And thus, while Magnus has been championed by failed publisher after failed publisher, his comic, itself, has rarely been anything other than a success. While much of the premise and characterization have changed over the years, it's a known given in the universe that a new Magnus title pops up at least once per decade, and it's usually well worth the read.
However, most incarnations of Magnus have made little attempt to be deep/complex. They're fun and high quality exercises in big imagination and simple execution. Thus, this reviews thread will be structured differently than the ones I have done before. Rather than reviewing each individual Magnus issue ever published, I intend to write one review for each era of Magnus comics, summarizing the highs, lows, and general characteristics of said era.
As of now, the plan is to write 15 total reviews. They will encompass:
For the purposes of this thread, an "Era" is a range of comics, sharing a basic premise, that still exists in the same universe as the original Russ Manning stories, whereas a "Reboot" pays homage to the original stories but does not exist in the same universe as them.
The Russ Manning Era Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 AD (1963) #1-21 1963-1968
It's easy to look back now on a 21 issue run and assume it was a blip on the radar of the comic book world. But when you consider that this was a quarterly publication which began before anyone had ever uttered the words "Make mine Marvel!" and was still selling nearly 400,000 copies an issue while Marvel was in its late 1960s heyday, it's clear that this series had staying power.
On the surface, the clear selling point of the series is the artistic vision of Russ Manning. Not only are his pencils incredibly strong and vibrant, but his overall vision for the continent spanning North Am of 4000 AD is simply breath-taking and, while clearly inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Manning's interpretation had legs all its own and an influence that endures in comics to this day (heck, I'm reading Scott McCloud's "Zot!" right now).
But, in addition to being a breath-taking visual, North Am was, in essence, the true protagonist of the series -- the complex character that kept you coming back, quarter after quarter. While Magnus was the flat every-hero we expect of the time period, North Am was an enormously complex world of beauty and darkness, as well as an incredibly sophisticated vision of the future, offering both an idyllic future and a dangerous warning about human complacency in a world of luxury, while most sci-fi fare of the time period was more concerned with rockets, laser beams, and invading aliens (though, to be fair, Magnus touched upon each of these at times).
Additionally, while the first few issues feel a bit generic and repetitive, the series does gradually evolve, bringing back recurring villains (the generally uninteresting and over-used Xrykol, the hippie/darwinist/terrorist Dr. Laszlo Noel, the menacing machine planet Malev 6, and the brilliant, terrifying, and yet somehow adorable Mekman), recurring supporting cast members (Leeja and Senator Claine, M'Ree, Danae and her neopets, and The Outsiders), an increasing effort to present racial and gender diversity in the cast (progressive for the mid 1960s!), and increasingly elaborate and imaginative plots that, while usually absurdly illogical, were incredibly fun to follow and always visually brilliant.
There are problems with the series, to be sure, not the least of which are how poorly it follows its own tenants that it lays down in the first issue. Magnus makes it clear that his dual purposes are to hunt down rogue robots in North Am that secretly act on their own accord and pose a danger to humanity as a result (yet, after the first issue, exactly ONE of the villains he faces fits this description; the rest are human or alien), and to convince North Am that it needs to become more self-reliant (yet, even after clearly befriending a high ranking senator, Magnus makes absolutely no effort to broadcast his opinions or change anyone's minds until way late into the series, just using his free time to date Leeja and attend events with her senator father). Additionally, we're never told where Magnus lives/sleeps during this time (we know he's no longer living with his robot mentor and almost always see him at the Claine residence, but that seems awfully "progressive" of Leeja's father), nor why he focuses exclusively on protecting North Am and why (with the exception of issue #20) every single threat to humanity in the year 4000 coincidentally occurs in North Am.
Russ Manning is generally credited with creating the series, but the letter column of #14 credits editor in chief Chaise Craig with the basic premise. Manning himself has confirmed that the most basic concepts of the series were Craig's but the overall traits of 4000 AD, as well as Magnus' method of combating robots, came from Manning (and sometimes his wife). Additionally, there's no doubt that the visual look of North Am came from Manning and that Manning also scripted most of the more notable issues. However, he did not script the issues introducing Xyrkol (#3) nor Dr. Noel (#13).
Additionally, Magnus #10 features a piece of fan art submitted by a young Walt Simonson.
Worthwhile to read?:
Absolutely. There are many brilliant issues, and even the duller/more generic ones still make for fantastic eye candy and give us a little more precious time in the amazing world of Russ Manning's 4000 AD.
#1: A solid first outing and origin story.
#2: First appearance of Mekman
#3: The first time serious damage is dealt to North Am. Makes for a far more intense story. This also marks the first appearance of Xyrkol, Magnus' first (and most frequently) recurring villain.
#4: First and only time Magnus fights a rogue North Am robot after issue #1 (wasn't that the premise of the entire series)? Also one touching moment of frustration/grief for Magnus as he fails to stop the deaths of a number of people.
#5: A truly intense and brilliant antagonist, and the stakes are raised once again as North Am is actually taken over. Additionally, the second to last page includes the most striking coloring decision I've ever seen in a silver age comic book.
#7: a virus that spreads murderous insanity to all nearby robots, North Am facing a quarantine crisis, the introduction of the Gophs, the introduction and origin of the machine planet Malev 6, and one heck of a climax.
#8: First appearance of The Outsiders
#9: Great action, and one of Magnus' more clever last minute solutions.
#11: Mekman becomes Magnus' most lovable villain. Amazing characterization.
#13: First appearance of Dr. Laszlo Noel.
#14: Takes an absurd sci-fi premise and then develops it quite thoughtfully.
#15: Probably the most out-there, wildly creative issue of the run.
#18-19: The only multi-part story arc in the run, though it divides neatly into two self-contained chapters. Magnus is on the run from the law, and the climax in #19, as well as the reintroduction of IA (who has only appeared TWICE in the series prior to this point) is fantastic. Manning imbues 1A with such rich characterization here.
#20: The first and only time we're taken to another part of the world outside of North Am. Himalhina proves to be a compelling backdrop, every bit as compelling, both visually and in personality, as North Am.
