Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

In the ’80s, a writer named Mike Tiefenbacher was working on some funny animal comics for DC. Tiefenbacher was using a pair of supporting characters he’d named Sacco and Vanzetti, but his editor objected, pointing out that kids wouldn’t get any reference to Sacco and Vanzetti, the anarchists convicted and executed (perhaps wrongly) in the 1920s. Tiefenbacheer agreed that, of course the kids wouldn’t get the reference, but that the names were inherently distinctive and funny in context, and that the kids would respond to that. (The editor won the argument. Editors always win arguments.)

But Tiefenbacher was right. Kids do respond to what seems funny, to what strikes them as delightfully silly, regardless of whether or not they understand the motivation, the relevance, or the back story. They just think it’s funny; they just know it makes them laugh.

I was seven years old when DC published Inferior Five # 1 in 1967. It was loaded with references I didn’t get, including direct parodies of the TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a show I knew about but didn’t really know. None of that mattered. Inferior Five was silly, busy, energetic, frantic fun. It was funny. It made me laugh; I understood that fact just fine.

The Inferior Five’s name was a take-off of Marvel‘s Fantastic Four, but that was where the similarities ended. The I5 was created by writer E. Nelson Bridwell, a DC staffer who’d been basically the first comic book fan to break into the comic book industry in the ’60s. The team had made three previous appearances in DC’s try-out book Showcase before debuting in its own title. I didn’t see any of the Showcase appearances until years later, but those issues revealed the back story that the earnest but inept members of The Inferior Five were all legacy heroes, the sons and daughter of various members of a Justice League doppelganger called The Freedom Brigade: the 97-pound (and still losing weight) weakling Merryman, the powerful but clumsy Awkwardman, the cowardly archer White Feather, the corpulent, slow-flying Blimp, and the beautiful, super-strong but dim-witted Dumb Bunny.

When I first met this intrepid quintet in Inferior Five # 1, the I5 was summoned by good guy spy outfit C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D. (Competent Organization Utilizing Scientific Investigation for National Fiend, Ruffian and Evildoer Defense)–it was the ’60s, and super-secret acronyms were everywhere–to thwart the evil machinations of H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E. (Heinous, Unscrupulous Rats and Rogues Initiating Criminal Anarchy and Nefarious Evil). By page 10, The Inferior Five (along with Merryman’s grandfather, the elderly Green Hornet counterpart Yellowjacket) were being debriefed by characters lampooning The Man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s Mr. WaverlyNapolean Solo, and Illya Kuryakin (Mr. IvanhoeCaesar Single, and Kwitcha Belliakin).

Did I understand all of this when I was seven years old? No. Did I find it amusing? Oh God, yes! Action! Chills! Spills! Thrills! Plus, I learned what the word “indolent” meant! My favorite line in the whole damned thing was when the evil “Tabby” Katz, seeking to avoid a beat-down from Dumb Bunny, held up an artificial plastic baby and implored, “You wouldn’t hit a woman with a baby, would you?” “No,” Dumb Bunny replied, “I’d hit her with a grown man!” And. She. DID!

I next caught up with the inept avengers in Inferior Five # 3 (guest-starring a Tarzan clone called Darwin of the Apes), and again from Inferior Five # 7 through its tenth and final issue in 1968. I absorbed the I5’s encounters with seemingly familiar characters like Cobweb KidAllergy QueenThe Kookie QuartetSub-Moron, and Iron Pants, plus SupermanGroucho Marx, and Norton from The Honeymooners. In the ’70s, I went back and completed my Inferior Five collection. And, with or without pastiches of other characters, I loved the individual heroes of The Inferior Five.

Um…especially Dumb Bunny. Even at the age of seven, a couple of years before sneaking my first look at Playboy, I understood the appeal of a beautiful woman wearing rabbit ears on her head and a cotton tail on her curvy derriere. See, kids understand more than ya might think.

From Dumb Bunny to Barbi Benton–a kid’s gotta start somewhere….


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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.


Father Of The Brood

Boppin' Comics


The late Stan Lee was the single most famous comic book creator in the history of the medium. That fact is not up for debate. We can argue about who was the greatest or most important, and we will, but there is simply no denying that Stan Lee’s name was the most widely-known. To the general public, Stan Lee was synonymous with Marvel Comics and the attendant Marvel Universe movies, with superheroes, with comic books themselves. If you ask passers-by to randomly name someone who created comic books, I guarantee you Stan Lee’s name would the most common answer, and by a margin as wide as The Negative Zone. ‘Nuff said.

