“My name is Mauser. That’s also the name of my pistol. In my profession, my pistol’s the only reliable friend I have. I take care of it, and it takes care of me. I’m a private eye, and this is my story…”
Over on Facebook someone asked me why, in my recent post E-Man and Nova: The 1990s and Beyond, I had not devoted more space to private eye Michael Mauser. I responded that I was actually going to do a separate piece focusing on Mauser’s publication history. And here it is…
The diminutive detective Michael Mauser, who has always struck me as a cross between iconic private investigator Sam Spade and super-sloppy grouch Oscar Madison, was created by writer Nicola “Nick” Cuti and artist Joe Staton in the pages of their groundbreaking, entertaining comic book series E-Man, published by Charlton Comics. Mauser made his debut in E-Man #3, cover-dated June 1974.
“The Energy Crisis” is set in New York City during the oil crisis of late 1973. E-Man’s girlfriend, archeology student & burlesque performer Nova Kane is walking home from her job, accompanied by fellow dancer Rosie Rhedd. After the pair narrowly escape a mugging, Rosie is suddenly pulled through a solid brick wall by an unseen assailant. The shocked Nova goes to E-Man, aka Alec Tronn, for help, but the energy man from the stars is busy rushing back & forth across the city helping with the numerous emergencies caused by the power shortages.
Coming across a flyer advertising Michael Mauser’s services, Nova reluctantly heads to his office. Although startled by Mauser’s slovenly appearance, she tells him about Rosie’s strange disappearance. Mauser agrees it’s a fantastic story, but adds “So long as you’re paying me, I’ll believe anything.”
Mauser and Nova return to the scene of the crime, and discover the wall into which Rosie was pulled belongs to an old warehouse. Although it hasn’t been used in years, Mauser spots fresh tire tracks in the warehouse, as well as a crate labeled “Boarsville,” home of the reclusive, secretive billionaire energy magnate Samuel Boar.
The pair hop into Mauser’s VW Bug and head out to Boarsville, but on the town outskirts they are ambushed by an unseen foe. Both are captured, but not before Nova is able to make a phone call alerting E-Man. He quickly zips over to Boarsville via the phone lines. Tangling with Samuel Boar’s sinister robot henchmen the Battery, Alec learns that Boar is using a new source of energy to power his empire: living people! Rosie, Nova and Mauser are just three of the hundreds of innocents kidnapped by the Battery and plugged into Boar’s generators. E-Man fortunately breaks free, defeats the Battery, and arrests Boar. The authorities quickly release all of the Boar’s victims.
Later, back at Mauser’s office, the P.I. offers a E-Man a job, to which Nova responds “Not a chance! He’s a big lovable guy and I want him to stay that way… not become corrupted by a cynical creep like you!” She then storms out, and Mauser informs E-Man “That’s a tough little broad you’ve got there.”
Interviewed by Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Creator in March 2015, Joe Staton explained the origins of Michael Mauser:
“Nick [Cuti] had the idea for a detective based on Arnold Stang. He was a little guy with a really nasal voice, little glasses… And since Nick was hanging out with Wally Wood and they had guns all over the place, the idea of Mauser… Nick HAD a Mauser. Very cool gun. The ultimate gun, visually, and it came together.
“The visual I wound up with Mauser – this was obviously before the Internet and it was hard to find a lot of things – so I didn’t really have any reference for Arnold Stang. I knew who he was just generally, but that was when the Dustin Hoffman / Steve McQueen movie was out, Papillon. And there were all these pictures of Dustin Hoffman in these really thick glasses in Papillion, so I just thought, well, he’s not Arnold Stang, but he’s close enough. So that was the original visual.”
Michael Mauser’s next appearance was in E-Man #7 (March 1975). The mysterious “TV Man” has been using alien technology to cause E-Man to lose control of his powers, making him transform into characters from television broadcasts. Seeking a final showdown, the TV Man ambushes Mauser in his office, instructing him at gunpoint to deliver an ultimatum to E-Man. The unperturbed Mauser, staring down the barrel of TV Man’s gun, deadpans “You know how to make a point. Do you still need me… or is a truck about to come through that tunnel?”