#21: Not a great issue, but it provides a sort of bookend to the series as Magnus begins to see evidence that his mission has been a success, with humanity beginning to root against its dependency on robots by the climax, even if if does so from the luxury and comfort of its recliners and video screens.
Yes. This is Sci-Fi guilty pleasure reading at its best!
The Post Russ Manning Era Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 AD (1963) #22-46 1968-1977
Following Russ Manning's seemingly abrupt departure from the title, Gold Key/Western maintained it's publishing schedule by releasing a reprint of the first issue in #22 and then passing the series off to other creative talents. Paul Neary drew issues #24-28 with reasonable competence but little finesse, while the writers remain mostly anonymous, with the GCD only comfortable in crediting Richard Kyle for #24, and inker Mike Royer with the writing chores for #28 (#23, 25, 26, and 27 remain unknown). For whatever reason, the series then reverts to reprints with issue #29, sometimes even reprinting the non-Manning issues.
Though these issues fare better than you might expect for fill-in talent (the original #1-21 run had three other writers besides Manning. Why didn't they contribute?), most of the wonder of the Manning Era stories came from their being centered on striking visuals and innovative science fiction concepts. However, these stories are more plot centered, with few striking visuals and more lackluster science fiction concepts overall. Additionally, without Manning's art, 4000 AD just isn't that fun a place to hang around in anymore.
These aren't bad stories, and they're mostly good at maintaining continuity with the Manning issues, bringing back notable support characters like The Outsiders, Spikey the kid inventor, Timbuk, IA, and even Dr. Noel and Malev 6. If you're desperate for more Gold Key Magnus once you've re-read the first 21 issues a billion times, you could do worse than these. But don't expect the flare, imagination, and wonder of the original 21 issues stretch.
The back-up story, "The Aliens" does continue into these issues (dropping off abruptly after #28), but the series was already long past its prime by this point. The story arc initiated at the end of the Manning run culminates in #22 (the reprint issue), and the series then leaps from one convenient new threat to the next after that in a desperate gamble to keep the series going. It's truly not worth reading.
According to scripter Richard Kyle, Russ Manning was originally intended to remain on the title through #24 (the return and destruction of Malev 6 was intended to be his big final story), but the increasing demands from his work on Tarzan necessitated his leaving the title early.
Worthwhile to read?:
It wouldn't hurt, and (as I'll point out in the next section) #24 is an important read even if you skip the rest.
#23 features art by Dan Spiegle (though it isn't particularly impressive).
#24 is the only issue from this era that affects later Valiant continuity. It also presents the (semi) final fates of both Malev 6 and Dr. Noel. Finally, it's the only Paul Neary issue where I find the art at all striking. Uncharacteristically continuity-driven issue.
#25 gives us a glimpse of several other continents on the Earth of 4000 AD, but they're wasted opportunities. Nothing much to see.
#27 features a semi-interesting series of visual concepts in the floating island of Pacifica.
#28 provides a striking premise in which Magnus is forced to fight and destroy 1A (but he gets better). Not a great execution, unfortunately.
I can see myself returning to #24 on a regular basis as it almost reaches the quality of the better Russ Manning stories. #27 offered some fun imaginative visuals, so I might return to it for that reason as well. Otherwise, only if I'm truly hungering for early Magnus and have read the Manning Era stuff to death.
Whitman: The Era that Almost Was Doctor Solar (1981) #29-31 1981
In 1981, Western Publishing attempted to relaunch its classic titles to a new generation of readers. Magnus, as re-envisioned by writer Roger McKenzie and artist Frank Bolle, began as a ten page back-up feature in the relaunched Doctor Solar title with plans to move to a title all his own. However, the relaunch collapsed before this could happen. In the end, McKenzie and Bolle's Magnus received only three backup stories before things fizzled (though, rumor has it, the first two issues of the new Magnus series were completed but never published). And yet, in only three ten page backup stories, Mckenzie and Bolle did enough to make me truly sorry this series didn't get an opportunity to prove itself.
Perhaps learning the lesson from the post-Manning Gold Key issues, McKenzie and Bolle didn't try to emulate Manning's approach to the series. Instead, they gave attention to the aspects of the premise that were lacking and invited more exploration in the original run. This Magnus is far more focused on the mission laid out in the character's first appearance to track down rogue robots and diminish man's dependency upon others. In fact, the first back-up story finally resolves the seeming paradox in Magnus having been raised by a robot (who he feels closer to than any human being), making Magnus a deeper, more compelling character in the process.
And, where McKenzie fleshes out characterization, Bolle works hard to enhance the visuals of Magnus' world. Though no one was ever going to outdo Manning's vision of 4000 AD cityscapes, Bolle does see opportunity in creating a wider and more compelling array of looks for robots (both service and rogue) as well as in reinventing Magnus' look (ditching the skirt and giving him more of a Lee Majors Six Million Dollar Man getup). To be fair, Bolle's artwork is inconsistent and often not pleasant to look at in those first two issues, but it becomes a lot more sure of itself in the third, and his visual concepts are strong throughout.
Finally, the team provides us with our first ever origin story for Magnus, a recurring villain (the mysterious organization known as the "Conclave," from which rogue robots and robots posing as humans take their orders), and a somewhat more insidious look at the world of 4000 AD (while most of the details/examples of man depending upon humans are lifted straight from the Manning stories, McKenzie and Bolland add the troubling detail of robots preventing humans from going to libraries in order to learn/think for themselves anymore). All that was laid out pointed to the idea that the "conclave" was casting a tremendous influence across North Am in an effort to raise robots above mankind, and was likely intended by this creative team as an answer to that troubling foreshadow in Manning's first issue where Magnus is informed that there are many evil rogue robots out there, undetected by the masses.
In short, this series was clearly the beneficiary of a lot of thought/passion, and was respectful of the original run while also attempting to take it to new levels. McKenzie seemed to have a clearer sense of who Magnus was than Manning ever did, and Bolle's pencils improved quickly across those three issues, while his visual concepts were fun and also the recipients of much thought. Do I like Magnus' new costume? Honestly no, but I DO like Bolle's robots a whole lot.
