Thursday, March 15, 2012

Magnus: Robot fiction superhero

Dig if you will a picture...

A science fiction version of Tarzan. 
Magnus: Robot Fighter was the comic book creation of legendary artist and writer, Russ Manning for that venerable old comics company, Gold Key.   The comics series took place in the year 4000 in a mega-city known only as North Am...but it's pretty easy to get an idea of where it is at just by the name.  As for the rest of the world, Japan is also one solid city that is home to 50 billion souls and run by an almighty computer.  Antarctica has its own city named Antarctico by that point...a nod to my short story Nothing Left But the Cockroaches.  Not really, but I wish.

More than anything, humanity has become dependent upon robots in order to get by.  Eventually, a powerful and iniquitous robot designated as H8 takes totalitarian control of world.
Yet there is one robot who quietly resists.  This robot has the designation of 1A, meaning he was the robot of his kind ever to be manufactured.  He was self-aware and a believer in Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.  He also didn't care much for H8. 
From his domed base beneath the sea, 1A raised a human infant named Magnus.  As the boy's adopted "father," 1A trained Magnus to become a master martial artist.  Not only that but Magnus had the near superhuman ability to punch his bare hands through solid steel.  Magnus was a robot-killer...and the last, best hope for humanity.  The once small child who was raised by robots would become the robots' undoing.  Adventures ensued.  Robots were crushed by human skill and tenacity.

That was Gold Key's run.  However, my first-ever exposure to Magnus came when Valiant Comics, Jim Shooter's long defunct company, bought the rights and started their own series with the character in 1991.  I was giving Valiant a try and the science fiction aspects of Magnus really appealed to me.  From what I am given to know, the Valiant series picked up right where the Gold Key one left off, keeping the major support characters such as 1A, Leeja Clane who was Magnus' girlfriend and eventual wife, H8, and many more.  Valiant also wove in their other characters such as Turok, Son of Stone.  Or was it Turok: Dinosaur Hunter by then?  I can't remember. 

With Jim Shooter and eventually John Ostrander writing, the Valiant version of Magnus seemed to (I think) retain the fun feel of the original series while introducing its own concepts.  There was the notion of the "freewills," robots who eventually evolved into human-like consciousness and awareness.  The Valiant series also gave Magnus one very important item: pants.
You see, Magnus had spent most of his existence running around in a sort of tunic/skirt combo and white boots.  Issue #25 not only gave Magnus a full set of clothes but also a suit of armor, something badly needed for a man in constant combat with metal machines.  Even if his skin is hard enough to punch through robot steel, a guy could probably stand to have a pair of pants on while he's fighting.  If you look in the quarter or dollar bins of your local comics shop, you might come across a copy of Issue 25.  You can't miss it.  It has one of those hideous, embossed, silver chrome covers that were all the rage back in the early 90s thanks to Marvel and Image.  On the plus side, that issue did also grant Magnus a cool-looking robotic pterodactyl sidekick.

Unfortunately, I lost touch with Magnus somewhere around 1994.  There were crossovers such as Unity and Deathmate but I really didn't pay that much attention.  There was also the obligatory Magnus vs. Predator storyline as it seemed everybody in the 90s had to fight Predator.  Personally, I was waiting for the Ahab Pope vs. Predator series...which would ultimately culminate with a drinking match between Ahab and the Predator, an alcoholic deathmatch in which the Predator would have no prayer.  But I digress...

I hear that Dark Horse comics resurrected Magnus.  Maybe I'll check that out as I truly do enjoy the character, the setting, and the science fiction premise.  Until then, I'll just keep gathering up old Valiant issues.

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