N-Man: The Origin & Secret Files!
Comrade Cockroach gets the jump — temporarily! — on N-Man! N-Man™ and Comrade Cockroach™ & art © 1993, 2008 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved.
N-Man: The Secret Files
N-Man was originally co-created by Stephen R. Bissette for the Image Comics series ‘1963′ (1993); N-Man, Comrade Cockroach, Sally Stevens and all related characters and concepts are © and TM Stephen R. Bissette, per contractual arrangement with the original co-creator; all rights reserved. Unless otherwise specified, all art is ©1992, 1993, 2009 SR Bissette, all rights reserved.
Portrait of N-Man:
[N-Man sketch from the collection of Tom Fields; artwork ©1998, 2009 Stephen R. Bissette, N-Man © and TM Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved.]
The Origin of N-Man:
IN a top-secret Antarctic military research station, the high-security government research team led by Dr. Will Chambers has made an incredible discovery: a gigantic prehistoric TRILOBITE, an ancient shellfish, trapped in the polar ice!
More surprising still is Chambers’ discovery, while carbon-dating the ice around the frozen creature, that the trilobite specimen itself is radioactive — and that it most likely survived and thrived in the wake of some primordial catastrophe of unknown origin.
With his scientific team composed of Dr. Alexis Lesz and Chambers’ female assistant Dr. Sally Stevens, Chambers begins a series of tests with the still-frozen prehistoric lifeform, bombarding it with massive bursts of escalating radiation. The specimen seems able to absorb any and all quantities without ill effect, and in fact begins to show signs of awakening from its eons of slumber!
Unknown to either Chambers or Stevens, Dr. Lesz has harbored a deep and abiding professional animosity toward Chambers — and sees Chambers as a rival for Stevens’ affections (though she, of course, feels nothing of the sort toward Lesz). This simmering hatred flares into betrayal when Lesz locks Chambers into the test chamber with the irradiated trilobite specimen, and bombards the chamber — along with the now-imprisoned Chambers and the thawing trilobite specimen — with incredible, nuclear-weapon-detonation-levels of radiation in a single, concentrated burst!
This sets off a nuclear chain-reaction, like the meltdown of a nuclear reactor core, which sends Dr. Stevens and the badly-burned Dr. Lesz fleeing into the sub-arctic temperatures.
Miraculously, Chambers survives the nuclear reaction, and rescues both Stevens and Lesz… though they do not recognize him as Chambers.
He has become a man-monster — Chambers has been forever transformed by the event, into a powerful fusion of man and sea creature: The N-Man!
Chambers’ flesh has become an almost impenetrable exo-skeleton, burned red like a cooked lobster, but he is still the scientist the military entrusted with its most vital secrets, and the man that Dr. Stevens had come to love.
[Note: the trilobite seems to be gone -- but it was not forgotten! It reappeared in an unexpected new form later in the Silver Age series!]
How N-Man Got His Name: The Origin, Continued!
Comrade Cockroach and N-Man as they appeared in the classic story “Showdown in the Shimmering Zone” — N-Man™ and Comrade Cockroach™ & art © 1993, 2008 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved.
No, N-Man is not an abbreviation for ‘Nuclear Man,’ though N-Man is happy to let the public at large believe such is the case.
His partner in the original experiments that led to his transformation was Dr. Alexis Lesz, Dr. Chambers’ friend who turns out to be his deadliest rival (and who subsequently sells the top-secret documents from Chambers’ experiments to Russian operative Grigor Kokarovitch).
At the point when Lesz locks Chambers into the test cell where the revived trilobite is to be bombarded with massive doses of radiation, Lesz lectures the desperate Chambers:
“You perhaps recall during our university studies, the tale of one French physicist named RENE-PROSPER BLONDOT, yes? At the dawn of the 20th Century, while other scientists — REAL scientists! — busied themselves with the discovery and exploration of X-rays, beta rays, alpha rays and gamma rays, Blondot announced that he — HE alone! — had discovered N-rays!
“Blondot claimed his N-rays were the most important of ALL rays in nature — that they were EVERYWHERE, radiating from ALL THINGS, animate and inanimate! He and his acolytes even claimed N-rays emitted from HUMAN BEINGS! That they made it easier to SEE IN THE DARK! Nonsense, all of it!
