Comic book showcase: Magnus, Robot Fighter.

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.

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Origin and Career

Magnus, Robot Fighter was first published by Gold Key Comics in February of 1963.

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He was created by comic book writer and artist Russ Manning.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Magnus had a girlfriend who would assist him in his adventures named Leeja Clane.

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She was the daughter of a North Am senator and possessed telepathic powers that she used to help Magnus from time to time.

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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.

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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.

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In the book he introduced his now famous Three Laws of Robotics,

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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.

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American soldiers who had been stationed in Japan and Okinawa had learned karate from Japanese/Okinawan masters and brought it back to the States.

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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,

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and by Elvis.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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After Valiant’s parent company was bought by Acclaim in 1995, Magnus was rebooted two years later in 1997.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Golden Age Showcase: Princess Pantha

Today I want to talk about Tarzan.

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We may think of Tarzan as quaint and pretty racist today (a white man who finds himself stranded in the jungle and not only survives but thrives and proves himself superior to people who have been living in the same location for centuries? Right.) but back in the 1930’s and 1940’s he was a pop culture juggernaut.

Tarzan got his start in 1912, years before the comic books became the medium they are today.  In their own special way, the Tarzan books were a big part of the main competition that comic books had to face as they came into their own.

I bring this up because like Superman in 1938, the popularity of Tarzan spawned a whole host of imitators.  One of the most important imitators was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

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The idea of taking the “noble savage” trope that Tarzan helped develop and flipping the gender of the protagonist proved popular (and probably quite kinky) and lucrative.

Sheena would go on to become a pop culture icon of her time and would would inspire a whole host of imitators herself, and today we’re going to talk about one of them.

Today I present: Princess Pantha

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Origin and Career:

Disclaimer: The following article shows and discusses imagery that displays some pretty strong racist overtones.  This is not done out of malice or anger, these images were products of their time and should be openly viewed and discussed so that we as a culture and a people can acknowledge them and learn from our past, for better or for worst.

Princess Pantha made her first appearance in Thrilling Comics #56 in October of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

While I was unable to find the name of her writer I did find out that she was drawn by comic book artist Art Saaf,

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who would go on to do a lot of work for DC Comics in the 1970’s, including a lot of romance comics,

and one of the most famous stints on Supergirl in the 1970’s.

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It’s pretty clear that Mr. Saaf was really good at drawing beautiful women, and it definitely shows in his early work with Princess Pantha.

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Anyway, back to her origin.  It turned out that “Princess Pantha” was originally a stage name for the world famous animal trainer of the National Circus.  Looking to improve their act the circus sent Pantha into the heart of Africa in an attempt to find a rare white gorilla the locals called “M’gana”.

While it is pretty cool to have a career woman on an expedition to further her own fortunes, any sort of progressive or forward thinking idealism is quickly squashed in the first couple of pages by the “famous explorer” Dane Hunter, who believes that an “inexperienced kid” shouldn’t be by herself in the wilds of Africa.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

The Princess isn’t exactly the most tolerant type either and her expedition goes south when her party is attacked by natives.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She manages to fend off the locals by playing a recording of a gorilla, which scares the raiding party away.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Unfortunately, she is now stranded in the jungle without much food and no way home.

Dane attempts a rescue but is captured himself.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Thankfully, some time has passed between Patha escaping and Dane being captured, enough time for Pantha to become an expert in jungle survival (in one page no less) and craft a leopard skin bikini.

Pantha rescues Dane by stampeding a herd of wild elephants into the village of the tribe that tried to kill them both.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She rescues him and the issue ends with both of them vowing to find a way back to civilization.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Like I said, this particular story has some pretty racist overtones, but it was popular enough to warrant more adventures and even several cover appearances.

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Sadly, most of her stories didn’t deviate from the formula set by her first appearance, where Pantha and Dane would stumble into a mystery/adventure and have to fight off an army of poorly dressed and horribly stereotypical natives who were greedy, evil, and usually didn’t speak very good English.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #69 - Version 2

You’ll notice that the world “civilization” gets thrown around a lot and it usually winds up referring to western or “white” civilization.