This was actually Western's second attempt to utilize Magnus as a back-up feature. The final few original stories from the post-Manning run were written as pairs of ten pagers instead of one twenty pager, presumably so that they could be used as reprint back-up features later on. Such was the case in Space Family Robinsion #58 (1969), which used "Journey to the End of the World," (originally from Magnus #26). For whatever reason, that was the only time one of the Magnus ten pagers was actually used as a backup feature somewhere else.
And, as an inversion of this trend, Jim Shooter first introduced his Rai character as a back-up feature in Valiant's Magnus, Robot Fighter series in 1991, soon moving the character to his own title, just as was intended for Magnus with this backup series.
Worthwhile to read?:
Yes yes yes. Thoughtful and fun! Well worth the dollar you'll pay for each of those Doctor Solar issues.
#29: Provides the first ever origin for Magnus (Manning never seemed too interested in exploring how Magnus came to be Magnus).
The Jim Shooter Era Magnus, Robot Fighter (1991) #1-14 1991-1992
The first attempt to resurrect the Magnus franchise in a post-Alan Moore era, this series obsesses itself with deconstructing the simple moral assumptions of the original series and, thus, cast everything in doubt. The series begins as a (nearly) seamless continuation of the original Gold Key run, and yet the characterizations are completely different. Magnus behaves like a moody adolescent (even though he's supposed to be 26), and previously respectable authority figures like Senator Clane and 1-A gradually begin to behave in the most reprehensible of ways. Everyone is bad, authority sucks, and so Magnus rebels on a whim with ill-considered temper tantrums that cause massive devastation to the society that he's pledged to protect...and somehow we're supposed to sympathize with this.
But the run is better than I'm making it sound. If you can get past this significant flaw in the series, much of what it contains is pretty entertaining. In those early issues, Shooter picks up a lot of ideas from the Whitman Era, especially in further developing the idea of an underground association of freewill robots rebelling against North Am. What follows is exciting, action packed, and imaginative, and Art Nichols does a pretty great job of capturing the flavor of Manning's North Am in his pencilwork, even while Shooter has little interest in exploring the setting with any depth -- the formerly most enticing aspect of the Magnus concept is now simply "wrong".
Magnus eventually gets (I think understandably) ousted from North Am, and then lives amongst the Gophs, which makes for some pretty uninteresting storytelling since the goph-level scenes completely distance us from the North Am society that was so compelling, both visually and conceptually. Having Magnus pick up odd jobs and resist authority while hanging around semi-endearing thugs who are arguably even more morally questionable than the people he just rebelled against makes for an odd choice and generally isn't all that fun to watch.
But, again, I'm making this all sound worse than it was. The fact is that most of the major story arcs in this era were really well plotted, though Shooter was clearly running out of ways to devastate North Am (bigger explosions aren't always better), and the whole thing was starting to feel very tired by the time we got to the end of Shooter's tenure.
- This was the flagship title for the Valiant Heroes Universe, and two of these early storylines were intended specifically to launch new sister titles (#5-8 for Rai, #12 for Turok).
- Jim Shooter was brought back to re-envision Magnus two more times after this: first as part of Unity 2000 in 1999, and later for the Dark Horse reboot in 2010.
Worthwhile to read?:
Mostly. The scale is enormous, the action is huge, and the imagination and limitless dimensions of North Am are still present much of the time; you just have to get past the characterizations. I found #12-14 to be pretty disappointing, though.
#0-4: "Steel Nation". This is the crux of everything Shooter wanted to do with this series, for better and worse. Magnus sides with the freewill robots (who are now far more plentiful than in the Gold Key run), and they erect their own nation and engage in a civil war with North Am. Kinda' makes you wonder why Shooter entitled the series "Magnus, ROBOT FIGHTER" when he essentially stops doing that by issue #4.
#5-8: "Invasion". This storyline may have Magnus playing a significant role in the plot, but it's a Rai story through and through. In fact, it's the definitive Rai story, far better than the Rai solo title ever proved to be. Very imaginative and exciting, but not a Magnus story.
#9-11: "The Xyrkol Trilogy". Probably the best of this run in terms of imagination, action, and scale.
#12: Introduces the Valiant version of Turok.
#0-4 and #9-11 are the best Magnus stories from this era and worth revisiting. I personally enjoy returning to #5-8 because I really like Rai.
The Post Jim Shooter Era Magnus, Robot Fighter (1991) #15-20, Predator Versus Magnus Robot Fighter #1-2 1992-1993
When Jim Shooter was unexpectedly fired from Valiant, it made for an awkward transition period. Shooter, always an idea man first, had left a myriad of notes charting where the Magnus title might go for the next few months, and those ideas guided this inbetween era, but the execution of these stories are so varied in their degree of success that this run clearly has an energy/identity outside of what Shooter had created. The worst of these stories seem to positively desecrate his ideas, while the best of them surpass anything we saw in those first fourteen issues.
Every story in this era was (at least loosely) plotted by Jim Shooter, but he was no longer around to supervise the finished products. The Unity tie-in issues seem to have the least degree of Jim Shooter's influence upon them as, while the major revelation about Magnus' origins in those issues was hinted at repeatedly back during Shooter's run, the story also characterizes Magnus as more of a pure-hearted leader ideal like Captain America than a brooding, morally troubled protagonist, and pretty much nothing of significance happens in it. The Magnus tie-ins are probably the most pointless and skipable chapters of the Unity crossover.
Worthwhile to read?:
You can absolutely skip #15-17 unless you really want to see the big reveal about where 1-A got infant Magnus from or see the final fate of Talpa, and the Predator cross-over is just eye candy (even the continuity has several notable glitches in those issues), but #18-20 are fantastic and absolutely worth reading.
#15-16: Tie-ins to the Unity crossover event. Absolutely the most worthless, poorly executed chapters in that saga, but (unless you read the Harbinger chapters) you'll miss a significant revision to Magnus' origin without them.
#17: The return and death of Talpa. Not noteworthy otherwise.