Passing along TV Man’s message, Mauser brings E-Man over to Rockefeller Plaza the next day for a “high noon” showdown. Having served as messenger, the P.I. announces “It’s getting close to noon so I’m going to take off. There’s no hero in my blood.”
Despite his protestations, though, it would soon become apparent that Mauser possessed more than his share of bravery & heroism. He was akin to Rick Blaine from Casablanca, who always insisted “I stick my neck out for nobody,” but who when push came to shove was hard-pressed to ignore injustice or turn his back on someone in need of help.
Mauser embodies the sentiment that inside every cynic is a disappointed idealist. In spite of his appalling lack of manners, his fondness for cutting corners, and his disdain for authority, underneath it all Mauser has his own set of ethics, a personal code of conduct he rigorously adheres to.
In addition to further appearances in E-Man, readers soon got to see Mauser in solo action. The character appeared as the regular back-up feature in Charlton’s detective series Vengeance Squad, which ran for six issues between July 1975 and June 1976. In some of these tales Mauser was hip-deep in the action, mixing it up with all sorts of dangerous criminals; in others he was practically an observer, delivering pointed narration on the activities & schemes of various unsavory characters.
E-Man was cancelled with issue #10 in September 1975. Mauser would subsequently appear as a supporting character in an E-Man and Nova story by Cuti & Staton which ran in issue #4 of the semi-professional fanzine Charlton Bullseye the next year. After that Mauser, along with the rest of the E-Man cast, disappeared into limbo.
Seven years later, when E-Man was revived by First Comics, once again Michael Mauser was a regular presence in the pages of the book, simultaneously an ally and a nuisance to Alec Tronn, Nova Kane and Teddy Q. Additionally, Mauser received a back-up story in issue #4 (July 1983) by writer Mike W. Barr and artist Rick Burchet. “Mauser, P.I.” was a humorous send-up of the then-popular prime time detective show Magnum, P.I.
Early in 1985 Mauser also co-headlined a three issue miniseries with Ms. Tree, the private detective created by Max Allan Collins & Terry Beatty. The P.I.’s: Michael Mauser and Ms. Tree was written by Collins and drawn by Staton & Beatty. It was a very effective meeting of the two headstrong, independent, trigger-happy private eyes, a deft blend of dark tragedy and sardonic humor.
Due to his being employed by DC Comics at the time, E-Man co-creator Nicola Cuti was unable to contribute to most of First’s E-Man series. Cuti was at last reunited with Staton on issue #24 (June 1985), and the pair immediately set out to tell the definitive origin of Michael Mauser.
“Mauser’s Story” is one of the best comic books that Nicola Cuti has ever written. The artwork by Joe Staton & Rick Burchet is wonderful. I am hesitant to go into too much detail about it, because I encourage everyone to seek out a copy in the back issue bins. But here is a brief synopsis…
Michael Mauser was born in the upper middle class neighborhood of Beacon Falls, CT. The tragic death of Mauser’s father resulted in the family having to move to the slums of Brooklyn, NY. Being beaten up on a daily basis by the local street gang the Black Lions caused Mauser to have to toughen up very quickly. Soon he was a member of the Lions in good standing. When they were arrested for an attempted robbery, Mauser and the rest of the gang were shipped off to fight in Vietnam. It was there that Mauser acquired his namesake handgun, courtesy of Eddie Phuong, a wheeling-dealing Vietnamese soldier. His experiences in Vietnam taught Mauser personal responsibility and loyalty, but also left him deeply traumatized. Wounded in battle, Mauser was shipped back to the States, and he helped smuggle in Eddie’s younger sisters Ruthie and Angela so that they could have a better life.
Back at home, Mauser spent several years drifting from one job to another. Eventually his old acquaintance Police Captain Bill Doyle informed him that Eddie had arrived in the States and was now a major drug smuggler. Mauser approached Ruthie to find out if she had any information on her brother, but she was murdered by one of Eddie’s thugs to keep her from talking. Mauser located Eddie anyway, and barely escaped with his life. The experience prompted Mauser to go back to school and become a private investigator.
In the present day, Mauser is reunited with Angela, now a grown woman. He learns from her that Eddie is once again back in New York. Mauser sets out to finally take down Eddie, and to protect Angela from being killed like her sister.
