Steve Ditko’s ghost stories

Last week it was announced that legendary comic book creator Steve Ditko had passed away in late June.  He was 90 years old.

Ditko is best known for having co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange at Marvel Comics in the early 1960s.  However, he was actually a prolific creator who worked on innumerable titles for dozens of publishers, as well as a number of creator-owned self-published projects, during a career that lasted 65 years, from 1953 until the time of his death.

I wanted to pay tribute to Ditko, but I never worked with him or met him, and so outside of a brief correspondence with him several years ago I cannot say I knew him.  Certainly I am ill-equipped to assemble a comprehensive overview & analysis of his career such as the one that appeared in The Comics Journal.

It then occurred to me to look at one period, one facet of Ditko’s career that especially appealed to me, and explain why I held it in such high personal regard.  I am going to take a brief look at Ditko’s work on the Charlton Comics horror anthologies of the 1970s.

Ghostly Haunts 23

About a week ago I happened to be chatting with comic book creator Dean Haspiel.  During our talk, we briefly touched on the subject of horror comics.  I broached the opinion that horror is a genre that is often difficult to utilize effectively in the medium of comic books.  Haspiel appeared to concur, and suggested it can be difficult for many artists to effectively utilize the pacing and storytelling and layouts necessary to convey true horror & suspense, with many instead relying on gore & violence.

(I’m paraphrasing what Dean said, so don’t take any of the above for a direct quote!)

Just a few hours later the news broke of Steve Ditko’s passing.  It immediately hit me square in the face that one of the few comic book artists who did genuinely excel at illustrating horror material was none other than Ditko himself.  Certainly that talent was frequently on display in his work for Charlton.

Located in Derby CT, Charlton was infamous for its low rates paid to creators and the cheap quality of its printing.  However the company also had very little in the way of corporate or editorial oversight.  This was something that appealed to Ditko, who very much valued his creative independence.

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“Treasure of the Tomb” page 3 from Ghostly Haunts 23 (March 1972)

In my teens and 20s I had seen reprints of Ditko’s Spider-Man and Doctor Strange stories, as well as his more recent work for Marvel from the 1980s.  Though I liked it, there wasn’t anything that especially appealed to me.  At times I even found his art to be weird and off-putting.

About a decade and a half ago I was at a local comic book convention where I happened to buy a few back issues of some of the Charlton horror anthologies.  One of these issues was Ghostly Haunts #23 (March 1972) which featured a striking cover by Ditko.  Inside this issue were two stories illustrated by Ditko, “Treasure of the Tomb” and “Return Visit,” both of which I later learned had been written by Joe Gill.

Let me tell you, Ghostly Haunts #23 was a genuine revelation.  I don’t think I truly “got” Ditko’s work until that point.  His art on those two stories hit me like a thunderbolt.

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“Return Visit” page 2 from Ghostly Haunts #23 (March 1972)

Ditko’s layouts, the pacing of his stories, his heavy inking, the contorted body language & wide-eyed, twisted facial expressions of his figures, all combined to create a palpable mood of fear and anxiety and tangible horror.  Ditko genuinely excelled at generating an atmosphere of dread and suspense, of unsettling people and places that were more than slightly askew.

I also loved Ditko’s beautiful, sexy depiction of Ghostly Haunts hostess Winnie the Witch.  Ditko’s women often exuded a dangerous sensuality, and that was certainly present in his depictions of Winnie, who was cute but also possessed of a coy edginess.  Additionally, I enjoyed the effective way in which Ditko had Winnie lurking on the borders of the pages, or in-between panels, an omnipresent spectator who was almost but not quite involved in the proceedings of the narratives.

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“Web of Evil” page 3 from Ghostly Haunts #31 (April 1973)

Subsequently I began searching out other back issues of the various Charlton horror anthologies.  The prolific Ditko illustrated dozens of stories for the company in the 1970s, appearing in numerous issues of Ghost Manor, Ghostly Haunts, Ghostly Tales, Haunted, Scary Tales, and others, making his work fairly easy to locate.

Additionally, 20 of the horror stories that Ditko did for the Charlton were subsequently collected together in black & white volume Steve Ditko’s 160 Page Package.  This was released in 1999 by Robin Snyder, who printed & distributed many of Ditko’s later works.

At times the stories in the Charlton anthologies were clichéd or repetitive or predictable.  Since the pay rates were so low, Gill and his colleagues often had to literally crank these things out one after another in order to be able to make a decent living.  Nevertheless, in spite of the variable quality of the writing, as well as his own low page rates, Ditko invariably gave it his best, always producing eerie, unsettling, effective work of a high caliber.

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“The Moon Beast” page 7 from Ghostly Tales #106 (August 1973)

Being exposed Ditko’s work on these books rapidly caused me to re-appraise his other material.  Soon after I re-read the Essential Doctor Strange Volume One, and enjoyed it tremendously.  It’s since become one of my favorite trade paperbacks, either to read yet again, or just to flip through to marvel (no pun intended) at the exquisite artwork.

I’ve also began to look more favorably on Ditko’s work for DC Comics in the late 1960s, where he created such unusual characters as Hawk & Dove, the Creeper, and Shade the Changing Man.  Fortunately much of this material has now been collected, making it much easier to obtain.

I serious doubt I will ever find myself in agreement with the Objectivist philosophies that became prevalent in Ditko’s later creations and stories, but I certainly appreciate the craft and talent that was on display in his artwork.

