Review: Magnus: Robot Fighter #1

One of the four Gold Key comic properties being revived by Dynamite this year (the others being Turok, Solar and Doctor Spektor), the first issue Magnus: Robot Fighter is a decent, if fairly standard, comic.

With a creative team of Fred Van Lente, Cory Smith, colourist Mauricio Wallace and letterer Marshall Dillon, the issue is overseen by editor Nate Cosby – Van Lente’s editor for several of his projects at Marvel. In fact, Cosby will be in charge of the whole Gold Key line at Dynamite, meaning we’re likely going to see some weird and intriguing crossovers at some point down the line.

But for a first issue, Magnus does everything asked of it. We have the character set up – if a little two-dimensionally – and things are left on a fairly standard cliffhanger. The main problem here, though, is that there doesn’t feel like much here which hasn’t been seen before. The central character himself, Russell Magnus, is a teacher living in the future, where robots have been integrated into small-town rural society. He’s a decent teacher, is starting a family, and considers one of the robots – the giant 1A – to be a father figure.

This is the sequence which works best in the comic, with the very clever approach taken by Wallace of coating the pages in a sepia tone which makes everything look like a homey, old-fashioned flashback sequence – when in fact this is a warm, homey sequence set in a future where people go to school alongside young robots, holograms are the norm, and North/South Korea have unified over a shared love of robot karate.

With Magnus given a stocky, All-American sort of design by Cory Smith, it’s a neat take on Americana, and how technology might lead us forward in the future. But there’s also something missing from these sequences, as though we’re following a tick-list of sorts through all the ingredients needed to make this story match the previous incarnations of the comic. Magnus himself doesn’t come across as a particularly dynamic character himself – when we meet his wife, she distracts the reader from him entirely, as she’s far more interesting – and that lack of interest in Magnus is what sells the comic short.

As soon as the sepia-toned colours are replaced with a bright and bold colour scheme, and Magnus is ripped into reality, things become a little more predictable. It takes a page or two to understand what just happened – the artwork doesn’t entirely effectively convey why he goes from one version of the world to another – but the dystopian robot future he wanders into soon makes everything click into place. From there onwards, you’ll be able to stay one page ahead of the comic right up to the final page cliffhanger.

It’s all executed perfectly decently, but there are other comics handling the same sort of idea in far stronger fashion – XO Manowar springs to mind, for example. This may be simply because the central concept of Magnus is a little rote by this point, but I didn’t have much interest in picking up the second issue by the time I reached the end, here. Cory Smith’s artwork handles two different worlds exceptionally well, shifting the dynamic in memorable fashion after only a few pages into the issue.

But fundamentally, the issue didn’t grab me. It felt like reading a story I already knew, with less dynamic characters than before. I think rather than this being an issue to lay at Van Lente’s feet, this is more to do with the very central concept of Magnus itself – it’s been done better since the property was first created. We’ve had things like The Matrix and the aforementioned Valiant relaunch in the period between the last Magnus and this new one, and as a result the story here feels predictable and overly familiar.

It may well pick up now all that necessary groundwork has been laid down – but I’m not personally interested enough to go find out, sadly enough.

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