Charlton Spotlight #6

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Okay, this is one mainly for the cultists, but what a treasure for those who've drunk the kool-aid! This issue of Charlton Spotlight features two long-lost comic stories by the redoubtable team of Nic Cuti and Joe Staton. In this issue, readers get an E-Man strip that has been unpublished since its completion in 1993 and a Mike Mauser story that was completed but never published in 1976.

Who? What? I hear many readers ask. What is this Charlton, who are these creators, and why should I care about these obscure characters?

You should care because, first of all, comics history is really interesting, and secondly because these stories are a lot of fun.

Charlton Spotlight is devoted to the memory of Charlton Comics, a long-lost publisher that was part of the comics industry, off and on, for something like 40 years. Despite its longevity, Charlton was always the smallest and less prestigious of the major comics publishers. Charlton paid their creators the lowest rates in the industry, and printed all comics in-house. This resulted in some poorly-printed comics that often featured mediocre stories. Consequently, aside from a couple of brief periods, Charlton was kind of the forgotten company among comics fans of those eras.

And yet there were many fine comics produced by creators at Charlton. The great Steve Ditko did some brilliant work for this small publisher. His famous tradeoff was poor pay for complete artistic freedom. Other great creators, such as the late, great Don Newton and the equally great Tom Sutton, did extensive work for the company. To that roster of fine creators you can add writer/artist Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton.

Around 1975, Cuti and Staton created a whimsical character called E-Man. E-Man had the power to stretch his body however he liked, and always seemed to find himself part of wacky adventures with his girlfriend, Nova Kane, at his side. The pair shared adventures for a ten issue run at Charlton, a 25 issue run at First Comics in the 1980s, and frequent revivals since.

Frequently paired with E-Man and Nova is hardboiled private eye Mike Mauser. Mauser may be bespectacled and diminutive – he probably stands about five feet tall, if that – but he makes up for his size with his hardboiled and aggressive personal style.

Editor Mike Ambrose has successfully unearthed a previously unpublished tale of each of our fighting heroes and presents them as the lead stories in his Charlton fanzine. These aren't the greatest comics stories ever published, but they are entertaining and charming, and fill in gaps in any Charlton collector's collection.

The first story, "Future Tense" is literally a Time Machine story featuring E-Man and Nova. I say it's literally a time machine story because the story centers on events and characters from H.G. Wells's classic novel. We revisit Harrison Travers from the book and see him traverse time to the far future, where we witness the never-ending battle between the Eloi and Morlocks.

The story features a few charming jokes and some entertaining super-hero action. Joe Staton's artwork is very nice in a calm, sort of understated manner but which has real power when you look at it closely. In fact, those are probably the best words to use for this story. It's kind of calm and understated but has a really nice power and moral undercurrent to it.

The Mauser story is more vintage and more energetic. In it, Mike Mauser finds himself in the middle of an attempt to overthrow a gangster's protection racket. Staton's linework here is bolder than his work in the newer story, featuring more thick lines than the E-Man story, as well as a slashing and dramatic arrangement of panels. The story is also more dynamic, filled with car crashes, piranhas, and more than a few deaths. It also features a rather downbeat ending, which I found surprising and rather refreshing.

The rest of this issue features a slew of Charlton treasures. Ambrose presents a spate of unpublished Charlton comics, pin-ups, cartoons and more. It's a fun and informal way to learn more about the history of this unique and obscure company.

Mike Ambrose set himself the mission of unearthing obscure and interesting Charlton comics; in this issue he's succeeded in spades. This is a real treasure for anyone with an interest in the Charlton line of comics.

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