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“The Crew that was Hanged” page 7 from Ghostly Tales #122 (August 1976)

Steve Ditko was a unique creator possessed of one of the most distinctive, individual voices to have ever worked within the medium of comic books.  His work for Charlton in the 1970s represents but a fraction of his output.  Nevertheless it remains among my favorite material by Ditko, for the quality present within it, the visceral impact it delivered, and the fact that it led me to a deeper appreciation for his entire body of work.

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Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! 35 years later

“I wanted to do a book that would annoy, piss off, and educate… and it did.” – Howard Chaykin

To celebrate the Fourth of July holiday week, I am taking a look back at the first 14 issues of Howard Chaykin’s comic book series, the dystopian political satire American Flagg!  Written & drawn by Chaykin, lettered by Ken Bruzenak, and colored by Lynn Varley & Leslie Zahler, American Flagg! was published by First Comics.

This year is the 35th anniversary of the debut American Flagg! (according to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics the first issue went on sale June 20, 1983).  This is one of those series that went totally under my radar for many years because, to be completely honest, I just was not mature or sophisticated enough to appreciate it back in my teenage Marvel Zombie days. Having become a fan of Chaykin through his later work, I subsequently discovered American Flagg! via back issues, and immediately fell in love with it.

American Flagg house ad

American Flagg! is both very political and very patriotic, proudly wearing its love for America, albeit in a manner that was very different from most expressions of flag-waving to be found during the Reagan years.  As editor Mike Gold explains in the first issue…

“Chaykin’s probably the most patriotic person I know. Not in the usual ‘Love It or Leave It’ nonsense that serves to divide instead of unite – and is therefore not patriotic. Howard’s patriotism comes from pride – and from great hope for America.”

Of course, as he’s acknowledged over the years, Chaykin was not only interested in politics, and he also utilized American Flagg! to delve deeply into the worlds of violence, guns, fashion, and sex… lots and lots of sex.

The first issue of American Flagg! opens in October 2031 AD.  It has been three and a half decades since 1996, “the year of the domino, when everything went to hell.”  The United States and the Soviet Union experienced simultaneous violent collapses, and the planet was stricken by a series of calamitous economic, social and ecological crises.

The American government relocated to the planet Mars (“temporarily of course”) and, merging with private industry, reorganized as Plex USA.  Ostensibly formed to help put the country back on its feet, the so-called Tricentennial Recovery Committee is actually intended to milk the planet dry of its remaining money & resources, so that the Plex can permanently establish an independent nation / corporation on Mars.

Across the globe a number of Malls have been constructed, hives of government & commerce, their twin goals to maintain order and keep the population pacified with entertainment that is suffused with explicit sex and graphic violence.  The population of the former United States has splintered into numerous tribal factions, with different ethnic, religious, and political paramilitary “clubs” fighting it out.  The Plex actively encourages these “clubs,” providing them with weapons, and recording their battles to air on Firefight All Night, “the highest rated vidshow on three planets,” one that makes the Plex “a fortune in ad revenues.”

American Flagg 11 cover

Into this morass of corruption and violence, of omnipresent mass media and runaway capitalism, all feeding an unending cycle of urban warfare, steps Reuben Flagg.  Born on Marsplex to left-leaning bohemian parents, Reuben was raised to have a love for the ideals of the American Dream.  For several of years Reuben starred in the Plex’s top-rated exploitive TV cop show Mark Thrust: Sexus Ranger.  Unfortunately for Reuben, even though the show got renewed, he was fired, replaced by a computer generated image.  The out-of-work Flagg was drafted and shipped to Earth, where he is assigned to be the new deputy ranger at the Chicago Plexmall.

This is the first time Reuben experiences the dire situation of life on Earth.  Chicago and the rest of the New Midwest are plagued by “70% unemployment, constant intergang warfare, and malaise on an epic scale.”  The idealistic Flagg is appalled, even more so when the various jockeying factions of the region each attempt to inveigle him in their corrupt activities.

As Reuben explains to Mandy Kreiger at the end of the third issue…

“I grew up on Mars with a passionate, reckless love for this country… a devotion fed as much by history as by my parents’ homesickness… Wasn’t till I got here that I discovered the spacious skies were soot black, and the fruited plains were rotted through and through.

“But the damage is deeper than physical disrepair – much deeper. The American Spirit – the honest, openhanded driving force of solidarity – has been castrated. Betrayed by the banks… big business… by slimy fat cats who use patriotism like a tart uses cheap perfume… betrayed by the Plex.

“Someone’s got to stop the decline… Or try.”

Of course, reading this scene in 2018, it is also possible to perceive this as an example of a white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied man riding into town and telling everyone they had better listen to him because only he knows how to save the day.  Your mileage may vary.

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In the past Chaykin has said words to the effect that while he is not a nice person, he is a good person.  That is definitely how one could also describe his creation Reuben Flagg, as well.  Reuben has all manner of glaring flaws.  He is arrogant, impatient, short-tempered, sarcastic, a womanizer, and more than a bit self-righteous.  On the other hand, he is also governed by a clear set of morals, he is honest, he hates injustice, and he has a clear aversion to killing.  Reuben may not be nice, but he is basically good.

Chaykin draws this line between Reuben and many other members of the cast, who are nice, but not necessarily good.  C.K. Blitz, the mayor of Chicago, is certainly a nice guy.  He is very friendly and polite, and knows how to make friends.  He needs to be, to stay in office and do his job effectively.  But, like most politicians, he is motivated primarily by self-interest, wheeling & dealing in order to acquire more power, prestige, and wealth.  Blitz isn’t a bad person per se, but he’s always looking for the next angle that he can play for his personal gain.

