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Won on One – Magnus: Robot Fighter
No continuity, no table (setting) manners, no turning back or second chances. First Impressions of first issues and/or first appearances. There’s no time to takes names, just to kick ass.
Today, spurned on by a recent article at TOR.com about Russ Manning’s run and because of recent relaunch of the character at Dark Horse, I decided to pick the first issue of VALIANT run of Magnus, which was also the launch of their universe; a sequential big bang that caused a stir of excitement the likes of which has not been equaled since and perhaps had not been seen prior to since the early ’60s.
We get multiple quality titles, some of which offer quality settings and place for their stories, but we get much fewer instances of actual world-building on a grand scale. Sometimes, when in the process of completing complex lines, the dots themselves are minimized – no matter their individual quality – simply due to to the scale of the whole, but with VALIANT, titles retained individual identity. No matter what worldly, time/reality warping intricacies were thrown at them as a group, like the pulp gods of old ,VALIANT characters and titles could be enjoyed on their own; not bigger than the world they shared, but indeed larger than life. They even had the throwback subtitles, some of which were earned as direct descendants of a generation whose pop sensibilities were pulp. Dinosaur Hunter. Children of the Eighth Day. Robot Fighter.
The first issue kicks off the Steel Nation arc, which combined with Solar’s opening arc (Alpha and Omega) gave VALIANT bookend dots on a time-line that provided stories both in real, present, time and in 4000 AD, the latter of which is where we’d find Magnus. The guy is Science Fiction’s Tarzan landing in an Asimov story just in time to stop sky net, a mission he was raised for by a futurist, self-aware, race traitor (who otherwise seems to be a pretty nice ‘bot and doting father figure) robot. You know what I like from jump? The cover doesn’t lie to you. Smashin’, Robots, and Babe (coincidentally, also was a finalist for the G-Mash tag line), like something that may have made Alex Schomburg grin in satisfaction. So many times – especially these days – we get trickster covers that sure look nice, but don’t much represent what lies beneath.
You get a couple pages of info dump, which normally rubs me the wrong way, but 4 pages to establish setting of a universe is forgivable and immediately allows the reader to jump in. It also throws in enough mystery (who the hell is the hot Captain Greer, the Captain of the Ottawa of the Solar Fleet?) and backstory to give the setting a past, which is important in leading you up to the situation now – a war between man and newly “sentient” robots that serve them. We’ve heard this all before, but I’m not sure we’ve seen a human that can beat them down by the dozens with his bare hands. Beyond that, he’s also kind of a pimp. This is how we are introduced to Magnus:
Not sure if the pinkie is jutting out or not, but he’s got the posh seating style regardless. Magnus is somewhat of a star, and his status sets up the introduction of a (lower) class of people who live closer to the surface of North Am, called Gophs. Fans of recent Star Wars novels (like the Coruscant Nights stuff) will feel at home here. How do you know you’re on Goph Lev? Well, what do you think people in the hood wear?
This is a far cry from the norm for the cat who talks to Presidents on the phone, while lounging with his lady on the (I’m calling velour) couch.
Oh, and just in case you’re not quite sold on the Magnus pimp-status, check out his ride (which reminded me of a newer version of the ride we’d see on the cover of Harbinger #1 — which you know I love). The guy is stylin’ no matter the weather or setting:
I had not read this issue in some time, but immediately came the realization that I initially was exposed to it at a time when I gave no conscious thought about the concept of genre. The truth is, comics were never something I viewed in terms of genre, and they were in fact agenre. That’s not to be confused as calling comics a genre of their own, because it most certainly is not – it is a medium — but I realized their was this purity to my comic reading habit that was never soiled by categories and labels that would inflict my novels. I know this because now, for the first time, I found my diminished self now thinking that I was reading one hell of a science fiction comic and more than once had me wondering if this was my original “pulp” hero, in the way older readers view a John Carter of Mars or Conan, characters I enjoy but more from the perspective of viewing them as established classics, positions already earned and recognized before I got there. If you read the link above about the Manning creation, you know that Magnus’ roots are grounded in the 60s, but I think even the most ardent fan of the character will freely admit that the character doesn’t quite have that genre-folk hero status of two I mentioned above, or the like of the Shadow, a Prince Valiant or even one of Robert Howard’s less prominent characters. Genre-folk might itself be a bad term, because what we are really talking about is adventure. Adventure shit. Fun comics for people that don’t ask you to define fun, for people who like the types who kick ass and lounge around the house in the same outfit every and all day. So does the first issue pass the test? Only if you want to find out what happens in the robot revolution and if the girl is going to be okay (sound a bit like something for Turner’s Guys Who Like Movies). Beyond that, you get all kinds of boring stuff like tackling social issues, our dependence on technology, political intrigue (well, not much, it’s actually more of a comedic – and I think purposefully – angle here). Wait a minute…check..check..check…Shit! That sounds like Science Fiction!
My love for Magnus shouldn’t surprise. If you think about it, robot fighter can literally be just a pulpier literary descendant of someone who dedicates their life to Gestalt Mash.
The (more) Boring Stuff -
According to the circulation numbers at VALIANTfans, the only spot for all VALIANT information, Magnus #1 had a print run of 90k, which isn’t a huge run bit is large enough to keep the first issue not even among the top 3 hottest Magnus related books within even just the VALIANT related. The one saving grace is that their were promotional coupons in this issue, which coincidentally were redeemable for a much more desirable issue, Magnus #0. The possible lack of cards, however, haven’t made the complete issues tough enough to cause a tremendous amount of interest (though I think it has one of the underrated covers in this era of comics). As with the modern market, VALIANT prices are motivated mostly by print runs, and when considering that, the Zero issue and the Magnus vs. Predator TPB are the winners (with mild interest in the last couple of issues). One interesting exception is issue #12, which has long been a fan favorite, one that I think has stuck in the minds of people around my age due to being well publicized by WIZARD, when that publication mattered to the comic medium. It’s the first VALIANT appearance of another Gold Key property in the universe, Turok, and falls under my theory that any cover with sweet dinosaurs on it gets an automatic 10% bump (look at some of the old Star Spangled War Stories issues). I am a believer in the first Gold Key issue – Magnus not being a movie franchise boggles my mind.
One should also keep in mind the VALIANT reprints of the Gold Key work in Vintage Magnus that for a long time were deemed “tough” in high grade. I’m not sure if that’s really the case, I think they are out there, but just having someone know enough to offer to sell or put them out in their booth is more the issue. More than once, however, I have seen issues from this title be among the last VALIANT fans need to complete CGC sets.