When robots began to rule the world circa 4,000 AD, the human race found themselves imperiled…  Fortunately, a hero was about to arise from the rank and file, prepared to punch his way to freedom!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Magnus, Robot Fighter #1 awaits!

MagnusRobotFighter1CoverMAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #1
Writer: Russ Manning
Penciler: Russ Manning
Inker: Russ Manning
Letterer: Typeset
Editor: Chase Craig
Publisher: Gold Key Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14,000.00

Previously in Magnus, Robot Fighter: Western Publishing, perhaps best known for their line of ‘Little Golden Books,’ got into the comics game early, and was a major figure in the field, scoring some of the most popular licensed properties of the time, including the Walt Disney cartoon characters, as well as dozens of cowboy, funny animal and action-adventure comics.  For years, their books were actually published by Dell Comics, whose existing distribution structures helped to keep Western’s profits high.  In 1962, they ended their partnership with Dell, launching the Gold Key line of comics, and giving a new title to Russ Manning, who had been their longtime Tarzan artist.  One of the first hints that we’re in a strange Silver Age Gold Key world comes with the first page of the story, a lovely splash by Manning which also summarizes the premise of our tale…

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Of all the old-school comics conceits that I miss, I think that the splash page is one of the saddest losses.  Even though the page real estate gets to be put to the service of more story, the opening splash always gave things a more literary feel, and often helped in comprehension of the contents.  Our story opens in North Am, a sprawling future Metropolis that is implied to cover the entire North American continent (hence the name), with ancient robot 1-A giving a final bit of tutelage to a most unusual student…

Magnus12The Pol-Rob’s orders go unheeded, as A-1 and Magnus make a run for it, kicking off a futuristic car chase scene.  1-A’s skill behind the wheel is more than enough for the task and (thanks to the radio receiver implanted in Magnus’ head that allows him to tune in to the Pol-Rob’s frequencies) they evade arrest, allowing Magnus to leap from the car into the city itself.  His chain mail toga doesn’t gain any attention, and Magnus goes on a quick tour of the city that reveals that humanity has turned over EVERYTHING to the robots, leaving them unable to create, think or take action against the robots.  He even witnesses a Pol-Rob attacking a young boy for reading a “forbidden” text, leading to a scuffle during which the rob is thrown to the ground.  Then, the jackbooted thugs enforcement robots arrive to arrest the kids, leading Magnus to take action for the first time…

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This page also showcases one of the most interesting parts of Magnus’ wardrobe, his white boots, very unusual for a 60s hero  Russ Manning was once interviewed as saying that this was unintentional, at first, as he left them uncolored with the expectation that they’d be a more traditional black or brown color, but no one followed-through.  Having made a decisive first strike against the robot hegemony, the Robot-Fighter has gotten the attention of the local Robo-Chief (not to be confused with a robo-chef, which makes one hell of a chicken tetrachloride), who sends out all his forces to ensnare Magnus.  At the same time, a young woman named Leeja is involved in a high-speed chase on the future freeway.  She’s pulled over just in time for Magnus to save her proverbial future bacon, allowing her to save his!

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The senator’s daughter and the freedom fighter quickly bond, and Leeja agrees to help Magnus find his way to the Central Rob (the shortening of words to indicate futuristic society wasn’t quite the cliché in 1963 that it is today, but it still grates on a reader after a few pages), and on the way, Magnus gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of his origin…

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It may be telling that, after years of creating Tarzan comics for Western/Dell/Gold Key, Manning has given Magnus a version of that hero’s origin, with a futuristic twist that replaces “raised by apes” with “raised by robots.”  Having found their way to the central headquarters of the robot overlords, Magnus has to find a way through their defenses.  Baiting a Pol-Rob into chasing him, he short-circuits it, and gets creative…

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Unfortunately, in order to keep Leeja from getting legitimately arrested, Magnus has to have his pet take her in to custody as well, and they are both taken to meet the Chief Pol-Rob of this hunk of North Am.  He immediately puts the lie to the law about robots never harming humans…

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H-8 (pronounced “hate”, which is either obviously brilliant or brilliantly obvious, I can’t decide which) reveals that he is perfectly capable of vindictiveness, even crowing that the humans who put him in charge never even question his decisions anymore, leaving him the latitude to become judge, jury and electric executioner for our would-be Robot Fighter.

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H-8 reveals that humanity slowly disappearing into their entertainments and robot servants is all in keeping with his plan, and reveals the true, horrifying evil about “extermination.”  Magnus and Leeja aren’t going to be killed…

…they’re gonna be MATRIXED.

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Magnus uses his control of Rob 5E5 to break free, and engages H-8 in combat, damaging the Chief with his steel-smashing hands.  Their battle is suddenly interrupted by a voice from the computer console…

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Magnus methodically takes H-8 apart with steel-shattering blows, delivering a killing blow to the rob’s neck, followed by a massive electrical burst from the computer.  Magnus is even able (with a little coaching) to save the humans trapped in the computer…

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Having succeeded in freeing one sector from the control of evil robots, Magnus has made great strides in his new life-quest in just one afternoon, which bodes well for his ongoing crusade.  The Gold Key version of his adventures ran through 1977, with a brief return in the 1980s before Western Publishing ceased their comic line.  This issue shows off the strengths of Russ Manning as an artist, with clever (but very much of the time) robot designs, and especially in the depictions of Leeja.  This issue also shows off the Gold Key trait of unlined panel borders and a more complex color palette than many of the other publishers of the time, which enhances Manning’s figure work and future landscapes.  All in all, Magnus, Robot Fighter #1 is kind of a master course in how to tell a lot of story in a little space (albeit 18 more pages than most of today’s single issues), earning a very impressive 4 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s easy to see why the character keeps getting revived and repeatedly rebooted, as there’s a lot of cool things to play with in Magnus’ world, all of which are on display even in this, his first appearance…

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #1

Writing
Art
Coloring

Remarkably fresh and clever, with excellent art, and some story elements that are way ahead of their time.

User Rating: 4.65 ( 1 votes)
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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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