John Scheiskopf and Ester de la Castro are even more striking examples.  Both of them can definitely be very nice.  Either of them will be your best friend ever… right up until the point when they no longer have a use for you, at which point they will literally knife you in the back.  Beneath their polite manners and warm smiles, both Scheiskopf and de la Castro are incredibly selfish, power-hungry, immoral individuals who will casually commit mass murder in the furtherance of their goals.

Chaykin is clearly pointing out the danger of superficiality, of falling for outward appearances, both in politics and business.  The slick, charming outward veneer often masks all number of sins and selfishness.  In contrast, an individual like Flagg may be obviously flawed, but in his case what you see is what you get, and he doesn’t hide who he is, good and bad.

Reuben is also Jewish.  Chaykin establishes this in an almost-offhand manner, and it is only referred to in passing from time to time.  It certainly is not a defining characteristic; Flagg is a character who, among other things, happens to be Jewish. Nevertheless, I believe that this made him one of the first ever Jewish characters to headline his own ongoing comic book series.

American Flagg 3 pg 5

Chaykin quickly sets up a large ensemble of supporting characters and adversaries within the first several issues of the series.  Among these is the lovely Amanda “Mandy” Kreiger, the headstrong daughter of Reuben’s boss, the ever-obnoxious Chief Ranger Hilton Kreiger.  Mandy is a whiz with electronics, as well as Reuben’s main romantic interest… although certainly not his only one.

Among the other ladies in Reuben’s life is Gretchen Holstrum, the middle-aged “hostess” of the local Love Canal franchise.  Gretchen immediately finds herself drawn to the young, handsome Reuben, much to Mandy’s disgust, exacerbating the already-existing tension between the two women.

As the story advances, we learn a great deal about both Mandy and Gretchen’s histories.  It is to Chaykin’s credit that he develops Gretchen into a genuinely tragic, sympathetic character, yet at the same time still gives Mandy legitimate reasons to dislike her.  In other words, you can see both women’s points of view, and recognize that it’s a difficult situation, with complex emotions at play on both sides.

Another wonderful member of the supporting cast is Raul the talking cat.  Yes, that’s right, a talking cat.  Raul is both a source of comic relief and a close confidante to Reuben.  At various times Raul plays the piano, drinks himself silly, and operates heavily-armed attack helicopters.  He’s definitely a favorite of mine.

Raul is such a very cat-like cat that I figured that Chaykin must have had at least one cat in real life.  This was confirmed by Chaykin’s friend and occasional collaborator Don Cameron, who explained:

“Fun fact: Raul was based on a cat Howard had named Cochise who used to “mumble” all the time.”

American Flagg 2 pg 1

It’s interesting to look at the place American Flagg! holds in Chaykin’s career.  In the prior decade Chaykin had produced a body of artwork of variable quality, ranging from good to lackluster.  Chaykin himself is dismissive of much of the material he drew during that decade, regarding it as sub-par.

In early 1980, after a disagreement with Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, Chaykin left the field of comic books entirely, and for the next three years painted cover artwork for paperback novels.  When he returned to comic books in 1983 with American Flagg!, Chaykin’s work had clearly taken a seismic leap forward.  The quality of Chaykin’s art for this series is astonishing. Chaykin himself refers to American Flagg! as “the first thing I did that was any good.”

One of the most frequently-cited examples of Chaykin’s work on American Flagg! is page 17 of the first issue.  Chaykin’s brilliant layouts work with Ken Bruzenak’s superb lettering to create a stunning narrative sequence that lays out the back-story of the series.

American Flagg 1 pg 17

Due to unforgiving deadlines and a crushing workload, Chaykin was unfortunately unable to draw the two epilogues to his first story arc.  Issue #13 is penciled by James Sherman, and #14 by Pat Broderick, with both inked by Rick Burchett.  All three artists do their best to emulate the tone, the storytelling modes utilized by Chaykin, but it isn’t quite the same.  It certainly serves as a very example of just how much of an impact the artist has on the look, the flow, the tone of the finished work in comic books.

American Flagg! was a very prescient work.  Chaykin looked at the United States in the early 1980s and clearly perceived exactly where the country would be going over the next three and a half decades.  The pervasive presence of mass media and its influence on the electoral process, the manipulation of government by private industry, the escalation of ethnic and religious conflicts and the factionalization of American society, the degradation of the environment… all of this is present.

Chaykin also foresaw the dangers posed by a heavily-armed paranoid conspiracy-peddling white supremacist alt-right movement based out of the American heartland, or as they call themselves here, the American Survivalist Labor Committee.  In issue #9, the A.S.L.C. stage a grandiose political rally which they broadcast to the region via the Fasfax Chicago network, and their charismatic leader boldly declares…

“We’re here to stop this country’s slide into oblivion… a crisis precipitated by the most malevolent criminal cartel known to man… the Italo-Brit-Zionist Conspiracy.”

There is even a subplot in the second half of the initial year-long story arc involving plans by the Soviet Union to manipulate the outcome of a Presidential election.  In 1983 that might have left readers going “What a crazy idea!” but in 2018 has most of us responding “Um, yeah, I can totally believe it.”

