Since then, I’ve read and reviewed a number of other classic comics from the '40s, '50s, and '60s. They’ve become something of a guilty pleasure of mine. But, Magnus remains my all-time favorite. Why? What is it that makes Magnus so compelling to read? There’s the fact that he fights robots, of course, but that’s only a small part of it. There are only so many times you can say, “Wow, that guy just karate chopped a robot’s head off!” before the novelty wears off.
No, what sets Magnus apart from the rest is the world where the comic takes place: the world of 4000 A.D. and the sprawling, continent-spanning city of North Am, where there’s a robot for every conceivable task. Over the course of 2,000 years, this city has been built up to the sky, level upon level, with lavish anti-gravity parties being thrown in the upper levels, and the dregs of society scrounging to survive on the ground, amid the ruins of 20th century culture.
If Magnus were nothing more than just a newer, bigger, more unstoppable robot every issue (Volume 3 collects Issues #15-21, each its own standalone, robot-fighting adventure), it would still be a fun and worthwhile comic. But, this world that it creates is what really makes it compelling to read, even after a myriad robot punches.
For those who aren’t familiar with the previous issues, Magnus lives in a world where everything, from basic household chores to scientific research to law enforcement, is done by robots. Magnus warns the people of North Am (a vast city that was once the continent of North America) that their dependence on robots is too great, and if they grow too complacent, they and their precious civilization will end up destroyed.
Most of the citizens of North Am refuse to listen to him, despite the fact that, just about every month, robots attack the city and attempt to destroy it or enslave the people. When that does happen, Magnus has to use his “perfectly trained, steel-smashing muscles,” as well as his intelligence and cunning, to stop the latest robot threat.
In Volume 3, some of those robots include self-replicating alien robots, death ray-blasting robots from another dimension, black magic-wielding robots, and human-operated robot suits equipped with fear rays and 3D projectors. Some of the threats get pretty silly and far fetched, but that’s part of the fun. The world the comic creates as a setting for these silly adventures to take place adds depth to the stories, captures the imagination, and lets the reader get engrossed and invested in this silliness.
The casual sexism is somewhat better in this volume than in the previous one, as well. Magnus’s girlfriend Leeja is constantly being told to stay behind and not worry her pretty, little head about the dangers Magnus is facing, but she always insists on going with him and always ends up getting herself captured by robots. This was a standard pattern for comics of the day, and it was the pattern of the previous volume. This one, however, is a little different. Leeja doesn’t get herself captured nearly so often, and, in fact, she manages to help out in a couple of places. She still doesn’t really DO anything and is largely just window dressing (with a different hairstyle in every issue), but she manages to send for help at important times and does a few other things that cement her presence as an actual character, rather than just a pretty face to tag along.
Plus, I get the impression that the reason she always insists on tagging along is because she’s a bit of a thrill seeker who loves being caught up in the middle of these robot adventures, no matter how dangerous they are. This makes her character rather more relatable to me personally, because I think that in the same situation, I would feel the same way and would also insist on going along, even without steel-smashing strength.
Magnus: Robot Fighter, 4000 A.D. is pretty much the pinnacle of cheesy '60s sci-fi. It provides a whole world of fascinating adventures and awesome technologies, and each issue is compelling and fun. I highly recommend this comic. Honestly, you ought to be sold just on the title alone. But, Magnus manages to be so much more than that.