“The fools! THERE WERE NO N-RAYS! Blondot’s crackpot theories were proven FALSE, and he was DISCREDITED, stripped of his station — as YOU should be, Chambers!
“You are a liar and a cheat, Chambers! Everything you claim as your own was stolen from years of hard work of people like ME!
“Your claims to science are as false as those made by Blondot, half a century ago! Your so-called discoveries are as meaningless and false as the N-rays — they were NOTHING! You are NOTHING! You are — the N-Man!
“Now — DIE like the idiot you are, in this idiot bug-trap of your own devising! DIE, N-MAN, DIE!!!”
But N-Man did not die…
The published splash page to “Showdown in the Shimmering Zone”; N-Man™ & art © 1993, 2008 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved.
Dr. Chambers — N-Man — lived on!
Introduced in an odd, eclectic series of initially unrelated stories in the late 1940s and ’50s, N-Man gradually became a favorite comic book character during the post-1954 collapse of the comic book marketplace and the Silver Age of the late ’50s and ’60s. His earliest appearances — in a ‘romance comic’ title in 1953, a post-Comics Code science-fiction title in 1955 and ’56 — are highly sought-after collectibles today, pieces of the puzzle in N-Man’s origin, which was at last codified in 1961. That was the year N-Man was relaunched in his own title, and the character earned his greatest popularity.
Among the classic N-Man stories from the character’s heyday is “Showdown in the Shimmering Zone!,” which offered N-Man’s eighth showdown with Grigor Kokarovitch aka Comrade Cockroach. That same summer, N-Man was featured in his first-ever reprint ‘Giant Annual,’ collecting a number of his various 1950s incarnations and a new version of his origin story (synopsis above) that attempted to wrap up all the previously fragmented appearances into a coherent whole. A later origin story was crafted in 1969, patterned closely on the 1963 Giant Annual origin story; since both stories are essentially identical in all but minor elements, the origin archived above remains the ‘official story.
N-Man: Team Player?
The N-Man Crossovers
The Tomorrow Syndicate cover art by Rick Veitch; The Tomorrow Syndicate™ is ™ & © 1993, 2008 *** [name removed by request] and Rick Veitch, all rights reserved.)
By 1963, the character had come into his own as the star of two comics series and occasional cross-overs into the other comics from the same publisher. These found N-Man delineated by a number of cartoonists, resulting in sometimes bizarre anatomical ‘revamps’ of the character, though the version by ‘Sturdy Steve Bissette’ is considered the classic version.
Many of these crossover adventures expanded the character’s orientation beyond the science-fiction trappings of his solo series, though he was never a comfortable fit with traditional super-hero formulas. The most popular of all the crossovers were those teaming N-Man with the Fury; since both characters were loners by nature, the sparks that flew when they joined forces always proved entertaining.
A cult following for the bizarre N-Man/Hypernaut team-up stories has emerged of late, though (judging by the letters pages) fans despised them in their time. These stories involved the occasional transformation of N-Man into wildly different forms, including a multi-color N-Man and the ‘inside-out’ N-Man! One of these Hypernaut crossovers also featured N-Man’s love interest, Dr. Sally Stevens, being abducted by the same aliens who had created the Hypernaut. The implication she had been impregnated during her abduction was nipped in the bud (by either the publisher or the Comics Code; fan opinion is divided, and no material proof has emerged to settle the debate), but N-Man was himself ‘impregnated’ by crustacean lifeforms from a distant planet in the most disturbing of all Silver Age N-Man stories, “The Whispering Womb.”
By 1970, N-Man’s adventures with an enigmatic being known only as Lo!™ shifted the character’s adventures into a fresh direction, eventually resulting in an increasingly radical mutation of N-Man’s ‘look’ and design that went even further than those of the Hypernaut crossover stories. These culminated in the multi-chapter “The Dawning of… The Cetaceous!” This epic saga moved the series and character into an entirely new (invented) era in Earth history. But it’s the classic Silver Age N-Man that fans still celebrate! [Note: Lo!™ is ™ & © 1976, 2008 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved.]
