So let’s close out the “Gold Key to Valiant Trilogy” (a name I just made up) with the final hero that was published by Gold Key Comics that made its way to Valiant Comics in the 1990’s: Magnus, Robot Fighter.
Origin and Career
Magnus, Robot Fighter was first published by Gold Key Comics in February of 1963.
He was created by comic book writer and artist Russ Manning.
There are a couple things that should be noted about Russ Manning. First, while Magnus, Robot Fighter was his single greatest creation, he rose to prominence in the comic book world with his work on Tarzan comics.
You will also notice that his artwork is jaw droppingly amazing.
Magnus, Robot Fighter was a man born in the future society of North Am, a futuristic mega city that spans the entire continent of North America in the year 4000 A.D.
While humans are nominally in charge of North Am, they have slowly become more and more dependent on a massive robot workforce. One of their own, a robotic police chief named H-8, hates humanity to the point where he wants to take over North Am and rule over the humans.
Into this story steps Robot 1-A, who appears to be a much older and wiser robot than his companions. He raises a boy named Magnus to fight robots with his bare hands and protect humanity from evil robots and humans who seek to use robots for their own wicked plans.
The adventures of Magnus were pretty straight forward. He would find a robot, or group of robots, that was doing something wrong or detrimental to humanity and beat the ever loving piss out of said evil doers with his bare hands.
Magnus had a girlfriend who would assist him in his adventures named Leeja Clane.
She was the daughter of a North Am senator and possessed telepathic powers that she used to help Magnus from time to time.
Magnus, Robot Fighter was a success and I think there were three reasons why he sold as well as he did.
First, the early sixties were a heyday for some of the greatest science fiction ever written. The scene was dominated by “The Big Three” of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Issac Asimov.
One of Asimov’s greatest contributions to the world of science fiction was his work on robotics, specifically one of his most famous books: 1950’s I, Robot.
In the book he introduced his now famous Three Laws of Robotics,
This was important to Magnus, Robot Fighter because Robot 1A, Magnus’ teacher and mentor, mentions the Three Laws and believes in them so strongly that it serves as Magnus’ origin.
The second cultural event in the early 1960’s was the introduction of karate to every day Americans.
American soldiers who had been stationed in Japan and Okinawa had learned karate from Japanese/Okinawan masters and brought it back to the States.
Since it looked cool and was just exotic enough to impress a lot of Americans it found a home in Hollywood where it was used by Frank Sinatra in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate,
and by Elvis.
when you have a comic that combined popular science fiction with a martial art that was used by two of the coolest men to ever walk the Earth, you know you’ve got a hit.
Also, I mentioned at the top of the article that Magnus had been created by a man who made his mark in the comic book industry by drawing Tarzan stories.
When you put Magnus side by side with Tarzan there are a lot of pretty striking similarities. They were both raised by non human parents, they fight other worldly threats, and they both have a pretty lady friend they get to save and treat as arm candy.
Magnus was basically a futuristic version of Tarzan, and I’m okay with that.
So what happened?
Magnus may have been a popular Gold Key character (I guess people just really like robots and karate) but he fell victim to a force more powerful than any mindless robotic automaton: low sales figures.
The series was cancelled when Gold Key started suffering in the 1970’s.
However, the rights were published by Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics in the late 1980’s along with Turok and Doctor Solar.
The Valiant version of Magnus was pretty faithful to the Gold Key version, although there was a pretty popular issue where Magnus fought the Predator in 1992.
After Valiant’s parent company was bought by Acclaim in 1995, Magnus was rebooted two years later in 1997.
The series was more of a self parody of the original creation and it was not very well received. Acclaim would close its doors in 1999. It was not sorely missed.
Magnus was picked up by Dark Horse Comics and his original stories were reprinted in 2002.
A new original series was announced in 2010 with Jim Shooter writing which lasted four issues until it was cancelled in 2011.
Currently the series is owned by Dynamite Entertainment which bought the rights in 2013 and began publishing a new original series in 2014.
I have the first volume on my phone. It’s a good story, the artwork is fantastic, and I would highly recommend it. In it’s own special way I think it’s come full circle.
Magnus, Robot Fighter was a silly idea with a silly name and only the most basic story lines and motivation. However, the endearing nature of such a wonderfully simple concept (coupled with the fact that it borrowed heavily from established characters and jumped on the two major bandwagons of karate and 1960’s science fiction), made the comic a classic of the medium and ensured that it would be several times better than it had any right to be.