#18-19: David Michelin and Steve Ditko team up to provide the return of Magnus' most endearing villain -- Mechman. Priceless story. The only weakness is that the inks and coloring don't live up to Ditko's pencils.
#20: Tremendously fun early story starring an adolescent Magnus still undergoing his training.
Predator versus Magnus Robot Fighter: Only noteworthy in that it was a hyped inter-company crossover event.
The Malev War Era Deathmate Blue, Magnus Robot Fighter (1991) #21-37, Magnus Robot Fighter Yearbook #1, Magnus Robot Fighter & Nexus #1-2, Rai and the Future Force #9-22 1993-1994
Undoubtedly the best remembered Era for Magnus Robot Fighter since the Russ Manning run, this run gave the franchise a massive shot in the arm by suddenly having North Am invaded and obliterated by alien forces (actually a re-imagining of Malev 6, an original series villain), leaving Magnus and a ragtag band of surviving heroes from both the Valiant Magnus and Rai titles to form a resistance cell and fight back amid a dire post-apocalyptic setting. It was a bold, ballsie move that, on the one hand, blew up the very setting that was the true star of the original series and, on the other, blew up all the wrong turns Jim Shooter had made with the series, returning the premise to some familiar ground with a confident, resolved hero fighting for absolute good and trying to rescue a world that has grown too passive and lazy to care for itself. Everything was different, and yet so much of what truly mattered at the heart of the Magnus franchise remained the same.
Unfortunately, while the premise was fantastic, and the pace was exhilarating (even after multiple re-reads, I still devour these issues in less than 10 minutes a piece), when you slow down enough to actually absorb the full extent of what is being done, the plotting is nonsensical and the characterization is utterly lacking. It really felt like a run written for adolescents, written by adolescents, and starring a forgettable cast of emotional adolescents. If you plow through as quickly as the action asks you to and don't stop to think too much, this won't bother you too often, but it's there.
Intertwining the Magnus title with the newly resurrected Rai title was probably the era's greatest strength and weakness all together. The overlapping required the comic to think on a global level rather than remaining fixated upon North Am (Rai was from Japan...well actually Tibet...it's complicated), and the bi-weekly publishing schedule allowed this comic to cover a lot of ground in a little less than a year and a half, but Takao Konishi (the then current Rai) made for a particularly obnoxious co-star. Brought in to replace the original Rai (whom we met in Magnus #5-8) due to low sales, John Ostrander did just about everything wrong with this character in order to make us hate him. He was perfect, had every possible kind of power, was adored by everyone who met him in the comic, and gave terrible speeches at every opportunity that moved everyone around him to tears (including himself!). Yup, you just wanted to hate this guy, and the fans generally did. It's quite funny that, when Tony Bedard was brought in to write the series out of the Malev War, the ads soliciting the ending showed artwork of Konishi's broken body. That's right; given the choice, fans were far more interested in seeing the brutal death of Rai than of the Malev emperor. In fact, in a letter column where Valiant creative staff were asked to make their wishes for the new year, Tony Bedard dreamed of repairing the character to the point that he'd be everyone's second favorite comic book hero. Didn't take.
Biggest problem with the series: it doesn't build. In the early issues, Magnus sets out a plan of gradually building a resistance and then taking the fight back to the Malevs. It never happens. Instead, they go off on one wild mission after another without really accomplishing anything until the semi-arbitrary final battle. Still, it's intense, exciting, bold, and most importantly a fun story where nothing is sacred and everything's on the table. Well worth reading if you don't mind a little stupid here and there.
The reading order for this run is a bit convoluted: Magnus #21-24, Rai #9, Magnus #25, Rai #10, Magnus #26, Rai #11, Magnus #27, Rai #12, Magnus #28, Rai #13, Magnus #29, Rai #14-15, Magnus #30, Rai #16, Magnus #31, Rai #17, Magnus #32-33, Rai #18, Magnus #34, Rai #19, (series jumps forward in time six months), Magnus #35, Rai #20, Magnus #36, Rai #21, Magnus #37, Rai #22
Magnus Robot Fighter & Nexus #1-2 and Magnus Robot Fighter Yearbook #1, all written by Mike Baron, offer a throwback approach to Magnus in contrast to the massive changes occurring in the regular title. These stories are written to occur in 4000 AD, shortly after Magnus' first appearance in the Russ Manning run. In fact, the story in Yearbook #1 might even occur prior to the original second issue.
Deathmate Blue contains a brief inconsequential story by John Ostrander about Magnus in an alternate reality where he was never brought to the future to become a robot fighter and instead resists the Harbinger foundation of the Valiant Universe. This story has absolutely no consequence for either the Deathmate event or the larger Magnus franchise.
Worthwhile to read?:
This completely depends upon your preferences. If you are a die-hard fan of the original Russ Manning universe, you may find the extent of the changes in this run distasteful, and if you like your comics deep and thoughtful (I generally do), this might similarly be a difficult run to stomach. But if you can enjoy a series that's ambitious, fun, and non-stop exciting and forgive it its many flaws, you may end up loving this run.
Magnus #21-24, Rai and the Future Force #9, Magnus #25, Rai and the Future Force #10: this is the initial arc that establishes the basis for this Era. Ostrander was not at his best when writing this stuff; it isn't literature, but it establishes the framework that endures for the next year.
Rai and the Future Force #10: For those who enjoy keeping track, this issue further expands upon the nations of Magnus' world, providing some explanation of the political make-up of India.
Rai and the Future Force #13: For those who enjoy keeping track, this issue further expands upon the nations of Magnus' world, providing some explanation of the political make-up of Africa.
Rai and the Future Force #14: For those who enjoy keeping track, this issue further expands upon the nations of Magnus' world, providing an in-depth exploration of South Am.
Magnus Robot Fighter #32, and Rai and the Future Force #18: When Tony Bedard replaced John Ostrander as writer, he moved away from Ostrander's sweeping, amorphous storytelling structure and spent the first few issues telling done-in-one stories with a compelling premise and theme at the center, much like Star Trek or Doctor Who. These were his best two, including one about a Malev who goes freewill, and another about a society of underground Cloud Cloddies who have enslaved the gophs they find.