American Flagg 9 pg 27

Chaykin’s work on this series was also groundbreaking and influential.  It’s probable that a number of up-and-coming creators who read American Flagg! in the early 1980s were influenced by it, and soon after utilized the tropes and techniques in their work for DC and Marvel.  It’s unfortunate that all these years later American Flagg! is still under-recognized, whereas The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, two books that could be regarded as its immediate successors, have both received widespread acclaim and multiple printings.

If you haven’t read American Flagg! before, I certainly recommend it.  In 2009 the first 14 issues were collected into two trade paperbacks by Image Comics which are still readily available.  It is one of the best examples I can think of that demonstrates the vast, often untapped, potential of the comic book medium.

New Brooklyn Dreams: Dean Haspiel’s The Red Hook

Dean Haspiel’s new graphic novel The Red Hook Volume One: New Brooklyn is out from Image Comics.  It assembles together the web comic originally presented on the Line Webtoon portal, along with several shorter chapters that previously saw print in Dark Horse Presents, Psychotronic Comics and Savage Dragon.

The Red Hook cover

In the past I have observed that Dean Haspiel is a creator who appears to effortlessly leap back & forth between the spheres of independent and mainstream comics.  The Red Hook is an effective distillation of those two poles, an action-packed super-hero saga possessed of oddball indie sensibilities and a distinctive authorial voice.

The first segment, the three-chapter “Emotional Ebola,” introduces the titular Red Hook, real name Sam Brosia, a Brooklyn-born boxer turned masked thief, and his girlfriend / partner in crime, Ava aka the Possum.  Their vivacious romance brings to mind both the eccentric banter and tumultuous misadventures of Haspiel’s kooky couple Billy Dogma & Jane Legit, as well as the postmodern costumed escapades of Paul & Mae Patton from The Fox: Freak Magnet and Fox Hunt miniseries.  “Emotional Ebola” is a somewhat languidly-paced extended prologue, although Haspiel does seed it with tantalizing hints of both what has come before and what is just around the corner.

Events quickly accelerate with the “New Brooklyn” story proper.  The borough of Brooklyn, exasperated by the twin scourges of skyrocketing rents and gentrification, becomes sentient and physically secedes from America, literally breaking away from the other four boroughs.  (I’m sure the “Heart of Brooklyn” wasn’t at all happy about the whole Donald Trump thing, either.)  The residents of the newly independent island of New Brooklyn have set about establishing a new economy, one where art is a vital part of commerce.  The birth of New Brooklyn has also resulted in the manifestation of numerous beings possessing super-powers.

The Red Hook pg 35

Initially the Red Hook and the Possum attempt to continue with their usual second-story shenanigans, lifting priceless paintings and locking horns with rival criminal Benson Hurst.  However life soon takes an even more unexpected turn for the Red Hook, and Sam finds himself forced onto the path of altruistic heroism.  Initially both leery of and resentful towards this development, Sam eventually decides to embrace his new role, regarding it as an opportunity to amend for the past transgressions that still haunt him.

The Red Hook, and the larger New Brooklyn Universe, are very much an expression of Haspiel’s love for New York City.  A native Manhattanite, Haspiel was forced by rising rents to relocate to Brooklyn in the late 1990s, only to see that same pattern repeat itself a decade later, with various friends fellow artists having to move out of the city entirely within the last several years, and numerous local businesses going under.

(Believe me, having lived in Queens for over a dozen years now, I can certainly relate!)

As Haspiel laments in his introduction:

“NYC is no longer interested in underwriting the avant garde and cultivating soothsayers. It got bamboozled by real estate developers more concerned with leasing empty spaces that hemorrhage money and often stay empty. An evil shell game of dog-eat-dog, while local bodegas and art spaces vacate and resurrect into a deluge of banks and all-purpose pharmacies, where cultural and culinary institutions of the past vex us with their historical significance like ghosts.”

Haspiel conceived the New Brooklyn Universe not just as a setting for fantastical stories, but as a representation of the cultural mecca that NYC once was, a mythic remembrance of a time when the city may have been dangerous & grimy, but also pulsed with life and vitality.

The Red Hook pg 59

Haspiel’s writing is simultaneously humorous, strange and poignant.  The plot is compelling, as are the characters.  Haspiel has always been great at scripting couples.  Sam and Ava’s romance possesses a tangible authenticity.

The artwork in The Red Hook Volume One is breathtaking and dynamic.  This is some of the best work that Haspiel has done in his entire career.

Recently I had occasion to read for the first time in a number of years Daydream Lullabies, a trade paperback collecting Haspiel’s Billy Dogma stories that were written & drawn in the mid-to-late 1990s.  Haspiel was, of course, a good artist two decades ago.  However, comparing the material in Daydream Lullabies to his work in The Red Hook, it is readily apparent that Haspiel has grown tremendously over the past twenty years.  He is definitely an artist who has consistently grown, never sitting still, instead working to continually improve his craft.

The Red Hook is a one-person production, with Haspiel writing, drawing, lettering and coloring.  That last aspect is especially striking.  Haspiel’s color work for this graphic novel is vivid, his hues and tones effectively complementing his dynamically weird linework.

The Red Hook pg 114

Haspiel has clearly put a great deal of thought into the New Brooklyn Universe, having worked with several colleagues to devise it.  Among these collaborators is talented writer Vito Delsante, who pens a two page prologue for his own New Brooklyn Universe creation The Purple Heart, illustrated by Ricardo Venancio.

