to develop a believably loving and mutually healthy relationship between the two that comes as a breath of fresh air in light of the often dysfunctional comic couples of the time. Throw in the couple’s pet Koala Teddy Q and sleazy private eye Michael Mauser and what you have is an excitingly varied and well executed cast of characters.

If the above is not enough to get you excited about E-Man, the series is notable for two other interesting reasons. Firstly, all but one issue feature backup stories by the likes of Steve Ditko and John Byrne, the latter in his color comics debut. While the quality of these backups varies greatly, Byrne’s Rog-2000, which ran in three of the last four issues is not to be missed. Scribed by Cuti and drawn by Byrne the series features the title character, a wisecracking, cigar smoking robot cabby, and his adventures in a semi-futuristic New York City. Secondly, E-Man is one of the rare positive “creators’ rights” stories to come out of the Silver/Bronze Age. Despite Cuti and Staton creating the character on a work-for-hire basis at Charlton, the company later sold the character to First Comics, who would in turn cut a deal with Staton that yielded him the rights to the character. The end result is that Cuti and Staton can now do whatever they want with the character, and occasionally do so, while reaping the rewards of their creation. Overall, E-Man is a great comic with a unique history and I highly recommend the series to anyone and everyone.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Vol. 1 The Assassin’s Road Review

by Stuart Lindberg, CMRO Contributing Writer

Lone Wolf and Cub

Volume #1

Written by Kazuo Koike, Art by Goseki Kojima

Published: September 2000

To be sure, I am totally invested in the Order, a labor of love, which will keep me happily (hopefully) occupied for years to come. Still, we have all had those moments when our feet are dragging and it is time to read something else for a while. In these times I often elect to read works that were published contemporaneously with my place in the Order, but by companies or individuals other than Marvel Comics. This post is what I hope will be the first of many in a series that I have dubbed “The Grass is Greener”, wherein I will take a look at what was going on in the world of comics on the other side of the fence, so to speak. There will likely be little rhyme or reason as to what I read other than the criteria listed above and the understanding that the work is held in some form of regard; also, I’m more than happy to take suggestions or requests! My goal is simply to broaden my understanding of the comic book medium and how it has developed over the years, while at the same time providing some level of insight or entertainment for my fellow Orderites.

For my first entry I have chosen to go way off the reservation and across the pond to the world of Manga (gasp!). Now, I am just as wary of Manga as the next guy (and for the record remain generally skeptical) but due to the urging of a friend and what seems like a general sense of support for the series amongst people in the know I decided to check out “Lone Wolf and Cub”, the renowned series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima which was first serialized in 1970; I was not disappointed. Discussed here is Volume 1 of the Dark Horse translation entitled, “The Assassin’s Road”, which collects the first nine stories in the series.

“Lone Wolf and Cub” is the story of Ogami Ittō, a wandering ronin (master-less samurai) and his infant son Daigorō as they make their way through the varied, scenic backdrop of Feudal Japan. Immediately apparent to me was the pacing of the series. Koike and Kojima are in no hurry as they carefully establish the settings and rhythms of the time period. Kojima’s art has a sweeping, cinematic quality that is vastly different from any I have encountered in the Order thus far. His landscapes in particular are excellent at their worst, and otherwise breathtaking, and serve as an interesting counterpoint to the often-brutal inhabitants found therein; a distinguishing characteristic of the series thus far. My one critique is that his action sequences are occasionally muddled and difficult to follow, but even this tends to lend an authentic quality to those scenes that is perhaps lost in the sometimes-too-perfectly choreographed Kirby-esque sequences to be found at Marvel at that time.

Koike’s plotting and scripting works perfectly with the art to create a deliberate and engrossing narrative. The first seven stories seem intended to serve as a basic introduction to the two main characters and a crash course on the socio-political atmosphere of the Edo Period and the Japanese concept of Bushidō (the way of the warrior). Each tale deals with the malignant corruption and political maneuverings of the time as it contrasts to the honor-bound life of the samurai. Woven into this narrative are insights that range from the profound to the absurd, much in the style of famed Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu, which lends a unique quality and purpose to each tale. Beginning with the final two stories Koike and Kojima switch gears a bit and introduce the reader to some of the backstory of Ittō and Daigorō that sets the stage and develops intrigue for future adventures.

In the interest of not giving too much away I’ll stop my analysis there but I do highly recommend this series and plan to read more myself. The pacing of the first few stories may be off putting to some but the art and scripting are top notch and very different from the Order thus far. As such it serves as a good diversion from Marvel comics of the early 1970s. Anyway, those of you on the forums please let me know what you think…am I just a stuffy old windbag, or would you like to see more articles like this?