For many, that very fame is what tarnished Lee’s legacy. But Stan Lee earned his fame. He didn’t do it alone, and others deserve a significant share of the credit, but anyone who denies that Stan Lee was an important figure in comics is, frankly, an asshole.

Stan Lee did not set out to have a career in comics. It was a paycheck, that was all. Stanley Lieber was an aspiring writer, still in his teens, when he went to work for Timely Comics in 1939; his cousin Jean was married to Timely’s owner, Martin Goodman. Lieber’s early duties were grunt work, and involved no creative endeavor. When these duties called upon him to write a text story for Captain America Comics # 3 in 1941, Lieber didn’t want to use his real name; he wanted to become a respected novelist some day, and he didn’t want to cheapen his name by association with cheap trash like comic books. Lo, there shall come a pseudonym: Lieber chose the nom du biff bang pow Stan Lee.

Stanley Lieber’s great American novel remained unwritten. Goodman put Lee in charge of this lower-tier comics line in 1941, with no real illusion of competing with powerhouse comics publishers like DellEastern Color Printing, and Detective Comics (the latter firm still with us, now called DC Comics). Lee stayed on as decades passed, as Timely became Atlas Comics and eventually Marvel. In 1961, the success of DC’s superhero revivals prompted Goodman to order Stan Lee to come up with Marvel’s answer to The Justice League Of America. So Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four. The rest is history.

In the early ’60s, Stan Lee was writing most, if not quite all, of Marvel’s output, while simultaneously serving as the line’s editor. That’s a lot of work. For the sake of efficiency, the stories were created by what came to be known as the Marvel method: Lee and an artist would work out a basic plot, the artist would transform these ideas into pencilled pages, and Lee would script captions, dialogue, and–where appropriate–the occasional FOOM! or SKRRAKK! It was a true collaboration, perhaps not always (if ever) 50-50, but the end result was what mattered.

The buzz about Marvel seemed to generate almost immediately. The success of The Fantastic Four led to more Marvel superheroes, to The Incredible HulkThe Mighty ThorThe Invincible Iron ManThe Astonishing Ant-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man, to revivals of Captain America and The Sub-Mariner, two characters that predated Lee’s debut. It lead to The Mighty Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men. The comics attracted an older audience, including college kids, and even celebrated filmmakers like Federico Fellini. This was the cheap trash that Stanley Lieber didn’t want to dignify with his real name? No, not by then. This was pop art. This was a revolution. This was The Marvel Age Of Comics.

Lee was a natural-born pitchman, and some of this buzz should be attributed to his charm and his (perhaps unconscious) marketing savvy. It wasn’t just hype–the comics were solid, and the audience embraced them–but the experience was enhanced by the rapport Lee established with readers. Lee created an illusion of camaraderie within a mythical Marvel bullpen: Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby, Sturdy Steve Ditko, Jovial Joe Sinnott, Dazzling Dick Ayers, Jazzy John Romita, Rascally Roy Thomas, Mirthful Marie Severin, Dashing Don Heck, even including secretary and receptionist Flo Steinberg and a hapless fictional staff member named Irving Forbush. They were all stars in a way comic book writers and artists never really were before. And not just stars; to Marvel readers, they were family. By the end of the ’60s, Marvel was actively and very successfully competing against its seemingly stodgy competition, and on its way to surpassing the shocked and stunned management of DC Comics as the industry’s undisputed leader.

Stan Lee received most of the credit. He deserved a lot–a lot–of that credit. But the sheer amount of credit that was accorded Lee alienated some of his collaborators, and understandably so. Lee was the editor and the bylined writer, but his creations were not solo works. Steve Ditko, the artist and co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, was the first to bristle and depart, ditching Marvel in 1966 for lower-paying work elsewhere; Ditko would never work with Lee again.

And in 1970, the very same year that The Beatles broke up, Jack Kirby left Marvel in favor of work at DC. Marvel had been the house that Stan and Jack built. It was like John Lennon joining The Rolling Stones, or Paul McCartney becoming a Beach Boy. Kirby’s frustration with Lee, his resentment of the degree to which Lee and Marvel publicity seemed to downplay Kirby’s own boundless imagination and contributions to the plots and storylines that created Marvel Comics (above and beyond the sheer brilliance of Kirby’s nonpareil artwork), led Kirby to create a DC character called Funky Flashman, a soulless, insincere snake-oil huckster inspired by Lee.

I’m sure that Stan Lee was bewildered by all of this, probably hurt, certainly puzzled. Hadn’t he always given the artists credit, when there was no pre-existing industry standard for that? He was the writer, of course, and Lee saw himself as the primary creator of all these characters. He wasn’t quite wrong, but he was most definitely not quite correct, either. There’s no Spider-Man as we know him without Ditko. There’s no Marvel Universe without Kirby. It’s not just because of their art, but in the way each helped to develop and define these characters before any of them appeared on a spinner rack. They were co-creators, and they deserve credit as co-creators.