Another pair of creators who have dipped their toes into the New Brooklyn waters, so to speak are writer Adam McGovern and artist Paolo Leandri.  Their four-part Aquarian story recently ran as a back-up in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon #229-232.  Having now read The Red Hook Volume One, which establishes the New Brooklyn Universe, I’m planning to re-read that Aquarian serial.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Dean Haspiel and his collaborators do next in chronicling the weird, wonderful world of New Brooklyn.  Hopefully future editions of The Red Hook, as well as the various companion series, will not be long in coming.

Michael Mauser: Portrait of a P.I.

“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…

Michael Mauser logo

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.”

E-Man 3 pg 5

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.

Vengeance Squad 1 pg 24

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.

Michael Mauser and Ms Tree 1 cover

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.

E-Man v2 24 pg 24

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.

New Crime Files of Michael Mauser pg 21

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.

Charlton Arrow vol 2 1 Michael Mauser wedding

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.

Preview: Go To Sleep, Little Creep by David Quinn and Ashley Spires

Writer David Quinn is a versatile and imaginative creator.  Although he is best-known for co-creating the adult horror comic book series Faust: Love of the Damned, and for writing Doctor Strange for two years at Marvel Comics, Quinn has written a wide range of material over his 30 year career.

Quinn’s newest project is in collaboration with illustrator Ashley Spires.  Go to Sleep, Little Creep is a rhyming picture book about baby monsters and their monster parents who are trying to get them to go to bed.

Go To Sleep Little Creep cover

Quinn was kind enough to e-mail me a preview copy of Go to Sleep, Little Creep.  It was a very charming read.  Quinn’s prose is sweet and humorous.  Spires’ wonderful illustrations are adorable and funny.  The designs of the baby monsters are wonderfully sweet.

By the way, as a huge fan of both cats and scary stories, I think the Mummy Cat, the pet of the Baby Mummy, is very cute.

Go To Sleep Little Creep Baby Mummy and Cat

Go to Sleep, Little Creep is for children ages 2 to 5, although I honestly think older readers, and even adults, will find it charming.  It is scheduled for release on July 24, 2018 through the Crown Books for Young Readers imprint of Penguin Random House.

Previews and behind-the-scenes info can be found on David Quinn’s blog, In Walked Quinn, where he discusses the conception and development of the book.

I definitely recommend Go To Sleep, Little Creep to genre fans, both those with and without children.  No matter how young or old you are, it is an enjoyable read.

Go to Sleep, Little Creep, Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

On Sale Jul 24, 2018

ISBN 9781101939444

Copyright 2018, David Quinn

Illustrations copyright 2018 Ashley Spires

For more information and to pre-order

Tony Isabella returns to Black Lightning with “Cold Dead Hands”

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices – to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill – and suspicion can destroy – and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own – for the children – and the children yet unborn.” – Rod Serling

I am very pleased to see writer Tony Isabella back on his signature creation, Black Lightning.  Jefferson Pierce, schoolteacher by day, superhero by night, was the first African American character to headline a solo book published by DC Comics.  Isabella previously chronicled Black Lightning’s adventures in the late 1970s, and again in the mid 1990s.  This new six issue miniseries Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands is the first opportunity Isabella has had to return to Jefferson Pierce’s world in 20 years.  It was well worth the wait.

Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 1 cover

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands is actually something of a reboot to the character’s mythos.  All of the reality-altering events to have taken place in the DCU over the past two decades have provided Isabella with a chance to give Black Lightning a bit of a fresh start, keeping some elements of Jeff’s back story intact, revising and/or jettisoning others.

Jeff, as seen in Cold Dead Hands, has been a costumed hero for only a few years.  He is relatively young, and still single. Jeff is teaching at John Malvin High School, located in a predominantly black area of his hometown Cleveland.  An idealist who wants to make a genuine difference in his community, Jeff has made it his mission to help his teenage students achieve not just an education, but to also set aside hate & violence.

Jeff also works closely with Detective Tommi Colvalito, who he has known since they were children, and who he fondly refers to as “my sister from another mister.”  I was appreciative of the fact that Isabella established right off the bat that Tommi knows that Jeff is Black Lightning, avoiding the clichéd scenario of a hero’s close friend unknowingly pursuing them in their costumed identity.

The story opens shortly after the death of Jeff’s father, a veteran journalist.  Jeff has scarcely had an opportunity to mourn his father’s passing when a violent crime spree begins to engulf Cleveland.  Gangs armed with high-tech weapons are carrying out hold-ups across the city.

Jeff in his guise of Black Lightning attempts to stop this rash of robberies, a task made more difficult by the racial tensions inflaming the city, and by the fact that certain members of the police department resent that a black vigilante is, in their minds, upstaging them.  Matters are made even worse when Black Lightning is framed for murder by Tobias Whale, the mysterious crime lord responsible for arming the gangs.

Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 1 pg 14

In Black Lightning volume two, Isabella had Jeff describe Tobias Whale as “the single most evil human being I’ve ever know… an insidious and ruthless predator.”  Those remain the defining characteristics of the Whale in this new continuity.  Having scoured the country for technology left over in the wake of various failed alien invasions, the Whale has had his technicians reverse engineer the recovered artifacts, producing a lethal arsenal of “sci-fi guns.”