So what happened?

Pantha went on like this for three years until it was dropped in favor of another icon of 1950’s pop culture, the cowboy.

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Her final appearance was in Thrilling Comics #72, where once again she confronted and defeated the savage men and beasts of the wild thanks to her “superior” intellect and the benefits of western civilization.

It was probably for the best.

Like many of Standard Comics’ properties she would experience a revival in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  She first appeared in AC Comics Jungle Girls: Wild Side

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displaying all the fabulous 90’s comic tropes of an impossibly large bust on top of an impossibly slim waist with the butt jutting out in the most uncomfortable angle.

She would also have a supporting role in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura series.

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She dated a character named Doc Strange for a bit, but was mostly relegated to the sidelines.

Princess Pantha is a tricky character to talk about.  On one hand she was strong, capable woman who could handle herself in a fight and was able to overcome a lot of presumptions that her male colleagues had about her.  On the other hand, there was some pretty blatant and uncomfortable racism and sexism going on in these comics, ensuring that they would be permanent fixtures of their times and would not be able to to transition into modern popular culture very well.

But hey, leopard skin bikini!

Golden Age Showcase #8: Fantomah

Today we are going to give the ladies of superhero comics a chance to shine.  While we have previously talked about Miss Victory, one of the earliest super heroines who beat Wonder Woman to the punch,

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she was not the first super heroine.  That honor belongs to the queen protector of the jungle: Fantomah.

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Origin and career

Fantomah first appeared in Jungle Comics #2 which was published in February of 1940.  She was written as a side story to the introduction of another superhero called the Red Panther.

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Before we go on it’s worth mentioning a couple of things.  First the company behind Jungle Comics was a pulp magazine publisher called Fiction House and one of the most popular pulp heroes at the time was the famous Tarzan.

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It seems that copying much more successful characters and flooding the market with cheap copycats is nothing new.  Anyway, Fiction House had a bit of success with their own pulp character Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (a character so popular that she would get her own television series)

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and in 1940 they decided to expand their comic book line up by commissioning an artist named Henry Fletcher to create a knockoff of their own established success and help establish the new genre of the “white jungle goddess”: Fantomah.

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When Fantomah was created it was eventually revealed that she was a former Egyptian relic who was endowed with the power of the gods i.e anything the creator could think of or whatever was needed for Fantomah to save the day.  What makes her separate from most of her other jungle goddess counterparts is that her body would change whenever she needed to use her powers transforming form a gorgeous blonde to…

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a living nightmare.  Basically she was an all powerful avatar of justice and vengeance and boy did she have a lot to do.   Her job was to protect her jungle and all its native inhabitants and over the course of her career she faced down evil miners, explorers, and mad scientists.  She wasn’t afraid to deal out some harsh justice as well.  There was one instance where an evil scientist attempts to create an army of super soldier gorillas and Fantomah decides the best course of action is to take the scientist and feed him to his own creation.

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She was the first female in comic books to have a dual identity, supernatural powers, and she was created to expressly fight against evil.  These are all the hallmarks of a modern superhero and Fantomah was the first.

So what happened?

Before we go any further, let’s address the pale elephant in the room.  Fantomah: the great protector of the jungle and friend to all the animals and natives is white which can be viewed by many, including myself, to be racist as hell.  The sad reality is that this was the standard operating procedure at the time and this sort of casual racism was the order of the day for pop culture heroes, especially exotic ones like Tarzan or Fantomah.  Personally, I don’t like it and I’m sure a lot of others don’t like it, but it was the way things were back then and we can use examples like this to appreciate just how far we’ve come and as a lesson on what NOT to do with our characters.

You’ll also notice that Fantomah and her stories are…not very well drawn or written.

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Fantomah was designed from the start to be a cheap and disposable character designed to fill out the pages of other comic book hero books and sadly she faded into obscurity.  She was eventually re purposed in later appearances to share more similarities with her more popular unpowered counterpart Sheena

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But sadly she would eventually fade into pop culture obscurity.

Still, Fantomah was the first lady in comic books to fight evil while having a dual identity and superpowers which makes her the very first female super heroine.