Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fun With Magnus!

I read Magnus Robot Fighter # 2, and it is so wonderfully.....weird. I'm actually a little surprised that we don't hear more buzz about the re-launched Valiant characters, because they attracted such a staunch following back in the day. It should be bigger news.

What people maybe forget is that Jim Shooter took a couple of cast-off pros and a gaggle of knobs and came a cat's whisker from taking market share from everybody. Left to his own devices, I think it was inevitable. Here we are in 2010, and there's Shooter back at it with the characters that should have been his empire. Nobody seems to care. Diamond reported about 11,000 orders for the book.

Another thing people forget are the subversive elements that would populate those old Valiant comics. When people think about Pre-Unity Valiant, I think they cling to idea that they were Silver Age comics with a modern sensibility, and I suppose that's fair. But if you look closely, you remember that Archer's parents were sex offending religious figures. And Erica Pierce was an incredibly creepy piece of work who ended up fucking her son Albert. Those halcyon Valiants had some vicious teeth. I loved that about them, by the way.

Now twenty years later Shooter is still up to his old tricks. Right now Magnus is trying to save Leeja and her friend Cinnette from the seedy North Am underbelly. He's stumbled onto the territory of Overboss Halolani, and she's into several brands of dirt.

My favorite segment of her operation is selling people to alien cultures for food. This is not an unprecedented concept, but still a little unsettling, especially when you consider the flippant discussion of the nuts and bolts she gets into with Curgorr, who's so ravenous for human meat that he's forced to be muzzled during the negotiations! It's so wonderfully childish, even as it heads down alleys never meant for children to travel.

Halolani explains that she simply won't sell Curgorr any people unless they're ground up first. Not on moral grounds, but because an escaped victim would just be too much pad PR to bear. This stuff is just too cute!

We don't have to worry about that happening to Leeja or Cinnette, however. Some of the average looking captives might end up as dog food in a can, but the pretty girls are sold into sexual slavery, of course.

Our young knight errant Magnus is doing everything he can to stop this travesty, but you can't blame him for being a bit distracted - after all, Cinnette is really hot. While he's supposed to be calling the riot robs or storming the castle, 1A has to wake Magnus out of his erection stupor, because he can't stop staring at the ass of his damsel in distress!

Nobody does this. Either the hero is played straight and would never play the cad like that, or the "hero" is a complete piece of crap that can barely be bothered to get the virtue part of the equation. I don't think anybody else in comics would have written that scene, where the mostly virtuous Lancelot has a moment of bizarre and inappropriate weakness. Is it completely absurd? Sure it is. But it's fun, dammit!

I don't know if Magnus Robot Fighter constitutes must reading. Some of this stuff hits you with all the subtlety of an anvil. The "boss battle" in the front of the comic pairs off Magnus with a complete cipher named Big Guns. Big Guns??? Really???

That's Shooter, man. But I'll tell you this - as usual, he communicates perfectly. Maybe it is a little blunt to hit you with a Big Guns or a muzzled man eater...but you sure as shit no where everyone stands and what's going on. And it isn't as if the man is incapable of complexity. Torque started out a cipher, too. Yeah, he was a giant stereotype jerkwad. But six issues in he's learning to read and treating Flamingo with something approximating respect, and you almost understood why Kris might end up choosing Torque over Pete, which you would never have guessed when the thing started.

No, Shooter still knows how to write. That thing with Cinnette was a multi-tool designed to show us that Magnus is still a man underneath at all, and also to set up a little friendly competition for Leeja's affection when Cinnette asks her to call him at the end of the story. So that's just Jim Shooter sprinkling in a a little character moment with an eye toward simultaneously advancing his romance subplot. Not so silly now, is it?

And Halolani's cavalier dealings with Curgorr have some ghastly consequences, and Curgorr gets his, too. Some of this "nonsense" is part of a very efficient and calculated machine. I think most comics could learn a thing or two by observing Shooter's blueprints.

Must reading? Maybe not. But it certainly is a unique flavor, and I love the subversive dollops in these Dark Horse/Valiant books.

- Ryan

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