Tobias Whale is a monster obsessed solely with the acquisition of wealth and power.  He is willing to sacrifice anyone, even the members of his own family, to achieve his dreams of avarice.  Tobias explains to Black Lighting his vicious plan to flood first the city, and then the entire country, with the alien weapons…

“The frightened citizens will want to arm themselves against these guns, legally or otherwise. The NRA will demand the guns be available to all, and their toadies in Congress will agree. The gun manufacturers will spend millions, maybe billions, to make that happen. Eventually a great many of those millions will make their way to me. Once I lease my designs to those gun manufacturers, I will become richer and more powerful than entire nations.”

In addition to utilizing this miniseries to touch upon the epidemic of gun violence in America, Isabella also casts his gaze at the tragic rash of police shootings of unarmed black men, something that I do not believe has been examined anywhere near as closely as it ought to be.

As a white male, I cannot imagine what it is to be black in this country.  I simply cannot know what it must be like as a black man to walk down the street, knowing that any minute you might get shot and killed by a cop because you happened to be holding a wallet, or a cell phone, or a metal pipe, in your hands that was somehow mistaken for a gun, or because you were wearing a hoodie, or because you were moving in a “furtive” manner, and so on.  And I cannot conceive of the outrage and disgust that a black person must feel, witnessing again and again and again cops who have shot and killed unarmed black men getting off with, at most, a slap on the wrist.

Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 3 pg 17

Isabella is very concerned with the toxic effects of fear and bigotry on people, and upon society as a whole.  Us versus them, white versus black, cop versus civilian… fear plays a significant role in all of these exchanges.  And of course there will always be individuals such as Tobias Whale who will take every opportunity to fuel and exploit those fears for their own personal benefit.

The classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is alluded to throughout this miniseries, with Jeff’s class staging a school play which is a thinly-veiled version of Rod Serling’s story.  At one point Assistant Principal Lynn Stewart tells Jeff that that another teacher has disparagingly referred to the school play as “SJW Theater,” and I chuckled.

Despite the manner in which some comic book fans have recently utilized the term Social Justice Warrior as a pejorative, the fact remains that for much of the history of comic books numerous creators have utilized the medium to advocate for progressive causes, and to rail against injustice.  Isabella has certainly been doing that for his entire career, and via his invocation of The Twilight Zone reminds us that Rod Serling was also doing so in one of the most popular television series of the 1960s.

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands is a very political work, blunt and honest in its addressing of the issues and crises of racism, gun violence, and the unchecked excesses of the police.  I am appreciative of the fact that DC Comics gave Isabella carte blanche to write about these controversial issues.

Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 4 pg 6

The main artist on Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands is Clayton Henry.  He does good, solid work.  It is flashy, but at the same time solidly rendered.  I previously enjoyed Henry’s work on various titles for Marvel over the past decade and a half, so it’s nice to see him teamed with Isabella on this miniseries.

Also contributing to Cold Dead Hands is the underrated Yvel Guichet, who is the co-artist on issue #s 4-6.  Guichet is an underrated artist who has been in the biz since the early 1990s.  I fondly recall his early work for Valiant, and I’ve also enjoyed his more recent assignments at DC.

Additionally, the talented Ken Lashley drew the cover for issue #5, as well as a variant cover for the first issue.  Mark Morales inks Henry’s covers for #1, #2 and #4.

I think it’s worth noting that Isabella, the creator of the Black Lightning character, is white, but he has often worked with black artists.  That is especially the case on Black Lightning.  Trevor Von Eeden (the penciler on the original series), Eddy Newell (the artist on volume two), Clayton Henry, Yvel Guichet and Ken Lashley are all black.  Isabella has always strived to make Jefferson Pierce an authentically African-American character, and I think it’s wonderful that a significant part of that has involved collaborating with artists of color.

Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 5 cover

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands is a very effective miniseries, with passionate and insightful writing from Tony Isabella.  He does a fine job both in developing his characters and in broaching important issues facing American society.  His writing is complemented by dynamic work from talented artists.

I hope that Isabella will once again have an opportunity to return to Jefferson Piece in the near future, either to recount his continuing adventures, or to explore his origins in this new continuity.

April 30th Update: It was great meeting Tony Isabella yesterday at the East Coast Comicon at the Meadowlands Exhibition Center.  Of course I asked him to autograph my copy of Cold Dead Hands #1. I recommend checking out Isabella’s most recent Bloggy Thing installment for some behind-the-scenes info on the miniseries.

E-Man and Nova: The 1990s and Beyond

In the past I have blogged about E-Man, the wonderful and imaginative comic book series co-created by Nicola “Nick” Cuti and Joe Staton in 1973. E-Man, aka Alec Tronn, is a sentient energy being who wandered the universe for thousands of years.  Finally arriving on Earth, he befriended the beautiful and intelligent Nova Kane, an archeology / geology major at Xanadu University who moonlighted as a burlesque performer to pay her tuition.  Eventually gaining energy powers of her own, Nova joined Alec in defending Earth against an assortment of bizarre villains and menaces.

E-Man ran for 10 issues in the mid-1970s, published by Charlton Comics. It was revived by First Comics in 1983, and that second volume lasted 25 issues.  Staton was the penciler for the entire First Comics run, but unfortunately Cuti was only able to write the final two issues.

After the cancellation of E-Man volume two in 1985, Staton retained the rights to create new stories featuring the characters. On several occasions over the past three decades he and Cuti have reunited to chronicle the further adventures of Alec, Nova, cynical private eye Michael Mauser, adorable koala Teddy Q, and the rest of the colorful gang.