Magnus: Robot Fighter #35-37, and Rai and the Future Force #20-22: The final story arc that wraps up the Malev War, skipping six months ahead in the war in order to do so. Though plotting and characterization were never the strong points of this series, they at least get better here. Bedard was a welcome change from Ostrander, which (knowing what I do of the two authors' work outside of this) surprised even me.
Magnus Robot Fighter & Nexus #1-2: It's not great storytelling, but the throwback approach (especially Steve Rude's retro art) ALMOST captures Russ Manning's world again. The plot was a bit too rushed/convoluted, and I'm not a fan of Nexus (I have nothing against him, I just haven't read the series) so that aspect of the story was lost on me.
Magnus Robot Fighter Yearbook #1: A fantastic second attempt by Mike Baron to return to Magnus' Golden Age with a slightly modern tint. It's great story that understands the Manning Era well (even while making slight changes to it), and the surprise ending really threw me. It would have been intriguing to have given one of the later Magnus reboot attempts to Mike Baron. He clearly had ideas for new directions rooted in the old comics.
If you enjoy it the first time, most definitely. This is a favorite guilty pleasure read of mine.
The Terran Consortium Era Magnus Robot Fighter (1991) #38-54, Rai and the Future Force #23, Rai #24-33, The Chaos Effect Alpha, The Chaos Effect Omega, The Chaos Effect Epilogue #1-2 1994-1995
When Tony Bedard took over the writing of the Magnus and Rai titles, his job was to write the franchise out of the (by then) tedious Malev War, but his real vision was to replace it with this -- a far flung future two decades down the line where humanity has made its comeback under Magnus' leadership and yet encounters problems new and old along the way. The series would further complicate Magnus' internal war waging since the Shooter Era and also introduce a second generation of characters in the forms of Magnus' son Torque, as well as Obadiah (son of Leeja and Rai), and Takashi (son of Valiant's original Rai). There were rich conflicts, both internal and external, to be waged, and Bedard had a clear sense of who these characters were and what each would be battling with.
But then Valiant got in the way
Again and again.
Four issues into the run, the series was hijacked to tie into the company-wide Chaos Effect event. Writing duties were handed to a fill-in team that completely missed the memo and wrote Magnus as if it were still 20 years ago and the Malev War was still waging. Oops. Then, immediately concluding that, the series spent four issues launching the (later aborted) Geomancer title, taking the focus almost entirely away from anything Bedard had been planning to do with the series. And then, immediately after that storyline concluded, Valiant was sold to Acclaim Entertainment, which promptly cut half of the titles and replaced the rest with new creative teams. The Rai title would be cut entirely and Magnus would be handled by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Somehow, miraculously, Bedard fought this and managed to remain on the title long enough to finally tell the story he'd waited eleven issues to tell.
Magnus #49-54 were everything you could hope for from this unique point in the franchise's evolution, lovingly nodding to and building upon old Malev War era continuity while also taking the characters in entirely new and exciting directions. Meanwhile, the sister Rai title was actually the stronger of the two, finally creating a well-characterized incarnation of Rai who was a humble, bullied younger sibling with vast insecurities (someone with whom we can all relate) suddenly given tremendous power. His rivalry with older, disturbed step-brother Takashi was the stuff great literature is made of. When his own title was cut, Rai became more heavily featured in the Magnus title and fared well there.
Overall, this is an era marked with exciting vision, strong writing, and fantastic characterization (though Magnus and Leeja take a little longer than the rest to get there). The drawbacks are the terrible Liefield-inspired art by George Saravia for much of the run (he gets replaced towards the end) and the fact that the series endures so much filler before finally getting to the stuff that really counts. Still, the characters are engaging enough and the writing is strong enough to make the wait worthwhile. Just don't let the characterization in issues #39 and 40 turn you off. It gets so much better.
The reading order for this run is: Magnus #38, Rai and the Future Force #23, Magnus #39, Rai #24, Magnus #40, Rai #25, Chaos Effect Alpha, Rai #26, Magnus #41, Chaos Effect Omega, Chaos Effect Epiloque #1-2, Magnus #42, Rai #27, Magnus #43, Rai #28, Magnus #44, Rai #29, Magnus #45, Rai #30, Magnus #46, Rai #31, Magnus #47, Rai #32, Magnus #48, Rai #33, Magnus #49-54
Worthwhile to read?:
While this is, undoubtedly the most quality era for Magnus at Valiant, it's completely inaccessible if you haven't first read the less quality Malev War Era. I personally feel the adventure is worth it, but this character and his world have also been so far changed by the events of 21 years of in-comic continuity since the Russ Manning Era that it's virtually unrecognizable to readers who only know the original Magnus run. For better or worse, this is an entity that's evolved into something entirely different and unique by this point.
The Chaos Effect issues are entirely skippable and (as I've mentioned earlier) completely mischaracterize Magnus as still being from the previous Malev War Era. It's not a terrible story or anything, but it contributes nothing to Bedard's work. The Chaos Effect Epilogue is a fun tangential adventure if you're interested in further exploring the Valiant Magnus' intersection with their Harbinger continuity.
Technically, the Rai issues can be skipped, and you'll still be able to understand most of what's going on in this continuity, but Rai #24-27 are the absolute gem of this run, the characterization is phenomenal, and (if you've made it this far) you understand that the Rai continuity is an integral part of the Valiant Magnus property.
In the end, I highly recommend reading this run and including the Rai issues, but the Chaos Effect stuff can be skipped.
Magnus #38: Provides 20 years of recap in one issue, explaining with tremendous finesse all that has transpired since the end of the Malev War. Rai and the Future Force #23 is a companion piece to this but isn't as essential.
Rai #24, Magnus #40, and Rai #25-27: The true highlight of the run as we watch Obadiah come of age and resume the mantle of his father (the previous Rai) while facing off against his disturbed step-brother.
