Of all the Valiant books from the past, "Magnus, Robot Fighter" never really clicked with me. The future never looked too futuristic, while the robots were fairly lame and seemingly unthreatening. As for the lead, he lacked anything close to a personality. So, I was surprised when the second issue of the latest attempt to bring back the book was pretty entertaining. The robots and future don't look much more impressive, but the story and characterization of Magnus more than make up for it. Jim Shooter writes a pretty solid book with ample back-up from artists Bill Reinhold and Mike Manley.
Despite the title, the emphasis in "Magnus, Robot Fighter" #2 is on the cruelty that some humans do to others as the eponymous hero tries to break up a human trafficking scheme. Unlike most human trafficking plots, this one involves selling humans to an alien race that finds humans to be delicacies. With robots built up as a secondary concern, the story subverts expectations without letting up on the action. Magnus still has to fight the robot servants, but they're merely tools -- except for a cyborg that gives Magnus trouble as he takes time to adapt to fighting something that's more unpredictable.
Magnus has a brash cockiness about him; He refuses any back-up in taking down the traffickers, wanting to do it all himself. He's naÃ¯ve and gets distracted at one point by the attractiveness of a woman who is being auctioned off. It's absurd, but believable for a man raised by a robot. That emphasis on Magnus's inexperience with anything besides robots is a smart way to go.
At the same time, the bad guys here are nothing but simple stereotypes. You almost expect to see one of them with a long moustache that he can twirl while laughing an evil laugh. You get one of them bragging about how they have robots do most of the work, because what they're doing is so bad that most humans would eventually crack because of it -- except for the human saying it, because she's so evil. They're generic, superficial bad guys and not much more.
The art of Bill Reinhold and Mike Manley has a retro feel to it that works against the futuristic setting. It's a campy future almost with antiquated, clunky robots. Since this book is an attempt to appeal, to an extent, to the nostalgia audience, it's an understandable choice, but it also looks too out of step with contemporary conceptions of the future. In many ways, our 2010 looks more advanced than this 4000.
Aside from that, the art is strong, particularly at creating tension and drama from one panel to the next. The action is clear and exciting, while the characters are easy to recognize and read. The strong craftsmanship adds a lot and propels the book forward.
"Magnus, Robot Fighter" #2 is a comic that pulls in a couple of directions, but is entertaining nonetheless. The approach is somewhat antiquated and that separates it from most other comics. There's a simplicity to the comic that makes it fun to read.