We discuss all of this today, not to cast shade upon Stan Lee and our collective memory of him, but to acknowledge his…I guess his humanity. Stan Lee was a legend; he didn’t have feet of clay, but he was subject to the same inconsistencies and issues of pride and ego as any of us. But his were writ large, the great responsibility that comes with great power. He was indeed human.

And comics would not have been the same without him.

You disagree? You’re wrong. Like Casey Stengel managing the New York Yankees, Lee utilized the array of talent at his disposal to make things happen. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and all of the other All-Stars of the Marvel bullpen united to build something larger than themselves, to create, to craft a universe so vast and engaging that it will continue to thrive, to thrill, and to touch the imaginations of millions and millions of people for generations yet to come. Stan was The Man. He couldn’t have done it alone, and he didn’t. But it wouldn’t have occurred at all if he weren’t there.

When the news of Stan Lee’s death broke yesterday, my daughter Meghan texted me: That one kind of hurts. Marvel Comics weren’t her thing as a kid; Meghan’s favorite comics were Archie and his assorted pals ‘n’ gals, her favorite superheroes The Powerpuff Girls. The first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie hooked her, and she became an avid fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Stan Lee’s cameos in each of those Marvel movies solidified his ongoing connection with anyone who ever loved the fantastic, the amazing, the astonishing, the incredible, the uncanny. Stan Lee’s legend is invincible, but it stings to realize that those cameos will end. I’m sure he filmed some cameos we still have yet to see in Marvel films to come, and audiences will feel the tears form when we see him again on that big screen. 

I identify as a DC Comics guy. But I loved Marvel Comics too, and I still do. Reading Stan Lee’s Soapbox and those Marvel Bullpen Bulletins when I was a kid helped form the wonder-filled image in my head, the picture of what a magic world comic books could be, what a magic world they had to be. That part? That part was all Stan Lee.
Stan Lee passed away this week at the age of 95. I never met Stan Lee. But I knew him. So did you. You always will. Now, Stan Lee is reunited with his beloved wife Joan. And Stan and Jack are together again, amends are made, and the lessons they’ve learned will lead to the greatest comics Heaven has ever seen. We can only imagine. Face front, True Believers.  Excelsior, Mr. Lee.

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.


DEAR SUPERGUYS (or: I Was A Teenaged Comic Book Letterhack)

I’m not sure exactly when I wrote my first letter to a comic book editor. I know I wrote a letter to DC Comics in the summer of 1970, when I was ten years old, asking if the good folks there would be willing to send me a copy of Superboy # 129 as a reward for bypassing fifth grade on my way to sixth grade that fall. Presumptuous? Duh. My letter did not merit a prompt response. I don’t think it was my very first attempt at a “Dear Editor,” but it’s the earliest I can remember with any precision. If there were indeed earlier missives, they were also inquiries about securing elusive back issues from DC, albeit with a promise of appropriate payment. I got yer twelve cents; I got yer twelve cents right here.

In the ’60s and into the early ’70s, I was a near-insatiable fan of comic books, particularly superhero comic books, particularly DC and Marvel superhero comic books. I also read books from CharltonArchieHarveyGold KeyDell, and later from Atlas and Warren. Besides my cherished costumed crusaders, I read funny animal, war, Westernhumor, monster, and eventually some horror, too. I confess to occasionally peaking at romance books, because the girls were cute (and the artwork often gorgeous). Sad SackWhere Monsters DwellStar Spangled War StoriesThe Mighty Marvel WesternForbidden Tales Of Dark MansionTomb Of DraculaUncle ScroogeSgt. Fury And His Howling CommandosThe Lone RangerThe PhantomThe Phantom StrangerMaster Of Kung Fu. VampirellaThe ScorpionArchie’s Pals & GalsDennis The MenaceThe Super Cops. TarzanConan The BarbarianFruitman, God help me. Plop! SpoofDoomsday + 1. I read ’em all, and loved ’em all, right alongside my Justice League Of America and Avengers.

