Since this is the first of these I’m doing, I feel like I should preface it with some sort of introduction to explain the title of “Essential Reading.”
This isn’t meant to be an excuse to recommend books or graphic novels or comics that are already on your radar, so I’m not going to waste your time with stuff you can read on dozens of other sites. Because I’m often busy writing about movies, I don’t have a ton of time to read as much as I’d like, and it’s sometimes easier to read a half dozen comics than trying to get through one of the many books I’ve started. That doesn’t mean that books are off limits for this column, and who knows? Maybe others from the Tracking Board will get involved with writing some of these based on what they’re reading.
For instance, I won’t be recommending something like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, because chances are that if you know about it, you’ve already read it. I’m also not going to spend much time on DC or Marvel Comics because again, they’re well covered and there’s no reason for me to waste either of our time with that.
Basically, I’m going to hopefully introduce you to one of the many comics out there that might help to get your own creative juices flowing in terms of writing. (And who knows? Maybe you’ll even be inspired to write an adaptation and get a movie or TV show made based on them.)
We’ll start this installment with a little history lesson…
There’s a chance that if you’re of a certain age and into comics, you’ve at least heard of Magnus Robot Fighter, a character and comic created by Tarzan artist Russ Manning in 1963 for Gold Key Comics who were looking to capitalize on the success that Marvel and DC Comics were having with their new superheroes in what was later called the Silver Age of comics.
At first, the idea was fairly simple where Magnus lived in the city of North AM in th eyear 4,000 AD, and he had become the frontline in the humans’ fight against a robot rebellion. This was because he had a special connection with the bots, having been raised by a robot mentor. Basically, it was a super-strong guy punching robots, and if you’re a kid, that sounds pretty awesome. Plus it had Manning’s amazing hyper-detailed artwork that people had already enjoyed in his Tarzan comic strips.
Gold Key published Magnus’ adventures until the mid-to-late seventies, and it was made more awesome that they’d often sell these bagged 3-packs of comics in department and drug stores — there were no comic stores in those days. Eventually the interest in Gold Key’s characters petered away and Gold Key was no more.
In 1991, former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter bought the rights to Magnus and a couple other Gold Key characters, including Turok, and that led to a new boom in Magnus’ popularity, but again, it would be short-lived as Valiant eventually became Acclaim when it was bought by the video game company. While Turok was turned into quite a successful and popular video game, Magnus would go back into obscurity for more than ten years.
I’m not sure if anyone ever tried to make a movie based on the original comic or owned the rights, but chances are that Will Smith’s similar I, Robot (based on Isaac Asimov, no less) in 2004 or Shawn Levy’s adaptation of Richard Mattheson’s robot novel Real Steel in 2011 may have killed any desire to make a movie based on Magnus Robot Fighter.
In 2013, Dynamite Entertainment picked up the comic rights to Magnus and that’s really what I want to talk about, because they’re currently trying something very different with the character that I felt was worth noting… and of course, reading.
Dynamite is in the process of trying to create a shared universe involving their former Gold Key characters, which isn’t a particularly new idea, but it’s one that seems to be working. The focus of their new Magnus series is on following Dr. Kerri Magnus, presumably the daughter of the original Magnus, though that hasn’t been revealed. Switching genders of a lead character in a comic also isn’t new but writer Kyle Higgins (Nightwing) has changed the entire setting of the book, which is what makes it so intersting.
In this one, the robots still have emotions and are self-aware, but they’re also still subservient to their owners. During their “break time,” they’re allowed to send their consciousness into a place called Cloud World, where they’re allowed to live their life normally and freely from the hassles of being a server bot. Many of the robots have created families for themselves in Cloud World, so obviously, it’s paradise and a place where they’d rather be.
Kerri used to be a robot hunter who would go into the Cloud World to retrieve the robots that have decided to stay in Cloud World and not return to their human masters. (She is one of the few humans who can go there without being driven crazy.) Unsatisfied with that role, she’s transitioned into a new position as a robot therapist who can understand the emotions they go through as try to deal with their subservient roles.
Anyway, the initial plotline involves a robot that killed its human masters and then vanished into the Cloud World, so Kerri is called upon to return to her old career and find the robot. You canprobably assume that this murder of humans by a robot could indeed lead to the robot rebellion that played such a large part in all the previous Magnus Robot Fighter comics.
Higgins’ take on the character has been compared to something you might see on Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology Black Mirror, and just three issues in, it’s already one of the better things Dynamite has published. Maybe that’s because they’re allowing a creator to try something completely different with an IP rather than being beholden to what’s come before. It’s still science fiction but with a touch of noir storytelling, as far as Kerri being the gumshoe trying to find a murderer.
Many of Dynamite’s other licensed comics — they publish books on everything from the Six-Million Dollar Man to The Shadow and even James Bond — are far more faithful. (That last one is pretty amazing considering what a tight grip the Broccolis have on Bond in terms of movies, and it makes you wonder if they have a similar say on the comics Dynamite makes.)
It’s particularly interesting that Higgins is taking a more mature approach to Magnus, which in some ways snubs its nose at how the original Magnus Robot Fighter catered so much to kids with its high concept premise and “cool robot drawings.”
Then on top of that, Higgins’ stories are illustrated by the beautiful artwork of Jorge Fornês, whose art style falls somewhere between the Brothers Hernandez (Love and Rockets) and the art seen most recently in Gerard Way’s Bad Animal imprint (one of the DC books that is breaking away from the norm.)
If you have a couple bucks and happen to be near a comic store, do check out Dynamite’s Magnus, because it’s really unlike anything else out there with its mix of sci-fi, superheroes and noir storytelling.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor