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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:

PAGE 15
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!

PAGE 16
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–?

PAGE 17
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!
PAGE 18
1. PETER:  A bluff–it’s gotta be a bluff!

2. PETER:  The police would know!

3. TYPESET:  PHONE

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!
PAGE 19
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.