Last week, I reviewed Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #2, part of Dynamite Entertainment’s new line of comics reviving the Gold Key Universe. Now, writer Fred Van Lente and artist are rebooting another series with the similarly outstanding title of Magnus: Robot Fighter. For some readers, the promise of man-on-machine pugilism may be enough to warrant a purchase. For everybody else, one question must be answered: is it good?
Magnus: Robot Fighter #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
There is nothing inherently wrong with a storyteller trying to turn a seemingly silly concept into something more sophisticated. Some of the smartest, richest, and most complex comics ever produced have featured spandex-clad superheroes and talking animals. But when such elevation efforts fail, one has to wonder why the presentation of a goofy concept couldn’t have been treated as such. Part of the reason why Axe Cop works so well is because Malachai Nicolle’s youth affords him the ability to tell exceedingly outlandish stories with a complete disregard for pretentiousness.
Meanwhile, Magnus: Robot Fighter #1 kicks off its slow start with the titular Magnus teaching a class of young children a lesson about Frederick Douglas, in a rather obvious attempt by Van Lente to beat the comic’s theme into readers head early on, liberally spouting off quotes about freedom, oppression, slavery, and man’s will to survive. Then we’re presented with some standard-issue “see how likable the protagonist is?” fare. He does charity work. His neighbors and students love him (though to be fair, he does teach his students how to fight robots, so he would have been my favorite teacher too). And his beautiful wife, Moira, just found out that she’s pregnant. But when it all, as most readers should predict, goes to hell, it’s kind of hard to care. Van Lente goes through all these efforts to make his story more poignant and emotionally affecting, yet when it’s so easy for readers to realize the game that he’s playing, what should have been a fun read becomes a drag.
It’s only more frustrating when you remember that Fred Van Lente actually is more than capable of having fun. Granted, he is so prolific that I have not read the bulk of his work, but I love Action Philosophers, in which he summarized the ideas of great philosophers like Plato and Nietzsche by repurposing them as wrestlers and kung fu masters. It stands in stark contrast to his approach to Magnus, but there are still some genuinely fun moments to be found here, mostly involving robots and the fighting thereof. There are precious few action sequences so far, but the direction of the story (not to mention, you know, the title) seems to promise a higher frequency of robot fights in future issues.
At least the art on Magnus is terrific. Penciller/inker Cory Smith provides simple, effective layouts and silky-smooth lines, but he’s also detailed enough to convey the sense of imagination that a sci-fi story like this needs. Every character has distinctive visual quirks, and they even seem to have their own individual body languages. Special credit also goes to colorist Mauricio Wallace, who seems to be following the trend of subdued color palettes championed by colorists like Matt Hollingsworth and Jordie Bellaire. Most of this issue is colored in a sepia-toned manner that is so restrained that it almost seems black-and-white at times, until the inciting incident prompts a vibrant change to the color scheme.
Is It Good?
It’s okay. There’s a surprising amount of talent on display, especially on the visual side, although Van Lente needs to find his footing soon before readers lose interest. Fred, my man, you’re too uptight. This is a comic about robot fighting. Lighten up and have some fun.