Magnus #47-54: The heart of everything Bedard sought to do with this run. Very rich in characterization, writing, plotting, art (once Saravia leaves and Kobasic replaces him), and action. The storyline looks firmly to Magnus' past while trying to help him find a future. Great use of continuity. Somehow, the conclusion lacked some of the impact it should have had, but this run was such a rush that I just couldn't stop reading. I kept grabbing for the next issue as a reflex, staying up way late on a work night to get through all of these.
The Keith Giffen Era Magnus Robot Fighter (1991) #55-64 1995-1996
Lucky enough to have gotten six issues to finally tell the Magnus story he'd always wanted to tell, Bedard was promptly shoved out of the writing chair with issue #55 in order to make way for higher profile writer Keith Giffen. Though, initially, Bedard remained on as editor and thus was able to temper Giffen's vision to some extent, it was obvious that Giffen had little interest in maintaining any kind of consistency with his new arc. For the first time since the title began in 1992, there are tons of continuity disparities, some intended and some not, some minor and some not, as well as blatant inexplicable shifts in characterization. At least part of this inevitably came from new parent company Acclaim, which was looking for brand names and video game protagonists, not dense storytelling. As a result, even though this arc begins "months" after Bedard's concluded, suddenly the milespires are back (quite a feat of rushed construction!), the cloudcloppies and gophs have reverted to type and gone back to their respective places after twenty two years of living as equals, and (best of all) Magnus gets killed and resurrected through the most absurdly convoluted means JUST so that he can retain computer-like memories of all that has transpired throughout twenty two years of being North Am's robot fighter but only have emotional connection to his first year (the Russ Manning Era). Essentially, it's a total characterization reset.
It's not hard to understand why Bedard only stayed on as editor for six issues.
There's a lot more that Giffen appeared to be working towards, though his almost-ahead-of-its-time sense of decompression, with multiple scenes between characters that go nowhere, further no plotline, and cryptically hint at countless mysteries to be revealed later on, prevents him from getting far in the ten issues he's given before the series is abruptly cancelled. Clearly, he had something big in mind for both Torque (becomes a Psi-Lord) and Takashi (is inexplicably gaining Rai powers), but the return of the Malevs and their second invasion of Earth proves every bit as ridiculous and gratuitous as it sounds. Thankfully, it was all cut short with a final issue in which The Destroyer wipes out the entire Malev collective and Magnus mysteriously vanishes.
By this point, the Magnus title was being published bi-weekly. In order to keep up with that pace, there were three different pencilers rotating art duties on the series, and absolutely no attempt was made to create a consistent look among the three of them. Magnus looks completely different depending upon who's drawing him and, most jarring of all, the new look he sports on the covers of issues #59-64 never makes its way onto the interior pages. #62 is the only issue in the run where he begins to resemble the character on the cover at all.
Worthwhile to read?:
I've always felt Giffen is uneven when it comes to plot, but he's a generally solid writer. If you've read and enjoyed the previous Valiant Magnus eras, this one can't help but disappoint and feel a little hokey, but the writing is strong (though the dialogue does get confusing at times), and while the characterizations are flat out wrong, they are well done. This is far from must reading, but it's not completely lacking in quality.
#57-58: Magnus dies and returns from the dead. It's even more arbitrary than it sounds.
#60-64: The return of the Malevs
#62: Torque becomes a Psi-Lord
#64: Rushed final issue. Malevs defeated. Magnus vanishes. Implies that Torque would have continued in Magnus' place.
Not particularly, but again, the writing isn't particularly bad, and of the three artists, Kobasic generally does an impressive job (#58, 59, 61, 62, 64) even if I don't like how he draws Magnus.
The Tom Peyer Reboot Magnus Robot Fighter (1997) #1-18, X-O Manowar (1997) #6 and 21, original ongoing feature throughout seven issues of Previews prior to Magnus #3, (I cannot find information regarding which ones) 1997-1998
As the Valiant Universe was rebooted into the Acclaim Universe, two edicts appeared to drive the bulk of that particular rebirth:
1. Make the characters into something that could star in and sell video games.
2. Make 'em laugh.
It's easy to see how those were the guiding principals behind this, the most odd and original take on the Russ Manning Magnus Robot Fighter concept ever yet put to page. On the surface, the obvious difference is that this Magnus is a brutish action hero (someone who could star in and sell video games), but, unexpectedly, this treatment isn't accompanied by shoddy, over-simplified writing and monotony. In fact, once you get past the idea that this is supposed to be Magnus Robot Fighter, there's a lot to like here. It's a very original spin on the concept, in which Russ Magnus (yes, enjoy the absurd nod) comes from a more desperate 4000 AD in which 1A was immediately destroyed and H8 (remember him from the original Magnus #1?) ends up running things, totally subjugating any human who resists being turned into a passive, coddled lump and, ironically, founding and overseeing the human resistance as well. Coming from this time, Magnus time travels to the world of 1997 in order to stop the robot revolution before it can begin, all while learning the truth about H8 (known to him as "Good Shepard") and doing a significant amount of soul searching at the same time.
Were Jim Shooter writing this, he could have made this even more raw with angsty emotion than his 1991 approach to Magnus, but that's not what Tom Peyer (nor, presumably, Acclaim) were interested in. Instead, this is a title that relishes absurdist humor, essentially laughing at Magnus while also treating him with some amount of respect and compassion as we see him truly strive to do right and suffer in his ideological quests, as absurd as they sometimes become. This Magnus wrestles with ATM machines and Disneyworld robots, tries to start a fight with God, gets his butt kicked (both physically and spiritually) by several alternate universe Magnuses (including Rastafari Magnus, who ultimately lectures him on how to be a true leader), becomes a corporate VP only to get decapitated in an elevator (he gets better), meets the president and promptly embarrasses himself, and becomes the savior of an ultra modernized Albania while beginning to resemble Richard Nixon in ways so obvious that even his supporting cast points this out.
It's an odd, fun series. And it does pay some homage to past incarnations as well, expanding upon (and sometimes mocking) the ideological soul searching of Jim Shooter's Era, returning to the concept of Magnus discovering he is, in fact part machine (Keith Giffen Era), and even having Russ Magnus meet the classic Magnus Robot Fighter briefly in issues #7 and 8 (they don't really interact).
