Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Dojo Classics - Charlton's E-Man #4

E-Man Volume 2, Number 4 is dated August 1974 and was published by Chartlon Publications Inc. The editor is George Wildman and the cover was done by Joe Staton.

"City in the Sand" is written by Nick Cuti and drawn by Joe Staton. It begins in Egypt where Nova Kane is dancing to rave reviews in the Camel Club. She is especially appreciated because she incorporates native elements into her routine. After she's finished she meets a man named Kash Bogni in the street and he gives her a map to a Lost City just before he is knifed down. E-Man appears in the guise of the Great God Ra and defeats the two murderers. He and Nova then follow up on their mission which seems to have been undertaken in concert with the United States government to find the Lost City. They take Nova's Jeep into the desert and find the ruins of the Lost City which turns out to be fairly easy to find. The secret it seems lies in the center and they seek that out finding a tower which they ascend. Inside the tower they find anachronistic hi-tech equipment which they investigate and determine is a time machine intact but bereft of power. Since power is easy for Alec Tronn, the machine is soon active and they are transported into the past, into the heyday of the Lost City of Naab which is a technological marvel. They search the city finding many signs of a military nature and many hostile soldiers. Fearing for their safety they leave the city and find at an oasis an the hidden abode of Ramis the dethroned ruler of the people.

He tells Nova and E-Man that the people of this ancient "Egyptian" city are actually aliens from space and they used their technology to gain a foothold on the planet Earth. He says that a plague though has forced the people to isolate themselves from their own children (the seeming source of the plague) and consequently the children do not get the care they need making them ideal fodder for the Faro's war machine. Disguising themselves the three re-enter the city and go to a great bubble which houses the isolated children and as it turns out their pets too, furry critters called Bools. E-Man assumes the form of a child and investigates the interior of the bubble. Meanwhile Nova and Ramis are arrested. Nova and Ramis are brought before the Faro who announces they are to be executed. E-Man appears and stops the proceedings and announces to one and all that the Bools, or more specifically the fleas they carry are the actual source of the plague and that the children can be freed. The Faro then indicates he knew this all along, but preferred the status quo since it yielded a vast number of potential soldiers. But a Bool attacks him and infects the Faro is infected. Ramis retakes his throne and announces that the families of Naab will be reunited.

"E-Man!...The SF Comic Book of the Future." is a special letters page featuring one letter of commment from the science fiction magazine Fantastic Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, specifically the March 1974 issue edited by Ted White who gave permission for this letter to be reprinted. The letter was written by one Frank J. Hayes, III and gives an extended and exceedingly backhanded compliment to Charlton's E-Man comic saying that despite its many elements which will doubtless appeal to the unwitting masses, there is still much in the comic to appeal to true connoisseurs of true science fiction. The letter smacks a very snobby tone alas, but at least seems to suggest E-Man is among the very best of the garbage. Joe Staton's work as an artist for Ted White's magazine is noted.

"Killjoy" is the second installment of this Steve Ditko vehicle. It begins with Killer Ded in a gun battle demanding to be taken not alive but dead. Killjoy captures him alive, frustrating the villain. Then a mob of muggers gathers around a victim who is saved by Killjoy as the muggers attack each other. Killer Ded escapes prison. A robber named S.S.Snake plys his trade at a local business but is engaged and fought by Killjoy but escapes. Killer Ded is taken alive by Killjoy again. S.S.Snake attempts a mugging but is stopped by Killjoy again. At the same time Mr.Hart of the Foundation to Protect the Guilty from Justice bemoans that criminals are so mistreated and is joined by another wimpering man saying the same thing named Mr.Sole. Meanwhile Killer Ded is taken alive by Killjoy a few more times. Then a mob of criminals all having adopted super-villain identities having to do with diamonds (Diamond Head, King of Diamonds, Diamond Lady, Diamond X, etc.) attempt to rob a jeweler but only S.S.Snake gets the loot which turns out to be a booby trap. Snake is stopped once and for all by Killjoy. Killer Ded though escapes some more.

To read this story in its original form see this groovy link.

This story was reprinted under the Modern Comics label in 1978 and again in 1985 by First Comics and most recently E-Man - The Early Years.

After the previous story grounded in the somewhat depressing headlines of the time about energy shortages, this issue offers up a flight of fancy with time travel and exotic locations galore. The story has a light bounce to it as the action unfolds at a hectic pace. Why Nova is working with the government is unclear, and no one seems terribly concerned about it, so consequently it's not a matter the reader need dither over either.

There is a specifically anti-military message in this story as it is clearly implied that "good" soldiers are the result of misbegotten home lives. The time travel angle is a bit unclear since Nova and E-Man solve the problem of the plague, the eventually cause of Naab's collapse is not revealed. The alien nature of the people is intriguing and points to the theories in vogue at the time from Erich Von Daniken and others about the ancient astronauts. It's a clever hook for a story as many have discovered over the decades.

The humor of the series is beginning to develop a bit as Staton is doing a lot of small sight gags in the story. The translated posters of Faro are all pretty funny, spoofs of classic military recruitment posters. And the lair of Ramis at the oasis looked suspiciously like Plastic Man's goggles to me.

(Original artwork for this cover--note the number on the issue.)

Now this issue was originally intended to be the third installment. But the paper shortage caused a delay in publication in which time George Wildman pressed for a story more topical in its nature. Staton's art style is still in his slightly more whimsical mode at this time.

As for Ditko's Killjoy which ran in this issue and in issue #2, we have here vintage examples of undiluted Ditko. He expresses his Ayn Randian philosophy in raw form much like he was doing in his fanzine and prozine work of the time and later. Killjoy is fun but dense.

A grand issue of the series which is showing a quick maturity in tone and style.

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