By the time I was 15 (and probably earlier), I was identifying myself specifically as a DC Comics fan. I continued to buy, read, and enjoy Marvels and others, for sure, but my primary allegiance was to the boys at 909 Third Ave and (later) 75 Rockefeller Plaza. Why DC? Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, for starters. The work that writer O’Neil and artist Adams did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman (the latter often ably penciled by the underrated Irv Novick instead of Adams, all of it inked to stunning effect by Dick Giordano) just knocked me out, and the afterglow of that stuff kept me in DC’s thrall. I dug Jack Kirby‘s Fourth World stuff, Len Wein‘s scripting on JLAeditor Joe Orlando‘s stewardship of Adventure Comics, O’Neil with Mike Kaluta on The Shadow, the return of the original Captain Marvel in DC’s Shazam!, and the plethora of vintage reprints in DC’s 100-Page Super Spectaculars. I still loved Marvel, but I was clearly a DC guy.

Which, I guess, is why all of my letters of comment went to DC books. As adolescence and early teens brought me a sense that I might want to become a writer, I sought the recognition and ego-stroke of seeing my name in print in DC Comics letter columns. I evolved from my previous letters asking how I could track down copies of The Spectre‘s 1966 appearances in Showcase to attempting fannish praise and pithy commentary. My reach far exceeded my grasp, and my hand-scrawled drivel was justifiably ignored by DC’s editorial staff.

(I was only, like, twelve or thirteen when I began writing these letters in earnest, but I cringe to look back on them now. No physical copies survive, thank Rao, but I remember the sheer pimply cluelessness I exhibited therein. I wrote a letter to The Brave And The Bold‘s editor Murray Boltinoff, demanding that he explain his editorial policies to me, ‘cuz I di’n’t like his and B & B writer Bob Haney‘s disregard for continuity. I recall a letter to JLA which casually used profanity to make this immature soul seem mature. I signed off most of my letters with “Thanx,” an attempt to create a signature gimmick for what I hoped would be an abundance of published letters of comment. Not a one of them saw print, nor did they deserve to see print. I cringe at their memory, and recognize them as the work of a square-peg kid in dire need of a girlfriend.)

I did begin to receive some form letter replies, and some form letters with annotation added. I recall a reply to a heartfelt letter I’d written to Batman editor Julie Schwartz, begging that The Batman’s atmospheric noir adventures never again succumb to the campy approach of the mid ’60s. Some time after that, our local hero Mailman brought me a letter ostensibly from The Batman hisself: a form letter with a classic Carmine Infantino Batman drawing and a note “Thanks for your nice letter, from The Batman.” A more personalized postscript was typed in following The Batman’s signature: “…who will eschew camp like cyanide from now on, rest assured!” Cool! Plus, I learned a new word with “eschew.” I figured this meant my letter would soon see print on an imminent Letters To The Batman page, but it was not to be. I guess a letter from The Batman was all the recognition I required. Thanks, citizen!

Middle school passed by. High school commenced. I continued to buy and read comics, to try to write comics, and to write letters to the comics’ editors. I walked home each day after school, and often made a side trip to the nearby Gold Star Pharmacy to see if any new comics were in. A pretty girl from my school worked there, but I never bothered trying to flirt with her while buying my comics–what would have been the point?–and she remained friendly and professional. Yvonne. Not her real name. One day during the Spring ’75 semester, I stopped at Gold Star for my weekly fix. Among the haul was Superman # 289, and that contained my first published letter of comment.

Over the friggin’ moon, man!

The letter itself was perhaps not much less embarrassing than my earlier, unpublished attempts. But no matter! Though it was just a silly letter gushing about how great Superman # 277 had been with its dazzlingly clever doppelgangers of Ernest Hemingway and Mason Reese–a combination one would rarely see otherwise–it was technically my first nationally-published piece of writing. It was a piece of something all right, but I was thrilled.

And again: no, you get a life.

For dramatic purposes, the part of Yvonne will be played by Ms. Yvonne Craig

I don’t think I showed it to Yvonne at the drug store, though I did show her a subsequent letter published in Adventure Comics # 444. She was very polite. Somewhere in there, a letter in The Brave And The  Bold # 120’s letter column mentioned in passing that “Carl Cafrelli” wanted to see Batman team with The Shadow, a request I do not recall making, but probably did. I don’t know how many more letters of comment I wrote, but I do know I was trying to concentrate more and more on my own writing (and my collection of rejection slips from DC), so my letterhacking likely petered out around this time.

Then it was off to college. Nascent independence. An illusion of maturity. GIRLS! Success with girls, even. And, y’know, punk rock. I continued to read comics well into my freshman year at Brockport, 1977-78, but finally abandoned my four-color friends when Steve Englehart stopped writing Batman in Detective Comics; everything that came after that was a disappointment to me, so it was time to quit.

I mean, after I wrote one more letter.

