Saturday, May 24, 2014

Everybody Was Robot Fighting!


Now that was indeed satisfying. I've at long last been able to read all of Russ Manning's stunning Magnus Robot Fighter comics from Gold Key. Manning had been like most the capable staff at Gold Key a reliable and sturdy artist, first on Brothers of the Spear in the back pages of Tarzan and later on the Tarzan feature itself. In between these gigs he produced one of the most striking and memorable comics of the sizzling 60's. Magnus was an adventure comic in the spirit of the times, forward looking but blended with skepticism about the nature of mainstream society.


Magnus appears from nowhere (a problem for him in later stories when the authorities seek to restrict his behavior), the prodigal son of A-1, a benign robot who sees that mankind has become too dependent on the robots who serve their every need and whim. Magnus is given training specially designed to allow him to demolish his potential metal opponents and the ability to understand the subtle electronic communications between robots. This hidden talent is most useful to him and the one secret  he guards most zealously, even from his paramour the gorgeous Leeja Clane.

Magnus saves North Am, the immense sprawling city-state which occupies all of what is the current United States and more. From the tallest most sleek towers to the darkest alleys in the depths of the society he finds enemies and allies and most importantly adventure, lots and lots of adventure.


Magnus battles aliens from the depths of space, troglodytes from the depths of the Earth, and depraved and sometimes insane men from the bowels of the society of 4000 A.D. The most frequent foe is Xyrkol, a maniac who hatches several schemes to take control of North Am, but he is always stopped by Magnus, though he always seems to turn up again. Also there's Dr.Laszlo Noel who hates robots and their influence on society even more than Magnus and takes extreme steps to eradicate the problem. Mekman shows up a few times, a deranged but dangerous fellow who imagines himself to be a robot. There are treacherous alien threats from Sirius and even a remote robot planet called Malev-6.

Magnus fights giant robots, tiny robots, indestructible robots, police robots, criminal robots, homemade robots, handsome robots, ugly robots, and even magical robots. Always Magnus with help of Leeja and his sometimes helpers The Outsiders wins the day.


The Outsiders are a gang of boys who want to emulate Magnus and figure in several of the stories. Another recurring item are the neo-animals. These are hyper-intelligent creatures (dogs, apes, raccoons, etc.) created by a lovely woman named Danae. One of these critters even gets the power to speak thanks to some special technology. Then there are the Gophs (as in "gophers"), the people who live in the remote depths of North Am and who challenge the rule of the "Cloud-Cloddies" of the upper reaches. This fracture in North Am society is not much developed in these original Manning stories, but does form a potent angle for Jim Shooter's Valiant revival.


Manning's artwork is uniformly superb throughout the series, his sleek and modern style ideal for this futuristic "Tarzan". Even the fact Magnus wears a tunic with fabulously white boots somehow works.

The saga of Magnus is not some sprawling extended story in the modern sense. Each issue is self-contained, each story has a distinct beginning, middle and end. But the stories do have memory and in the later installments there's an increased sense of a connected quality. Each installment takes you to another part of North Am, spreading the story from coast to coast. It's hard to remember that these stories of a largely contented populace is the dream of society. But there's always the threat to individuality and the interconnected nature of the society often makes it vulnerable to sabotage.


As I was reading I kept thinking how the world of North Am echoes our own modern world. While the robots which serve us are in the form of handheld communicators and even the desktop wizardry which allows me to type these words, among other things, the sense that society has fallen victim to its own success is familiar. Magnus would see many aspects of North Am in modern America, a shallow population increasingly reliant on technology to live what is deemed a civilized life. Threats to communication, food production, and even our own reproductive capacities are changing as man's ability to use technology gives opportunity and forces decisions. Magnus Robot Fighter is not primarily a cautionary tale for our times, but it is certainly that too.

Here are the covers for Russ Manning's outstanding run.

Russ Manning and George Wilson
George Wilson
Russ Manning
George Wilson
Russ Manning
Russ Manning
George Wilson
George Wilson
George Wilson
George Wilson
George Wilson
George Wilson
George Wilson
Vic Prezio
Vic Prezio
Vic Prezio
Vic Prezio
Vic Prezio
Vic Prezio
George Wilson
Vic Prezio
And here are the handsome and thrifty trades which allowed me finally enjoy this saga.




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5 comments:

  1. Russ Manning
    The Artist
    Maybe old school to todays readers
    Yet how can you ignore the Beauty?
    Your Blog Is Everyday GO TO READ
    All The Best,
    -Sam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beauty and elegance are the words that come to mind.

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  2. Russ Manning's art is great! I became a fan during the Valiant years but the Gold Key stories and art are the best. I wonder if Manning was an influence on Steve Rude of Nexus fame?

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    Replies
    1. Manning did indeed influence Rude, who supplies a forward to the third edition of reprints I think.

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  3. These are great, great stories. I haven't picked up Volume 3 yet, but looking forward to reading it.

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