The Silver Age team appearances of N-Man included the popular series The Tomorrow Syndicate, the first of two superhero teams N-Man was part of. As noted, depending on the style of the cartoonist drawing N-Man, his physiology changed from series to series: cartoonist Rick Veitch rendered N-Man as a lanky, Jimmy-Stewart-like version of his solo series self, while others beefed him up to monstrous proportions or made him appear like a doughy, muscular brute wearing armor. Nowhere were these variations more apparent than in the team superhero titles, which eventually marginalized N-Man from their adventures altogether. Given the apocalyptic extremes of N-Man’s surviving 1970s title, that was for the better, eliminating ongoing continuity confusions between the staid Silver Age version of the character in the team books and the far more adventurous and increasingly experimental extremes of his solo-title incarnation.
Three decades later, Image Comics co-founder and creator Jim Valentino brought back the classical Silver Age Tomorrow Syndicate for a guest shot in Shadowhawk #14 (October, 1994), “The Monster Within” Part Three: “I’d Rather Be In 1963,” which was (to date) the final appearance of the team and of the Silver Age N-Man. [Note: The Tomorrow Syndicate™ is ™ & © 1993, 2008 *** [name removed by request] and Rick Veitch, all rights reserved; Shadowhawk™ is ™ & © 1992, 1994, 2008 Jim Valentino, all rights reserved..]
The cover for the historic MoCCA Art Fest 2010 N-Man relaunch: Tales of the Uncanny – N-Man & Friends: A Naut Comics History, Volume 1 Preview Edition (a 16-page booklet). This painting was completed in 1999 for the private art collection of a world-famous animator; Tales of the Uncanny title, N-Man, Comrade Cockroach, this image and characters © and TM 1993, 1999, 2010 SR Bissette, all rights reserved.
N-Man: The Secret Files!
The N-Man Model Kit! — Secret Silver Age Licensing and Merchandizing Revealed!
THIS IS IT! The rare N-Man model kit box art!
This one-of-a-kind item is from the collection of Dr. Michael Ryan, and appears here with his permission, ‘touched up’ for optimum archival reproduction by Peter Von Sholly, who was in on the warehouse rediscovery with Dr. Ryan (note that this artwork is © Peter Von Sholly and S.R. Bissette; N-Man™ & © 1993, 2008 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved).
Yes! It’s true!
There was an N-Man model kit!
This amazing warehouse find proves it!
Among the vagaries of the unusual publishing history of the N-Man character is the fact that a number of licensed products were to be released in 1963-66, though no evidence has ever been found of the products getting beyond the prototype stage — UNTIL NOW!
This is the first evidence that any N-Man merchandise actually ever existed. Market tests of N-Man coloring books were reportedly conducted in the midwest at a 5-and-10 chain store, but no copies of the coloring books themselves have ever turned up.
There were also rumors of N-Man decals, N-Man bath toys, N-Man ‘soap on a rope,’ and N-Man night lights, though again, no actual manufactured merchandize has ever come to light.
In 1998, office renovations in what had been the publisher’s former accounting firm turned up contracts and documents verifying that agreements had been signed with at least a dozen firms to create such items, but there were no prototypes found amongst these documents — only drawings and sketches of potential designs.
Though none of the manufactured licensed N-Man toys made it to store shelves in the early 1960s, this super-rare N-Man model kit — complete in the box! — was recently discovered in a warehouse find by collectors Michael Ryan and Peter Von Sholly.
They rescued a handful of the kits before a warehouse fire (suspected arson) claimed everything left behind in the crumbling structure.
Could there be more? Only time will tell!
N-Man: The Secret Files!
The Conception of Comrade Cockroach!
Grigor Kokarovitch aka Comrade Cockroach remains the most popular nemesis of N-Man, having confronted our intrepid hero over five dozen times through the decades.
Truly a villain for all seasons (and political arenas), Comrade Cockroach may be a fossil of the Cold War era, but as we all know, the Cold War never ends. It just heats up from time to time, and may ultimately end up to be the true Ice Age for mankind (a process Comrade Cockroach has tried to speed up no less than three times!).
It’s interesting to note that Comrade Cockroach’s basic design actually emerged from N-Man original design sessions — see the N-Man design sketches at the top of this page, then let your eye scope out the archival retrospective sketches below:
Note: If you are interested in licensing The Fury, The Hypernaut or N-Man, or any of their various shared concepts or characters, click this link to visit the Hollywood Comics website!