My final letter of comment of the 1970s appeared in Detective Comics # 479, extolling the virtues of what Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers had done with The Batman, a short run that remains my all-time favorite series of Batman stories (even above O’Neil and Adams). With that, I was done with comics for the remainder of my college career.

(My love of comics did help me snag one little bonus perk in college. No, it wasn’t a girl, though–oddly enough–my ostensibly hilarious impression of former DC Comics star Jerry Lewis did somehow convince a girl I already knew that I was suddenly irresistible. Ah, if Yvonne coulda seen me then…but I digress. During my freshman year, I wrote about comics and other topics in my assignments for Dr. Burelbach’s Popular Fiction class. The following September, I wanted to get into a Fiction Workshop reserved for upperclassmen, so this mere sophomore had to plead his case to that course’s instructor, Dr. Fitzgerald. Dr. Burelbach happened to be there in Dr. Fitzgerald’s office when I arrived, so I mentioned that I’d taken his Pop Fic class the previous semester. This made for a much shorter interview than I was expecting. Fitzgerald turned to Burelbach and said, What do you think, Fred? Burelbach nodded toward me and said, Well, he’s a brilliant writer. Fitzgerald turned back to me, smiled, and said, All right, you’re in. Score one for the good guys.)

I returned to comics after graduating (early) from college in 1980. My return was slow and tentative at first, but eventually resumed with a fervor to match the fannish enthusiasm of my adolescence. In the ’80s, I had a few letters published in Green Lantern and/or Green Lantern Corps (when Englehart was writing it) and in Batman (when Doug Moench was writing it), and I wrote an unpublished rant complaining about gratuitous violence in Justice League Of America. I started freelancing for the fan magazine Amazing Heroes in 1984, and I didn’t write many letters of comment after that. I had one published in an issue of The Power Of Shazam! in the ’90s (even though I didn’t intend it as a letter of comment, just a note to accompany my request for Mr. Mind‘s Venusian Decoder Card), and finally my first and only published letter to Marvel Comics in 2016’s Invincible Iron Man # 11. Marvel still has letters columns in its books; DC does not. I read ’em both anyway.

But I’ve always been a DC guy at heart. I have the letters to prove it.


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The Everlating First: E-Man

The Everlasting First: Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

The late Nicola Cuti is one of six posthumous recipients of the 2020 Bill Finger Award, honoring comic book writers who created a body of work that has not received the recognition it deserves. The award is named for Bill Finger, the long-uncredited co-creator of Batman. Cuti joins Virginia Hubbell BlockLeo Dorfman, Gaylord DuBoisJoe Gill, and France Edward Herron as this year’s slate of honorees. My favorite Cuti work was a superhero called E-Man, originally published by Charlton Comics in the ’70s.The Charlton Comics line eschewed superheroes after the demise of its Action-Hero line in the late ’60s. By the early-to-mid ’70s, Charlton’s only superhero book was The Phantom, plus Popeye if you wanna stretch the superhero tag to broader parameters. Revivals of Blue BeetleCaptain AtomThe PeacemakerJudo Master, and Peter Cannon…Thunderbolt were unlikely, and it was equally unlikely that Charlton would create any new costumed heroes to take their place. Charlton editor George Wildman was amiable, but firm: superhero books did not sell for Charlton.
So the 1973 appearance of two new action series from Charlton was, to say the least, unexpected. Yang was a martial arts series, so that made commercial sense amidst the frenzy of the kung fu craze. But there was also a new superhero book–a quirky, energetic, unique superhero book, drawing more inherent inspiration from the Golden Age charm of Plastic Man or the original Captain Marvel than from anything else DC or Marvel was doing at the time–but it was undeniably a superhero book, a bona fide Charlton superhero book. It was E-Man, created by writer Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton.

For most of these entries in The Everlasting First, I’ve been able to call to mind some specifics about when, where, and how I first became aware of the pop subject at hand. But my initiation into E-Man fandom is a jumble of tangled, thorny, conflicting memories. E-Man debuted at a time when I was become ever more active in seeking out new comic-book superhero thrills; it was a little before the short-lived Atlas Comics line, so Charlton’s return to the superhero wars stood out even more. I think I remember purchasing an issue of E-Man (and definitely an issue of Yang) at a convenience store in Clifton Park. I remember a coverless E-Man scored at Van Patten’s Grocery in North Syracuse. Later on (1974? ’75?), while traveling with family from Southwest Missouri to the Florida panhandle, I know I bought an issue of E-Man during a pit stop somewhere in Arkansas. How did I first hear of E-Man? What was the first issue I saw, and/or the first I read? That memory is lost. All I can tell you is this: however I came on board, I was an E-Man fan instantly. I tracked down all the back issues, bought each new issue, and was crushed when it was cancelled. Superhero books did not sell for Charlton.
E-Man deserved a much, much better fate. This book was simply unlike anything else on the stands at the time. Jim Hanley‘s Captain Marvel pastiche Goodguy came closest, but that was a black-and-white strip that appeared sporadically in fanzines (and I would really love to see that stuff collected in book form!); DC’s Shazam! (starring the actual Captain Marvel hisself) never quite gelled, and Simon & Kirby‘s The Sandman was weird and kinda fun, but still more weird than fun. By contrast, E-Man sparkled with the positive energy promised by its hero’s insignia:

