Let me say, upfront, that I have zero previous knowledge of Magnus: Robot Fighter. Didn’t read it in the 90’s, didn’t try the Dark Horse re-launch a few years ago, didn’t even read the solicits for this issue. I assumed there was a guy, maybe his name was Magnus, and maybe he got into it with some robots. You can imagine my surprise to find the book was a scathing critique of the cotton trade in the antebellum American South.
A guy named Magnus punches some robots.
Magnus falls into the Undertow category for me. Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Cory Smith have produced a well written, well drawn tale that I have little to no interest in. The book opens in the idyllic mountain valley town Maury’s Peak. Magnus is a schoolteacher and martial arts instructor, his wife is the local robot mechanic and humans and robots live in harmony. The town is “overseen” by an AI with a grandfatherly face that Magnus treats as a surrogate father. Then some… stuff happens, and here’s where I’m not sure what else to say. I checked Dynamite’s solicits and they sorta skirt the issue but I’m going to err on the side of caution. Maybe everyone else knows exactly what’s coming but I didn’t. Anyway, in the broadest terms possible; Magnus is ripped from his tranquil life and thrust into a new world that requires the fighting of robots.
Overall the book reads well and looks great. Van Lente is pretty good at dialogue and plotting, he neatly sets up Magnus as intelligent and an adept martial artist, there are a couple of pages of playful banter with his wife and a couple more setting up the odd relationship he has with the town AI. The book opens with a discussion of Fredrick Douglass that seems a little on the nose thematically but that’s a minor complaint. There are some pretty funny lines in the issue, including one visual bit in the, ah, other world that I don’t want to spoil and that reinforces my perception of Van Lente as a pretty funny writer. Cory Smith and colorist Mauricio Wallace are excellent storytellers also. The opening pages of the book set in Maury’s Peak are colored differently than the second half. Colors are muted and the whole thing seems to have a sort of sepia tone that reinforces its small town vibe. Smith is a good cartoonist, panels flow easily, backgrounds are detailed and characters have different body types and faces. Once the book shifts worlds colors become deeper and more vibrant and the layouts open up a little bit. There’s a great overhead shot of a human and robot SWAT team and the fight that ends the book is clear and well-choreographed. At the end a lady shows up that’s a little more “boob-tastic” than you might have expected from the previous 20 pages but hey, it’s a Dynamite book, I’m just pleased the issue didn’t have a “nude variant” like so many Dejah Thoris books before it.
Honestly I’m not sure if there’s anyone who could have written a Magnus: Robot Fighter comic that would have interested me. The themes the book is exploring and the places that the end of this issue suggests the series will go are, at this point, pretty familiar to me. I suppose Van Lente and Smith could take off in a wildly different direction but for now I’m going to pass. That said, if this type of story is interesting to you, or if you’re a fan of the recent nu-Valiant series’, know that there’s enough skill on display here to make Magnus worth a look.