by Stuart Lindberg, CMRO Contributing Writer
Volume #1 – #10
Written and Drawn by Joe Stanton
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.