(And E-Man’s constant companion Nova Kane was the sexiest character in mainstream comics in the mid-’70s. I mean, sure, she was an exotic dancer, and that reinforced her pulchritudinous appeal. But her comic book appearances somehow avoided pandering for the most part. Nova was never, ever portrayed as any kind of bimbo or sexpot, and was usually the smartest and most sensible person in the room at any given moment. She was capable, and in control, simultaneously good-natured and wordly. Nova was the heart of E-Man.)

E-Man lasted for a mere ten issues at Charlton. Hard-boiled private eye Michael Mauser was introduced in E-Man # 3; presumably intended as a one-off character, Mauser eventually became a key member of the E-Man cast, and has appeared in solo adventures as well (initially as a back-up strip in Charlton’s Vengeance Squad). Nova acquired super-powers in E-Man # 8; I thought this detracted from the engaging interplay of the grounded, sensible, street-wise Nova and the cosmically naive E-Man, but I grew accustomed to the idea over time.
And I did have time to grow accustomed to the idea; First Comics purchased the rights to E-Man from Charlton in the early ’80s, and began a new series of E-Man adventures. Joe Staton returned to the art chores, but Cuti was unavailable; his replacement, Marty Pasko, had done some fine work for DC (including a delightfully goofy run on The Metal Men, with art by Staton), but his E-Man didn’t seem quite right to me. Cuti returned to his co-creation with First’s E-Man # 24. First Comics withdrew from the comics biz years ago, but E-Man, Nova, and Mauser have continued to pop up from time to time from various publishers. One of these days, I need to go back and re-read the lot of ’em. And I’m delighted that there were a few new latter-day adventures of E-Man by Cuti and Staton published within the past few years in the Charlton Neo series The Charlton Arrow
Nicola Cuti passed away in 2020. The work lives on. You can’t destroy energy.

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Spiderman, Spiderman (My Marvel Comics Try-Out)

In 1983, Marvel Comics published a gimmick called The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book, and challenged readers and prospective creators to, in essence, audition for Marvel. The book provided a tutorial on how a comic book is created, and then presented the beginning of a new, unfinished Spider-Man story. The idea was for budding writers and artists to submit their attempts to complete the story, demonstrating their skills in scripting, plotting, pencilling, inking, coloring, and/or lettering. The most promising candidates would likely find work with the House Of Ideas, Merry Ol’ Marvel.

What a scam. What a shell game. And yes, of course I attempted a try-out.

The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book gives the first 14 pages of the Spider-Man story (“Personals” by Jim Shooter, who was Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief at the time), plus the unscripted, pencilled pages 15 through 19. For the writing auditions, hopefuls had to write a script for pages 15 through 19, and then write a plot breakdown, completing the story from page 25 through 29.

The first 14 pages of “Personals” show us that Spidey’s foe Doctor Octopus has escaped from prison, and Spider-Man has grown discouraged in his own failure to apprehend that nogoodnik and his accomplices, Chris and Louise. Meanwhile, an unknown girl named Janet witnesses a rooftop battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, and has been writing letters to Spider-Man, letters that have appeared on The Daily Bugle‘s Personals page. The printed exchange of letters between Spider-Man and Janet have captured the public’s fancy, and the letters have encouraged our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to keep on keepin’ on in his quest to defeat Doc Ock.

The script try-out begins with a confrontation between Peter Parker–the everyday nebbish who is secretly everyone’s favorite wall-crawler–and his protective Aunt May. All characters are copyright Marvel Entertainment–well, except for The Hooded Halibut; Marvel passed, so I’m keepin’ ol’ HH. And keep an eye out for a sneaky cameo appearance by a lesser-known DC character, too. Take it away, Capable Carl Cafarelli:

1.  MAY:  I didn’t particularly care for your tone of voice when I spoke to you on the phone last night! Maybe you were a little depressed, but you sounded like a coward, a quitter

2. MAY:  …Parkers aren’t quitters, young man!

3. MAY:  See this story in the newspaper? Even a masked hoodlum like that horrible Spider-Man can bounce back from the doldrums and display some backbone…!

