As a child of the 70s, I grew up primarily reading DC Comics, with Marvel coming in second, followed by some Archie and Harvey with a mere smattering of Gold Key, Fawcett and Charlton. There was just something that felt to me... substandard... about most of the smaller companies’ output, they didn’t have the four color wallop of DC and Marvel.
One big exception was Charlton’s E-MAN, a truly groovy superhero comic that premiered in 1973. Created by writer Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton, E-man was a parcel of pure energy that wandered the universe for thousands of years before settling on Earth, in a lightbulb in the dressing room of exotic dancer Nova Kane.
You heard me right. A superhero comic where the female lead was a buxom, red-headed stripper with the nom de plume of Nova Kane (her first line in #1: “It’s going to feel good to get into clothes”).
... Where was I? Oh, right. Anyway, the energy makes Nova smash the lightbulb with her high heel and upon release, takes human form (it can assume any form of energy or matter, which is convenient), fashioning an orange and yellow costume with Albert Einstein’s E=MC2 equation as his chest symbol (which musta’ been a pain to draw in every panel). E-Man’s chosen alter ego? Why, Alec Tronn, of course.
E-Man often played like a more cosmic Plastic Man, fashioning utilitarian tools from his limbs, battling otherworldly giant brains, underwater despots and omnipotent farmer’s daughters. It was a truly weird combination of sci-fi, superheroics and oh, yeah, sex. Implied, to be sure, but E-Man featured more sexuality than any other superhero comic of its time. In issue #2, Nova’s making toast while wearing jeans and an open purple vest... and that’s it. And yet the comics code approved!
In #8, an erupting underground sun (!?!) turned Nova into an energy being herself, and the comic lost something after that (it was cancelled two issues later, but had some revivals at different companies in the 80s and 90s). Still, coupled with some bizarre backup features like Killjoy by the batty Ayn Rand accolyte Steve Ditko, E-Man was a comic unlike any other in the 70s.
Here’s the covers to E-MAN #1 (Oct. 1973) and #2 (Dec., 1973) both by Joe Staton.