I finally was able to find copies of the rest of the First Comics run of E-Man. So at last here is the second part of my retrospective on that cool series. (And here is a link to Part One for those who missed it.) When last we saw Alec Tronn, Nova Kane, and Teddy Q, they were driving west to Chicago, where Nova had received a job offer to host the basic cable TV show “Moppet Monster Matinee.” As before, the creative team for these issues is Joe Staton as writer & penciler, and Rick Burchett as inker.
En route in E-Man #13, their truck suffers a broken axle, and the trio is stuck in a sleepy little Midwestern town waiting for the repairs to be made. However, the residents are acting quite bizarre, and the next morning Nova arrives at the garage to find her truck has been totally dismantled. Following after the somnambulistic mechanic who is driving off with most of the parts, Alec discovers the entire town has been not-too-successfully hypnotized by an individual named Chaos. Via a handy flashback, we learn that Chaos is an antagonist from another First title, Warp (which was penciled by the amazing Frank Brunner, so I should pick up those back issues at some point, as well), and has become stranded on Earth. Eventually ending up, via teleportation, in the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure (the setting of yet another great First series, Grimjack by John Ostrander & Tim Truman), E-Man and Chaos declare a truce, E-Man returns to Earth, and he & Nova are soon on the road again.
After a short tussle with the dangerously incompetent Randarr the Inexplicable (who I keep hearing speak with comedian Rip Taylor’s voice when I read his dialogue), Nova assumes hosting duties on “Moppet Monster Matinee” to great success, vamping it up for the cameras. Once again, Staton demonstrates his superb skill for drawing lovely ladies.
Back in New York City, private eye Michael Mauser, still smarting over Alec & Nova’s departure, takes on a new case. Hired to investigate the mysterious death of a businessman named Delzell, Mauser discovers that E-Man’s old enemy Samuel Boar, the ruthless energy magnate, is involved (and every time I read his dialogue, I hear actor John Vernon). Barely surviving a run-in with Boar’s deadly robot The Battery, Mauser travels out to Chicago to investigate Boar’s latest criminal undertaking. Once again Mauser finds himself in over his head, and he is forced to enlist E-Man’s aid. Nova is less than thrilled that the sloppy, rude PI has wormed his way back into her & Alec’s lives, but she cannot dissuade E-Man from offering his assistance in thwarting Boar’s schemes.
One of the stronger stories that Staton writes is “Rosemary and Time” in E-Man #18. This is a split issue. Alec ends up bouncing around the past in a broken time machine with Rosemary, a high school student from the 30th Century who is doing research for her term paper while attempting to collect the autographs of Chicago’s most famous historical figures. Alec and Rosemary’s comic misadventures end up actually causing some of the Windy City’s worst disasters, although Staton writes & pencils these segments in such a way that you cannot help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
In the second half, Nova and Teddy Q return home from work to find the apartment trashed, with a beat-up Mauser lying amidst the wreckage. Mauser recounts to Nova how he got tangled up in a dangerous investigation of the Chicago Mob which involved his old girlfriend Angel, who he hasn’t seen since they were both teenagers. It’s a heartbreaking account that reveals that underneath his gruff, unkempt exterior A) Mauser really is a sharp, clever detective and B) he possesses a sensitive, caring side. As the issue ends, Alec returns home from his time jaunt to find Nova and Mauser having fallen asleep while hugging, the implication being that they have finally begun to put aside their differences.
The next few issues of E-Man offer up some especially wacky shenanigans, namely a zombie jazz musician, loony vigilante Golden Gopher, a trigger-happy group of mercenaries known as the B-Team (yeah, you can probably figure out who they’re based on) and Teddy Q gaining superpowers in order to save Australia’s entire population of koala bears from being turned into fur coats by the nutty Marsupial Mama. This all culminates in the ultra bizarre but awesomely entertaining E-Man #23, as many of the guest stars and villains from the past two years return for “The See-Thru Wars,” a comedic action extravaganza.
E-Man #24 is an especially great issue, as series co-creator Nicola “Nick” Cuti finally has the opportunity to once again write for the series. “Mauser’s Story” has an amazing work by Cuti, Staton & Burchett, as readers are given the history of Michael Mauser. Cuti does a superb job showing us the development of Mauser over the years, revealing the different, hidden sides of the character. Staton’s penciling is fantastic. He has often commented that he very much enjoys drawing mystery & detective stories. This issue definitely provides him with the opportunity to work on that type of material, and he does a wonderful job.
Okay, truth be told, I am not certain you can fit Mauser’s history with his one-time girlfriend Angel that Staton revealed in #18 into the timeline that Cuti gives us in #24. But as Sarah Jane Smith once chided the Fourth Doctor, “So pedantic at a time like this! Does it matter?”
In the next issue, Cuti, Staton & Burchett show us E-Man at his most anguished. While using his powers to foil a robbery, Alec accidentally kills one of the hold-up men. Distraught at taking a life, he rockets off to the South Pacific, hoping to find peace & solitude so he can decide it he truly has a place on Earth, or if he should leave the planet before he causes more harm. Nova, finally realizing she loves Alec and does not want to be without him, heads after him with Teddy Q, although without the benefit of powers they are stuck island-hopping in a rundown boat right out of The African Queen. Alec eventually realizes that no matter where he goes, he will always have his amazing powers, and so he might as well learn to deal with the consequences. After saving the inhabitants of a tropical island from a group of grumpy Polynesian deities, Alec is reunited with Nova, although she is less than thrilled to discover that he’s been hanging out with a sexy island babe all this time. Well, as the Bard once observed, the course of true love never did run smooth.
And that was it; E-Man #25 was the final issue of the series. Just when Cuti & Staton had finally gotten back together, everything came to a screeching halt. I guess #25 is a decent enough wrap-up to the series, although the subplot Staton had left percolating in the background of Nova gradually regaining her superpowers never did end up being resolved. Fortunately over the subsequent years Cuti & Staton were able to reunite for the further adventures of Alec and Nova at publishers Comico, Alpha Productions, and Digital Webbing. And there are plans to have an E-Man story by Cuti & Staton appear in a future issue of Mort Todd’s The Charlton Arrow.
Although the First Comics run of E-Man was admittedly somewhat uneven, at least in the writing department, on the whole it was still an entertaining read. Of course, the always-wonderful penciling of Joe Staton offered consistent quality throughout. I really enjoyed the amazing, inventive visual gags he threw in as Alec assumed all sorts of strange & funny shapes. Staton also gave a more prominent role to Teddy Q, who was adorable and silly.
And that goes right to the heart of why I enjoy E-Man in its various incarnations. Staton and Cuti have always done such an effective job of balancing serious and silly, comedy and drama. They are able to tell interesting, thoughtful stories with believable character development that also possess a real quality of fun & humor to them. As I’ve observed on this blog before, I really wish that there were more comic books & graphic novels like that. So hopefully Cuti and Staton really will have the opportunity to collaborate on E-Man again, and soon. There really is nothing else like it out there.