After the First Comics series of E-Man was cancelled, Mauser and the rest of the gang went into limbo for a few years, finally appearing once again in the E-Man special in 1989 and three issue miniseries published by Comico in 1990. The special had a back-up story starring Mauser. While investigating a kidnapping, Mauser is reluctantly saddled with his young niece Kitty Katz, who he regards as an “insufferable brat.” Kitty spills his coffee and almost shoots Mauser with his own gun, but in the end she does help him solve the case.
The next time we saw Mauser in solo action was in 1992. For the first time the character starred in his own title, the black & white special The New Crime Files of Michael Mauser, published by Apple Comics.
“Snow Angels” is one of the darkest tales produced by the team of Cuti & Staton. In the midst of a cold, brutal winter in NYC, Mauser, assisted by Angela, is tracking down a serial killer known as the Spray Paint Strangler. The disturbing case causes Mauser to begin to question both his sanity and his memories.
Staton’s artwork for “Snow Angels” is astonishing. I think that on occasion people forget just how versatile an artist he really is. Staton is well-regarded for his cartoony style, but is certainly capable of much more, as he amply demonstrated in the late 1980s and early 90s. He had always been a fan of mystery, detective and crime stories, and in this time period had several opportunities to work in those genres. For DC Comics, Staton had penciled the 1989 series Huntress, which introduced the post-Crisis incarnation of the character and her war against organized crime. Later, in 1995, he illustrated the three volume organized crime graphic novel Family Man.
You can witness a progression of Staton’s artwork on these stories, from Huntress through The New Crime Files of Michael Mauser special, to the Family Man trilogy, an evolution of an effective noir-tinged style. Certainly the artwork on “Snow Angels” was somber, suffused with a moody tone. Combined with Cuti’s atmospheric script, it made for a disquieting read.
A year later Cuti and Staton crafted another solid, enjoyable Mauser story, “The Old Farmhouse.” It appeared in the anthology special The Detectives, published by Alpha Productions. Also featured in The Detectives were stories starring private investigators The Maze Agency, Mike Mist, Tony Bravado and Johnny Dynamite. The striking cover was illustrated by hot artist Adam Hughes, making this this the only occasion he ever drew the Michael Mauser character.
There were two other Mauser stories to be published in the mid-1990s, in issues of the quarterly anthology title Noir from Alpha Productions. Regrettably I don’t have copies of either of those magazines, but I’m keeping an eye out for them. Additionally, there was also a Mike Mauser Files one-shot published by ACG in 1999, but that appears to have been a reprint of several older stories.
The next time we would see Mauser in a major way would be in 21st Century, when Digital Webbing published a trio of E-Man specials between 2006 and 2008. Mauser had a supporting role in both E-Man: Recharged and E-Man: Dolly, and co-starred in E-Man: Curse of the Idol. In that last tale Mauser and E-Man were searching for a mysterious, powerful extra-dimensional idol that was also being sought by a corrupt South American general.
There was a Michael Mauser back-up, “Fish Story, ” which had originally been intended to run in Vengeance Squad #7 way back in 1976, but it was never published after the series was cancelled. In 2008 Staton finished the artwork for this unseen tale and it at last saw print in Michael Ambrose’s Charlton Spotlight #6 (Fall 2008) from Argo Press.
Most recently Mauser appeared in the first chapter of “Homecoming,” the three part E-Man and Nova serial that was published in The Charlton Arrow volume 2 #1-3 (Sept 2017 to Jan 2018). In the opening pages of “Homecoming” we see Mike and Angela at long last get married, in a ceremony attended by all of their friends & family, including Alec, Nova and Teddy Q. After all these years, Michael Mauser finally has his happy ending.
Michael Mauser is definitely an interesting, memorable figure. It certainly demonstrates Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton’s versatility and creativity that they devised a character who is equally at home as a supporting player in the fantastical adventures of E-Man and Nova as he is starring in his own hardboiled crime and mystery tales. If you haven’t read any of Mauser’s adventures before then I certainly recommend seeking them out. They are enjoyable reads with great work by Cuti and Staton.