4. MAY:  If he can do it, you certainly can!

5. PETER:  Aunt May…

6. MAY:  Oh!

7. PETER:  …you’re the greatest!

8. PETER:  That little pep talk was just what I needed to lift my spirits! You should try coaching the Mets in your spare time!

9. MAY:  My goodness, you’re such a kidder!

10. MAY:  It’s good to see you’re back to your old self again, Peter! Can I expect you for dinner tonight?

11. PETER:  Count on it!

12. MAY (t):  Hmmm–maybe Peter and I should have these talks more often…!

13. PETER (t):  What a gal!

14. PETER (t):  Even though my spirits didn’t really need lifting by now, it was sweet of her to try!

1. CAPTION:  The next day, back on Long Island….

2. VOICE:  Spider-mania…

3. LOUISE:  …I don’t believe it! Dozens of personals, all claiming to be from Spider-Man or his so-called “secret girlfriend!”

4. CHRIS:  Plus several others from Captain America, Bucky, Papa Smurf and someone named Irving Forbush!

5. OCK:  Indeed…

6. OCK:  …every paper in the area is filled to the bursting point with those personals, glorifying Spider-Man, stroking the web-head’s ego…

7. OCK:  mocking me!

8. OCK:  If not for this “secret girlfriend” and her personals ad, that accursed wall-crawler might have given up his meddlesome ways and left me in peace!

9. LOUISE:  What’re you gonna do about it?

10. OCK:  I believe it is time I placed my own ad in the personals!

11. OCK:  Listen carefully….

12. CAPTION:  Later….

13. S.E:  Kra-aaash!

14. JJJ:  What in Sam Hill–?

1. OCK:  Get up, Jameson! Have you no manners!
2. JJJ:  I-I was just, er, looking for my contact lens!
3. OCK:  I have a personals ad that I want you to run immediately!

4. JJJ:  Groan! Not again!

5. OCK:  Quiet!

6. OCK:  I believe your deadline is approaching, Jameson?

7. JJJ:  Ulp!

8. JJJ:  Stop the presses, Ms. Leeds!

9. JJJ:   I said, stop the presses!

10. CAPTION:  Some time later….

11. PETER:  What the–?

12. PETER:  Oh…my…

13. PETER:  gosh!
1. PETER:  A bluff–it’s gotta be a bluff!

2. PETER:  The police would know!


4. SGT:  Fifth precinct, Hainer–what? Spider-Man’s secret girlfriend?

5. SGT:  Now listen, sonny–we’ve logged roughly 300 calls at this precinct alone from people claiming to be Spider-Man, his secret girlfriend, Doctor Octopus or his second- cousin, The Hooded Halibut!  The crank callers are having a field day! We have no way of knowing which calls–if any–are the real McCoy!

6. PETER:  So you have no idea if that girl’s life is really in danger?

7. PHONE:  Nope. Sorry!

8. PETER:  Not as sorry as I am!

9. S.E:  Klik!

10. PETER:  Blast! Even the police aren’t sure if this whole thing is a hoax or not!

11. PETER:  But meanwhile, an innocent girl could die just because she supported me publicly, and gave my spirits a much-needed boost!

12. PETER:  I don’t have any choice!  I’ve got to meet Doc Ock’s challenge! I can’t take the chance that he might really be holding her hostage!

13. PETER:  But if he harms her–

14. SPIDEY:  –then Heaven help Doc Ock–

15. SPIDEY:  when SPIDER-MAN breaks loose!
1. CAPTION:  Soon after, at the office of New York’s most beloved newspaper publisher….

2. SPIDEY:  I’ve heard of cross-ventilation, but this is ridiculous!

3. JJJ:  You!
4. JJJ:  You masked menace! You wall-crawling criminal! This is all your fault, you–you–

5. SPIDEY:  Okay, okay, I get the idea!

6. JJJ:  That blasted first letter should’ve never been run! You probably cooked this whole thing up to publicize yourself, you gloryhound! My next editorial will show the whole city what a cheap phoney you are!

