Magnus, Robot Fighter, fights robots. Artist: Russ Manning.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Gold Key Comics
First Appeared: 1963
Creators: Chase Craig (editor) and Russ Manning (writer/artist)
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When cartoonist Russ Manning (Brothers of the Spear) heard Gold Key Comics editor Chase Craig (Mary Jane & Sniffles) was …

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… seeking a writer for a new series set in the year 4000 AD, he instantly applied for the job. Manning, a long-time fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other writers of fantastic adventures — in addition to being an artist with credits throughout the Dell/Gold Key line — was loaded with ideas.

What emerged, from an initial concept by Craig fleshed out by Manning, was a sort of future Tarzan. Magnus (whose name, Manning said later, was inspired by Maximus, a character in Leonard Starr's newspaper strip, Mary Perkins On Stage) was raised apart from human society, by Robot 1A. Physically perfect and expertly trained in martial arts, Magnus was capable of taking on a steel-plated robot with his bare hands. In addition, 1A had built a device into Magnus's head, enabling him to receive robot-to-robot radio signals. Magnus's mission was to save the world from over-dependence on robots — particularly those that had inexplicably turned evil. All this came out in the first issue of Magnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 AD, which was dated February, 1963.

Story-wise, Magnus was one of the better science fiction series in comics — but where it really excelled was in Manning's art. The city of North Am (which covers most of the North American continent in Magnus's time) is a direct descendant of the futuristic cityscapes of pulp magazine artist Frank R. Paul, as is seen in cartoon art from Adam Strange to The Jetsons. But Manning's clean, clear touch made it seem even brighter, more open and airy, than usual.

The Magnus series was about as successful as most of the non-licensed adventure comics the company launched in the early 1960s. It flourished while the superheroes were at their peak, then languished. Manning's last issue was #21 (February, 1968). Dan Spiegle (Crossfire, Space Family Robinson) and Paul Norris (Aquaman, Brick Bradford) then did a few issues, after which it went to reprints. It was published only sporadically during the 1970s. The last issue was #46 (January, 1977).

In the late 1980s, comic book characters belonging to Western Printing (the company behind the Gold Key imprint) were acquired by a start-up company. First under the name Valiant Comics and then as Acclaim Comics, the new publisher began putting out new comic books about the character in 1990, and continued for most of the decade. But there's been some tinkering with the basic concept.

As envisioned by Valiant Comics' first editor, Jim Shooter (who started his comics career writing The Legion of Super Heroes and went on to become the controversial 1980s editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics), Magnus's world became less unambiguous in terms of moral values. The "evil" robots, it turns out, are merely those that have developed free will, and thus can oppose humans. Is it right to re-enslave them? Also, in keeping with the '90s style of comics, things became grimmer 'n' grittier. For example, some of the truly evil robots in this version consume the energy of human bodies — they "eat" people, in other words. And Magnus himself was turned into a fanatical hater of all things technological.

This version seems to have been a good deal more successful. Since his revival, Magnus's story has become intertwined with that of Dr. Solar, Turok and other Dell/Gold Key characters, as well as new ones owned by Valiant/Acclaim, all of which have been woven together into a typical superhero universe. He's had crossovers with Nexus, Predators, and other established characters, just like the other '90s guys. And over twice as many issues of the new version have been published — there aren't any coming out right now, but that may be a temporary condition.

As science fiction writer Frederick Pohl once remarked, "The future ain't what it used to be."


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