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.
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 Vampirella-type figure, here in her second appearance she is redesigned by Staton to have a more punk rock look.
The special did well enough that Comico published a 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
11 thoughts on “E-Man and Nova: The 1990s and Beyond”
Huh. Nice article. I’ve only known E-Man in passing myself, usually encountering past issues in back issue/quarter bins, so this article has become a real education in getting to know him better.
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Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you found it informative.
Thanks, Ben. I’m a huge E-Man fan and Joe Staton is a wonderful man I’ve met at several cons over the years. It is nice to know that there are other Charlton fans out there!
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I often think that E-Man, Nova Kane, and the characters of their world may be the last truly original characters of the genre of super-powered action heroes of the Silver Age. With serious relevance to real world issues always recognizable underneath the unrestrained wackiness of its surface humor, this series has set the standard (and keeps setting it with each new iteration from its original creators) as THE shining example of HOW this sort of thing OUGHT TO BE DONE.
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You’re not wrong with that assessment there. Of course the fact that it’s not the property of one of the big two helped ensure that position, both as original and relevant. Why say that? Because we all know most creators theres days know full well any original decent creations made at either of the big two are own lock stock and barrel buy sad companies/corporations. Thus why the reluctance to create new original characters, and instead more and more derivatives of existing popular heroes and villains are the pumped out.
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What a great article. I am a huge E-Man fan and have managed to track down every appearance. This post does a great job of summarizing the fun and charm of the character and his rich history.
I was wondering if Leni S. Gronros might be open to an email inquiry from me. I’m curious if the Alpha ashcan comic actually had an issue 2 and 3 (the only one I’ve seen says issue 1 of 3). Let me know if you think that’s a possibility!
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Leni S. Gronros is on Facebook. Hopefully you can get in touch with him. And thanks for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.