I cannot guarantee how objective I'll be with this review. For starters, Russ Manning's classic Magnus character was rolled out in the Silver Age, my very favorite comic book era. Secondly, I've loved robots since I read "Andy Buckram's Tin Men" in my elementary school library back in 19(mumble) and have been a science fiction fan since I was that size and horsepower as well. Obviously, this series of collected reprints appeals to me in a big way.
That being said, I confess that while I was familiar with those wonderful old Western/Gold Key titles with the painted covers like Magnus, Doctor Solar and Turok, Son of Stone, I'd never read an issue back in the day. My sole exposure to Magnus came in 2010, when Dark Horse was publishing a new series, written by Jim Shooter that ran a mere 4 issues, but the first book included a reprint of Magnus #1 from 1963 to provide some history and context.
I eagerly jumped into this volume, which is kicked off with a great foreword by Keith Giffen. This tome reprints the original series from issue #15 published in August of 1966 through #21 from February of 1968. Even though it's well into the series at this point, we begin to learn some key points about our hero (other than his odd fashion sense. White go-go boots and a chain mail miniskirt?) to include the fact that he is often warning his fellow citizens of the continent spanning city of North Am (obviously a futuristic descendent of North America) about becoming too dependent on robots.
Yes, robots are everywhere in 4000 A.D., serving as police, judges and other support personnel, though humans are also in attendance, sometimes to overrule the soulless judgment of a robot. Still, their very ubiquity concerns Magnus.
He comes by his concerns honestly, as he was raised and trained as an orphaned child by a robot called 1A, who wished to mold someone to battle evil robots. Magnus, therefore, has superhuman strength and plenty of know-how when it comes to the weak spots of his robot adversaries.
Adding a little romance and a lot of beauty to Magnus' world is the fetching Leeja, who also happens to be the daughter of a local North Am official.
The old science fiction fan in me was pleased to see that Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics in effect. Even though the Laws preclude robots from harming or allowing harm through inaction to come to humans, not all robots are so equipped, providing the necessary conflicts in these stories of adventure.
Magnus finds himself up against robots controlled by a knock-off of Ming the Merciless, Self-multiplying robots intent on conquering the Earth, a futuristic Trojan Horse, an Ectoplasmic robot and even a talking dog. He does battle with each threat with not only his physical prowess, but his wits and is often assisted by Leeja, cruising the skyways in gravity-defying hover cars as he continues to protect North Am.
Russ Manning's art is superb and stands the test of time some fifty years after Magnus' debut. His realistic style, coupled with imaginative backgrounds, creatively produced robots of any and all shapes and sizes and beautiful depictions of women enhance each storyline, making them truly timeless. There is a nice biography of Russ Manning in the back of the volume, recounting his career, which was cut short when he passed away in 1981 at the tragically young age of 52.
Something else of note with this segment of stories is that a young Mike Royer was taken on as Manning's assistant. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike back in 2012 and he explained that Russ was instrumental in launching his career:
"I went to a convention in 1964 and took a comic book that another fan, Dale Broadhurst did the writing adaptation. I did the drawing for an Edgar Rice Burroughs story, "The Wizard of Venus." We got permission from Hobart Burroughs to do it. So we printed this thing up and took it to the convention and met a lot of interesting people, like Harlan Ellison, who is a fascinating, fascinating, brilliant writer and eccentric, lovable human being. Well, you either love him or hate him. I love him.
I went primarily because I wanted to meet Russ Manning, who I learned from a fanzine was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. I thought, "Well, everybody will be going to the Dum-Dum in the 1964 World Science-Fiction Convention in Oakland," but of course he didn't show up because he had a career and a life. But I met Camille Kazbasu who was the editor of "Urban" Burroughs fanzine and he apparently after the convention in Oakland went to southern California and visited Russ Manning who was living out in the Jessica Canyon outside of Orange, which was near Santa Ana. So he told him about me and Kaz wrote and urged me to send some samples off to Russ, which I did and m-a-n-y months later Russ wrote back and said that if I wanted to be an assistant then I would be perfect for the part, or words to that effect.
So I took that as an excuse to pack up my family, tell the place I worked that I would be taking a month's vacation and we put half our belongings in storage and packed the rest in a U-Haul trailer and headed for southern California and figuratively speaking parked in Russ Manning's yard and said, "I'm ready to go to work." So he gave me work.
It helps to have people on your side. That's how it started. I assisted with Russ for about eleven months and my day job for 5 days a week was credit manager and paint salesman for Sherwin-Williams. I worked with Russ on weekends and nights and after eleven months he mentioned that he knew someone named Mike Aarons who worked at an animation studio and they were looking for people who could ink and draw, but primarily ink."
Sadly, this is the final volume in Dark Horse's reprint series of Magnus, but it is well worth your time to rediscover these classic tales of science-fiction and adventure, which seem as fresh and relevant today as when they were first seen in print.