Next week we’re going to be talking about the little comic book publisher that became one of the great icons of horror but was squashed by the ever rolling tide of history.
Stories about metal creatures created to serve the bidding of their masters is nothing new. The ancient Greek god Hephaestus had two mechanical assistants to help him in his work.
and Jewish folklore talks about the Golem, a mystical man of clay that can be brought to life whenever the Jewish people are threatened.
But the idea of a living creature made out of inanimate material really took off in the 20th century. We call them robots.
Today we’re going to talk about one of the lesser known robots of pop culture: Flexo.
No, not that one. While I love Futurama, the Flexo we’re going to talk about today is a product of the 1940’s and boy is he strange.
Yes, that is a real comic book superhero and yes he does look like the bastard lovechild of Gumby and Iron Man, but despite his strange appearance he was actually a pretty important character in the early days of Timely Comics.
Origin and Career
Flexo the robot first appeared in Mystic Comics #1 in March of 1940.
The character was created by writer Will Harr and artist Jack Binder.
While I couldn’t find a lot of information on Will Harr, Jack Binder was one of the more successful artists during the Golden Age,
who helped create the original Daredevil,
and who was the older brother of Otto Binder,
the man who created little known characters such as the entire Captain Marvel family and Brainiac.
Harr and Binder’s Flexo was created by two brother scientists named Joel and Joshua Williams with the intention of fighting crime and ridding the world of evil.
The robot itself was basically a rubber suit filled with gas and could be controlled remotely by the two men. Thanks to his stretchy suit and the fact that he wasn’t limited by pesky things like a skeleton the robot could perform some pretty amazing feats.
In his first adventure Flexo was summoned by the Williams brothers after they had been robbed while carrying a dangerous sample of radium. The group eventually traced the sample to the lab of the evil Dr. Murdo
But since this was a short story, and since this was the 1940’s, Flexo and his creators manage to defeat the Doctor and his goons in short order.
Flexo would go on to have three more stories where he would continue to rescue his creators from various threats such as foreign spies,
and a wicked insurance fraudster named the Iron Duke,
a man who ran a protection racket where he would burn people’s houses down and have them split the money with him, or perish in the flames. Flexo and the Williams brothers stopped the Iron Duke after he burned down a tenement building with children still in it.
Flexo’s last adventure was also his biggest. The Williams brothers snuck the robot into the fictitious nation of Teutonia (it should be noted that while the United States wasn’t technically involved in the Second World War at this point it didn’t stop comic book heroes from fighting thinly disguised Nazis) to steal back a formula for a deadly weapon.
So what happened?
Flexo fell victim to the same fate that befell almost everyone we talk about on this blog series, people just lost interest in him after World War 2.
But Flexo actually made a comeback not too long ago, and even helped save the universe as we know it.
This is going to require some explaining. In the Marvel Universe there are various human led government agencies tasked with protecting Earth from various threats. Most of us know S.H.I.E.L.D
and while they protect the Earth from most super powered threats there are other organizations such as S.W.O.R.D that protect Earth from alien threats,
and A.R.M.O.R, which protect the world from threats from other dimensions.
The reason I bring this up is because in 2012 Marvel ran a series called Marvel Zombies Destroy! where A.R.M.O.R is called upon to stop a Nazi zombie plague from another dimension from destroying our Earth.
It’s a cool idea but I don’t think it was designed to be taken seriously since they tasked this guy with stopping the invasion.
That’s Howard the Duck and to talk about him would take an entire article all to itself but long story short, in order to stop the Nazi zombie menace Howard assembled a team called…The Ducky Dozen.
One of the members of the Ducky Dozen was a new and improved Flexo.
He was upgraded with more autonomy and even gained the ability to speak.
The group would travel to the dimension where the zombies had originated and were almost immediately set upon by the zombified remains of some of Marvel’s greatest heroes.
Sadly, Flexo would perish in the final issue of the series. He was ripped apart by zombie goats and atomized when the surviving members of the team detonated a nuclear bomb to prevent any more zombies from entering other dimensions.
Flexo is an interesting character. While he only lasted a couple of stories he was a shining example of just how interesting and creative the Golden Age could be and he had the privilege of dying a pretty awesome death.
He is a great hero and a great idea who deserved way more attention and credit than he got.