E-Man 20th Anniversary Special

Subsequent to the First Comics run, Cuti and Staton returned to E-Man in a special published by Comico in September 1989, edited by Michael Eury.  In volume two Alec and Nova had relocated to Chicago.  Nova had lost her powers and had been hired as the host for the basic cable TV show Moppet Monster Matinee.  As the new special opens, Alec and Nova are back in New York City.  Nova is once again enrolled at Xanadu University, however she still has not regained her powers (a caption cheekily informs us this is due to her suffering from a bout of “Pasko Syndrome”).

During the course of the story a device known as the Reality Arranger causes a number of bizarre surrealistic transformations to sweep through the Big Apple.  Eventually reality is stretched past the breaking point and snaps, although the universe very quickly recreates itself from scratch, with the side effect of Nova once again possessing her energy powers.

We are never given an explanation for how everyone ended up back Manhattan. If you want, you can just assume that Nova decided to leave Channel 99 and return to school to finish her degree.  Alternately, Staton himself suggests that readers can regard the effects of the Reality Arranger as responsible for the sudden shift back to NYC.  In any case, the Reality Arranger, and the remaking of the entire history of the world, is a convenient “get out of jail free” card to hand-wave away any continuity discrepancies between the non-Cuti material published by First and the stories written by Cuti once he returned to the series.

Co-starring with Alec and Nova in the Comico special is Vamfire, the diva-ish negative energy “sister” of E-Man who was birthed from the same star. Vamfire was created by Cuti & Staton back during the Charlton days, but her debut story remained unpublished until a decade later, when it finally appeared under the First banner.  Initially conceived as a green-skinned Vampirella type, here in her second appearance she is redesigned by Staton to have a more punk rock look.

E-Man Comico special cover

The special did well enough that Comico published a subsequent three issue miniseries in early 1990, edited by Shelly Roeberg. By this point E-Man had definitely become an ensemble title.  E-Man himself barely appeared in the first issue of the miniseries.  The majority of the action is given over to Michael Mauser, Nova Kane and Teddy Q working to save Vamfire after her physical form is accidentally splintered into numerous twisted fragments due to a mishap in a carnival house of mirrors.

The second issue shifts the focus back on Alec as he attempts to find his way back to the star Arcturus, the “mother” that gave birth to him millennia earlier. Having lost his way, Alec stops on the planets Targasso and Landano for directions, on both worlds discovering troubled civilizations.  For me this story really demonstrates that E-Man is not a comedy or a parody series, but rather a fairly serious book that nevertheless possesses a sense of humor and a tone of fun.  I think that was something that was regrettably lost in some of the early issues of the First Comics run.  Cuti is the writer who really does the best job at balancing the drama and humor on E-Man, and as much as I do like some of the First issues, the series wasn’t quite the same without him.

In the third issue of the Comico miniseries Alec at long last finds his way to Arcturus, only to discover that his “mother” really is just “a ball of burning gasses.” I found it to be a bit of a sad moment, that Alec travelled over 215 trillion miles only to learn that he really doesn’t have an actual parent.  However he quickly gets over his disappointment and speeds back to Earth.  It becomes apparent why Alec cares so much for our world: it is the only home he has ever really had, and Nova is more than just a girlfriend; she is his family.  Unfortunately a horde of Lovecraftian entities follow E-Man back to our world, leaving him and Nova with quite the alien infestation to combat.

E-Man Comico 3 pg 1

Three years later Cuti & Staton once again returned to E-Man, this time at Alpha Productions. Published in October 1993, the Twentieth Anniversary Special was inked by Chuck Bordell and edited by Christopher Mills.  This story introduces Eco-Man, who is actually a hippie environmentalist who was murdered decades earlier by motorcycle thugs in the employ of criminal industrialist Samuel Boar.  Resurrected by radiation and lightning, the super-powered Eco-Man sets out with a militant zeal to save the environment from polluters.  He is joined by Vamfire, who is instantly attracted to him.

There was a second E-Man special published by Alpha in March 1994 titled E-Man Returns, but I don’t have it. Seriously, I’ve been looking for a copy of it for several years without success.  It never seems to show up in the back issue bins or on Ebay.  I’m guessing it didn’t have a very large print run.  If anyone has an extra copy for sale please let me know!

May 2018 Update: After he read this post Christopher Mills put me in touch with Alpha Productions publisher Leni S. Gronros.  Thanks to Gronros, I was finally able to obtain a copy of E-Man Returns, which featured “Island of the Damned,” a great E-Man and Nova story by Cuti, Staton & Bordell.  Gronros also sent me a copy of the anthology special The Detectives, which contained a Michael Mauser story.  Thank you to both Christopher and Leni for their help.

E-Man Alpha 1 pg 7

The early 1990s was sort of the Wild West for creator-owned comics. Independent companies sprung up and went bust faster than you could say “speculator market.”  Eventually the entire comic book biz experienced a huge implosion.  Given the chaos and unpredictability of this period, it’s not too surprising that Cuti & Staton were unable to get E-Man off the ground again permanently.  Nevertheless, the few stories they did create in that decade were well done, and of course Staton still retained the rights, meaning that they could always hope for another opportunity down the road.

There is actually one other noteworthy E-Man appearance from the 1990s. Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen is a huge fan of the original Charlton run.  In a way his creator-owned series Savage Dragon has a similar tone to E-Man, containing deadly-serious stories punctuated by bizarre humor, with the focus not so much on fight scenes as it is the relationships between the various oddball characters.