The first half of the series spends more time having Magnus soul search, while the second half settles upon a different direction in which Magnus becomes a more flawed, corrupted inversion of the original character, protecting a futuristic Albania that resembles the old North Am, complete with a Leeja and her politically important father. The writing is consistent throughout, though the art wavers badly after original artist Mike McKone leaves and is replaced by newcomer Axle Giminez (who draws everyone with cartoon faces and bulging buttocks and, unable to keep up with deadlines, is ultimately largely replaced by a rotating cast of equally bad artists).
The series gets cancelled less due to declining interest (though none of the Acclaim titles appeared to do very well in this era) and more to Acclaim deciding to abandon its superhero universe entirely in favor of video game tie-ins and guides. The final issue, entitled "Magnus Interruptus" is Peyer at some of his absurdist best as Magnus takes on Disney World (not actually called Disney World in this series) one last time.
The alternate universes shown in issues #7 and #8 allow this reboot to exist alongside the previous continuity (which incorporated all eras prior to this one) without completely wiping it away.
Aspects of the 2014 Fred Van Lente reboot borrow heavily from this run, even while the overall scope and feel are very different.
Worthwhile to read?:
It's fun. It's different. It's...not really Magnus Robot Fighter. I don't regret reading it.
#7-8: We get a glimpse of several alternate universe Magnus incarnations, which are all pretty fun, including the Russ Manning original and (my personal favorite) Nun Magnus (yes, really).
#18: Peyer at his most absurd as Magnus tackles his universe's equivalent of Disney World head on.
Unity 2000 Though only half completed in print, the entire plot synopsis can be viewed for free here. (1999)
Grade: C (overall), F (if you're reading just for Magnus)
Within a year of Acclaim unceremoniously dropping its entire superhero universe outside of Shadowman and Quantum & Woody, they made one last ditch effort to relaunch their Valiant properties into a universe that could sell. Actually listening to the fanbase, they courted Jim Shooter (original creator of the Valiant Universe) to write a new six issue event that would reboot the Valiant Universe once again. While Shooter used it, initially, as an opportunity to present the Valiant Universe as it would have been if he'd never been fired, he ultimately blows everything up and leaves behind a new Valiant Universe in which the existing Acclaim comic book series and video games properties exist. Though intended to be a six issue event that would bring the Acclaim Valiant Universe titles back from the brink, the entire comic book division of Acclaim shutdown with the publication of the third issue, printed in exceptionally low numbers and still considered a holy grail to Valiant fanatics.
It's not a great story. Really. But the biggest disappointment lies not in the story itself, but rather its treatment of Magnus. While initially one of two flagship characters for Shooter's Valiant Universe, Magnus is almost entirely ignored in this six issue series, and the few points where he actually gets attention are pretty insulting to fans.
Magnus moment #1:
First issue (pictured above). Shadowman runs into Magnus of the year 4123 (one hundred twenty one years after the point where Shooter stopped writing him during the first Valiant Era), and the entire purpose of this otherwise tangential moment in the story is to show that the only thing that's changed about Magnus from Shooter's final issue to one and a quarter centuries later is that he got a cape. He's still living in the goph level and has apparently won some level of economic equality for the gophs (stated in the plot synopsis). Essentially, the ONLY reason this moment is included is to make it painstakingly clear to the reader that the Malev War, the Terran Consortium, and the Giffen Eras never happened. Had Shooter replaced all this with a better concept for what Magnus did in that time, I could almost accept that, but no -- he's just pretty much still hanging around the gophs and fighting for their rights.
Magnus moment #2:
Second issue. Gets beaten badly in battle by Darque's mutated sister. That's all.
Magnus moment #3:
He's an extra, used by Solar in issue #4 to look after his wife while the multi-verse is being threatened. Magnus carries and chops wood. That's it. EVERY other pre-Unity Valiant hero is out fighting or somehow participating in the larger crisis of this series, while Magnus is essentially a babysitter. No lines of dialogue, no depiction of Solar even asking him, nor his reasons for accepting. It's almost like Shooter is TRYING to piss off Magnus fans.
Magnus moment #4:
We find him brutally butchered in issue #5. Didn't even see the battle. Happened off-camera.
And, of course, Shooter utterly fails to play with alternate versions of the Valiant heroes as these alternate realities merge and collapse upon one another. He just leaves artist Jim Starlin to play with this as he sees fit, but those issues never got pencilled, so there's nothing about any interesting alternate versions of Magnus. Oddly enough, Tom Peyer gave more attention to this in a series that WASN'T focused on alternate realities.
And, when only one reality is remaining, Shooter expends no effort to present what our Valiant heroes look like in that universe. He leaves that for later writers, artists, and editors to decide, but they never come.
So this is the truly pathetic and insulting end for the Valiant/Acclaim Magnus Robot Fighter property.
Jim Shooter's plot synopses are a better read than the three published issues since, whether intentionally or otherwise (I suspect intentionally) artist Jim Starlin pretty much ignored all of Shooter's directions and sometimes blatantly does the total opposite. On at least one occasion, this seriously messes with the reader's ability to follow what's happening (Solar holding a copy of Valiant's Solar #1 when it was supposed to be the Gold Key #1 -- this IS Valiant's Solar. He's not supposed to be aware he's in a comic book!).
Worthwhile to read?:
Only if you're a loyal fan of the larger Valiant Universe. Even then, it's a bit of a disappointment, but it's a historical curiosity that true fans pretty much have to read.
#1: Shooter undoes ALL Valiant Magnus eras other than his own in two pointless panels.