7. SPIDEY:  Calm down, willya Jameson–I’m starting to blush!

8. SPIDEY:  Just tell me what Doc Ock wants me to do!

9. JJJ:  Just wait here–and be quiet!

10. SPIDEY (t):  Oh no! I’ve got to wait here and listen to Jolly Jonah rant and rave?

11. SPIDEY (t):  Man! Ock’s really fighting dirty this time!

12. CAPTION:  Meanwhile, in the Bugle‘s reception room…

13. REPORTER # 1:  What’s the story? Is this another of Jameson’s publicity stunts?

14. COP:  If it is, then we’d like a few words with him as well!

15. REPORTER # 2:  Has there been any word from Spider-Man?

16. REPORTER # 3:  Is it true that this “secret girlfriend” is really Brooke Shields?

17. RECEPTIONIST:  One at a time, please..!

18. CAPTION:  Suddenly…

19. JANET:  This is all a mistake! No one’s holding me hostage!

MARVEL TRY-OUT: PLOTTING (Story resumes after Dr. Octopus has captured Janet, and is forcing Spider-Man to submit to a beating)
PAGE TWENTY-FIVE:  Ock’s tentacle connects and Spider-Man crumples to the floor. Ock continues to batter Spidey’s motionless form; Janet screams in protest, tears streaming down her face, but there’s no stopping Ock now. He begins to cackle insanely–after all these years, he’s finally beaten Spider-Man! Louise and Chris look on disapprovingly as Janet sobs and Ock picks up Spider-Man’s body and waives it triumphantly before him.

PAGE TWENTY-SIX:  Spider-Man comes to life! He knocks Ock to the ground, disconnects the controls to Janet’s death-trap (rips the button out of the wall, actually) and dodges Louise and Chris’ fire. Doc Ock can scarcely believe it–defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, again! Recovering his web-shooters, Spidey makes short work of Louise and Chris and quickly frees Janet. The reunion is short-lived, however, as Ock recovers his composure and Spider-Man has to face a fighting-mad Doctor Octopus.

PAGE TWENTY-SEVEN:  Ock attacks, but Spidey outmaneuvers him at every turn, taunting the villain with his usual Spidey banter. Ock attempts to grab Janet and again use her as a hostage, but Spidey’s webbing stops Ock in his tracks, Janet slaps Ock’s face hard (shocking him far more than hurting him) and a right cross from Spider-Man puts Ock down for the count. Justice doesn’t come without a price, though: Spider-Man’s knuckles hurt something fierce.

PAGE TWENTY-EIGHT:  Spider-Man summons the police, and he and Janet swing away as the police arrive. Spidey takes Janet back to the rooftop where they’d first seen each other. Janet asks how Spider-Man survived Ock’s should-have-been-fatal assault, and Spidey explains that it’s kind of a trade secret (his spider sense enabled him to foresee where Ock’s blows would hit, so Spidey could effectively roll with the blows and escape serious injury). Standing on the rooftop, Spidey and Janet face each other almost like two teenagers on a blind date, but now Spider-Man has a question: who is Janet? What was she doing on this rooftop at four o’clock that morning? At first, Janet mumbles something about a “trade secret,” but relents. Her parents are recently divorced, she says, and she lives with her mother in this very building.

PAGE TWENTY-NINE:  Janet doesn’t really get along that well with her mother; at best, they put up with each other. To Janet, it sometimes seems as though everyone she’s ever looked up to has deserted her or let her down in some way, from her estranged father through the rock star she once bumped into in Manhattan (and who was a real condescending jerk). She’d come to the roof that morning, unable to sleep, just to be alone and get away from her mother and that one-room apartment. But then she saw Spider-Man in action, and she saw…not just a remote hero, but a real hero who was also a real person underneath, and she was impressed and considerably cheered up. Janet and Spider-Man embrace briefly, and Spider-Man raises his mask half-way to give Janet a brotherly kiss. They vow to get together soon for an informal date (seriously, but with absolutely no inclination toward romance). Meanwhile, Spidey is due for dinner at Aunt May’s–and, come to think of it, he’s starving!

2016 POSTSCRIPT:  I wrote all this in 1984, and it’s probably been thirty years since I last re-read it.  The scripting is too wordy, which is a common problem for me, but (in the words of the great philosopher Popeye) I yam what I yam. But otherwise, I like the script okay. The plotting portion isn’t as bad as I remembered it; I don’t think I would have, like, bought it or anything if I were an editor, but it’s adequate, and a little better than my memory told me it was.
This was the only writing I ever submitted to Marvel. I also submitted a number of things to DC over the years, and this Marvel try-out was probably better than anything I ever sent to DC (which gives you an idea of the aroma wafting above my DC attempts). The closest I ever got with either company was around this same time frame, when DC returned several of my proposed plots, but kept one–a proposal for a World War II black superhero called The Trident–for further review. Nothing came of it, unless, I dunno, maybe they’re still reviewing it.
Say, if DC suddenly decides to do something with The Trident, maybe I can team him up with The Hooded Halibut. After all, The Hooded Halibut’s a free agent now.