Savage Dragon #41 (September 1997) is the wedding of Barbaric and Ricochet from Larsen’s spin-off series Freak Force. A whole bunch of creator-owned and independent characters were guests, among them Femforce, DNAgents, Vampirella, Hellboy, Destroyer Duck and Flaming Carrot.  Larsen took this opportunity to have his old favorites E-Man, Nova Kane and Teddy Q appear at the wedding.

Savage Dragon 41 pg 12 E-Man

Jon B. Cooke is another fan of E-Man, as well as the various other unusual series Charlton Comics published. Cooke devoted two issues of his magazine Comic Book Artist, published by TwoMorrows, to examining the work of the talented creators who were at Charlton.  The theme of CBA #12 (March 2001) was “Charlton Comics of the 1970s.”  Cooke interviewed both Cuti and Staton for this issue.  Staton illustrated a brand new cover featuring Alec Tronn, Nova Kane, and the various bizarre horror comics hosts from the Charlton titles.  In addition, Cooke was able to have Cuti & Staton contribute a brand new two page E-Man story “Come and Grow Old With Me.”  This short tale focuses on the wonderful romance between Alec and Nova.

The next time E-Man and friends would appear would be five years later. Cuti & Staton yet again reunited for the E-Man: Recharged special, published by Digital Webbing in October 2006.  The vibrant, effective coloring was by Matt Webb.

E-Man: Recharged holds a special place in my heart. In 2006 I was already a huge fan of Staton’s artwork.  I had a passing awareness of the E-Man series, having heard it mentioned from time to time by Larsen and others, and having seen the cameos in Savage Dragon #41.  I was curious about it, but this was the first time I ever saw an issue of E-Man for sale.  In a remarkable coincidence, the very same day E-Man: Recharged came out I also found a copy of issue #7 from the original Charlton series in the comic shop’s back issue bins.  Between those two books I instantly became a fan.

E-Man Recharged pg 17

Recharged was a great introduction to E-Man and friends, with Cuti & Staton having Alec, Nova, Mauser and Teddy Q encounter the nefarious Brain From Sirius for one last epic confrontation. I couldn’t wait to see these characters again.  Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long.  There were two further E-Man specials from Digital Webbing, Dolly in September 2007 and Curse of the Idol in November 2008.

Additionally, another E-Man story surfaced in late 2008. “Future Tense” by Cuti, Staton & Bordell had been written & drawn in the early 1990s for Alpha, but never saw print.  In the years since the script had gone missing.  By studying the artwork Cuti was able to reconstruct the story and write a brand new script a decade and half later.  It was finally lettered by Bill Pearson, another Charlton alumni, and saw print in issue #6 of the magazine Charlton Spotlight edited by Michael Ambrose and published by Argo Press.

“Future Tense’ has E-Man and Nova encountering the Time Traveller from the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine. The couple travel forward with him to the far-future year of 802,701 AD and attempt to finally resolve the terrible conflict between the Eloi and the Morlocks, with events taking several surprising turns.

Charlton Spotlight 6 pg 9

As you can no doubt discern from these various E-Man revivals, there are a lot of fans of the old Charlton comic books out there, including a number who have helped Cuti & Staton in their efforts to continue chronicling the adventures of E-Man and Nova. Among those number is Mort Todd, a dyed in the wool Charlton fanatic.  Todd is the editor in chief of Charlton Neo, which over the past few years has been involved in reviving a number of titles and characters that were previously published by Charlton, often working with the original creators.  Of course Todd made sure to approach Cuti and Staton.

Originally announced in 2015, the new E-Man and Nova story at long last saw print as a three part serial in the anthology series The Charlton Arrow volume 2 #1-3 ( Sep 2017 to Jan 2018).  Matt Webb once again provides the coloring.

Cuti and Staton are both now in their 70s, and Staton is very busy drawing the daily Dick Tracy newspaper strip.  Given those facts, Staton explained “I’m approaching this three-parter as the final E-Man story.”  Indeed, Cuti & Staton utilize the occasion to spotlight a large number of E-Man and Nova’s supporting cast, and to bring closure to certain elements.

“Homecoming” sees Nova, accompanied by E-Man and Teddy Q, returning to her hometown of Hawleyville, PA to visit her parents & younger sister Anya. Nova is surprised that a large casino, Peccary’s Pen, has opened in the quiet town.  Suspecting that something odd is going on, she convinces Alec that they should investigate.  Anya, who works as the casino’s bookkeeper, soon learns that her boss is actually Nova and E-Man’s old foe Samuel Boar, allied with another of the Brains from Sirius.

Boar, in an attempt to manipulate Anya, arranges for her to gain “bad luck” super powers. Anya, who was jealous of Nova’s fame & abilities, sides with Boar.  Nova attempts to save her sister’s soul, while Alec brings in old friends the Entropy Twins, Eco-Man and Vamfire to help out against the new Brain.

Charlton Arrow vol 2 1 pg 6

This three-parter is a lot of fun. Cuti’s story serves as a nice coda to over four decades of E-Man and Nova adventures.  Staton works in a more simplified, cartoony style akin to the one he has been utilizing for the past seven years on Dick Tracy.  At first it was a bit of a jolt to see these familiar characters drawn this way, but I soon got used to it.  If this is indeed the final outing of E-Man and Nova by Cuti & Staton, then they go out on a high note.

While it’s regrettable that E-Man was never a long-running, super-successful comic book series, we are at least fortunate that Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton had several different opportunities to return to their creation over the decades, each time crafting fun, enjoyable stories.