The Louise Simonson Reboot Magnus Robot Fighter #1 (2005)
The bankruptcy of Acclaim Entertainment in 2004 was likely hardest on Valiant fans. At any other time in comic book history, it seems likely a larger comic book company would have bought the rights to the Valiant Universe characters, but, comic sales being what they were at the time, the whole thing was sold off piecemeal in a messy ordeal that caused no end of frustration to fans. One obscure company ended up with the Valiant trademarks; another with the copyrights, and while this incredibly confusing and frustrating battle for the rights to continue the Valiant Universe waged on, the rights to publish the Western Publishing characters (Doctor Solar, Turok, and of course Magnus) quietly reverted back to parent company Random House, and thus upstart publisher ibooks was quietly releasing their Magnus #1 while everyone was still scratching their heads, wondering if Unity 2000 was ever going to get completed.
ibooks released exactly one graphic novel format issue of Magnus Robot Fighter before it folded, and that double length story is a textbook example of all that can go wrong when an upstart publisher has a good idea.
The premise is remarkable -- utterly faithful to the original Magnus Robot Fighter run, but adding a unique backstory to that entire universe that makes sense and sets up a major new threat to the world of 4000 AD -- the Traffickers, extra-terrestrial cyborg pirates who inadvertently lost their humanity to their machine sides and are driven by nothing more or less than stockholder and board of director demands, thus ravishing planet after planet for valuable resources in a way reminiscent of the Zygoteans from Jim Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey, only better developed. The Traffickers ravished Earth centuries earlier, using Earth's robots against them, and this is used to explain everything about Manning's 4000 AD, from the Milespires and weather control to the odd limitations of Manning's futuristic robots (why do they never resemble people, why does no one have cybernetic implants, why are none allowed to have their own free wills, etc). It's truly a GREAT re-envisioning of the original Russ Manning run with utter respect for that material.
The look had great potential -- they got Jim frickin' Steranko to re-envision Magnus' look, finally trading up the skirt for something that actually looked BETTER, AND got John Watson to turn in a gorgeous cover.
The writer was an experienced veteran -- Louise Simonson. I haven't read much of her work, but she certainly knew the business and shouldn't have been too much of a risk.
And yet, it all fell apart in execution. Damion Hendricks' interior art was...okay, and Simonson's plotting and writing were...okay. Worse yet, the two combined proved disastrous. This story is REALLY hard to follow. Art often fails to align with text, and scenes jump without any clear demarcation. I soon found my mind wandering and my fingers counting how many pages were left (always too many!).
Add to that a near total lack of excitement -- the art never jumps out at you, the characters have no characterization, the writing is never particularly clever nor stirring. It's just a boring/confusing execution of a really cool concept.
You can taste the passion that went into this book; the surge of enthusiasm everyone at the table must have felt when first reading the synopsis on the first page that explains the basic premise. But the best laid plans ultimately fell apart, seemingly due to one exceptionally foolish omission -- there is no editor credited on this book.
Though the publisher explicitly stated in numerous interviews that this was a total reset, ignoring all but the original Gold Key issues, and while ibooks legally COULDN'T use anything from the Valiant Era, they do work in a small nod to the Valiant continuity by essentially revealing the Traffickers to be cybernetically enhanced future versions of Valiant's Spider Aliens.
Worthwhile to read?:
Honestly, I think the synopsis on the first page is awesome. It's almost worth picking up the $6 book just to read that and savor the ideas and passion behind this first issue -- the potential for all it could have been. But the execution is lousy and likely not worth your time.
The Jim Shooter Reboot Free Comic Book Day: Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom / Magnus, Robot Fighter #1, Magnus, Robot Fighter (2010) #1-4 2010-2011
Jim Shooter returned to reinvent Magnus one final time (as of now), along with the other Western/Gold Key heroes. This approach to Magnus was a more likable product than his previous interpretation, offering a Magnus who sticks closer to Russ Manning's original vision, only with stronger characterization (especially for Magnus, Leeja, and 1A), as well as more clearly defined morals and values surrounding what Magnus does. No more wishy-washy brooding about his mission.
The only major flaw in all this is the plot lines, themselves. The first four parter is about human trafficking and underground ultimate fighting; far from the outrageously imaginative FUN premises that used to make Magnus stand out from the crowd. The fourth issue (as well as the Free Comic Book Day story) implied a larger, building threat concerning the free will "Q Robs" amassing a revolution, and that sounds pretty exciting until you consider that this is the EXACT same storyline that Shooter used as the focus of his first Magnus run.
Also missing from this series is the exploration and romanticism of the world of 4000 AD, which is really under-utilized. Once Bill Reinhold is replaced as artist with Mark Irwin in the final issue, we start to get a few loving visuals of the city in all its complexity, but Shooter is still too busy filling the pages with plotting and words to leave much room for artistic imagination.
And, Reinhold's new Magnus costume (debuting in #3) is truly bad.
But, all in all, this was a high quality take on Magnus that was generally faithful to the original premise, filled with gorgeous art and strong, likable characterization. Had it been permitted to continue, this series could have gone far with a little more focus on plot and setting.
This alternate take on Magnus is so close to the original that it could actually continue from the original Russ Manning first issue if it weren't for the liberated humans at the end of that original first issue referring to the protagonist as "Magnus". As of this first issue, only Leeja knows his name at this point since he tries to avoid attention and function more as an unofficial vigilante outside of the law in this incarnation.
Worthwhile to read?:
Definitely. Even with this volume's short comings, its such a breath of fresh air to read a Magnus story with strong characterization.
#1-4 make up one multi-part storyline ("Metal Mob")
Sure. It's quality stuff, even if it lacks excitement.
I read the first two and am on the fence about continuing it. I have up through #4 because I had it on my pull (so basically pre-ordered it) but dropped it from my pull. If I really am blown away by 3 and 4 I might keep picking it up. I didn't dislike the series, I am just not sure I liked it enough to keep paying $3.99 an issue for it. I needed to cut back on new stuff, and I made out a list saying I will keep x number of titles on my pull, and then listed what I was getting in order of how much I was enjoying it, and none of the Dynakey books made the cut off. I kept Spektor on the pull because it was a 4 issue mini and I had pre-ordered through #3), but dropped the other 3. I think all three were solid, but not spectacular, and there were just other things I wanted to give my money to more.
"The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command." --George Orwell, 1984
"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. -Jimi Hendrix
“Humans beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked” ― Buckminster Fuller
-It is a weak mind that imagines its version of things valid for all men! -The Vision