Magnus: Robot Fighter #3 Review

Fred Van Lente (w), Cory Smith (a), Mauricio Wallace (c), Marshall Dillon (l)

I tend to hate issue-long fights.  I have a good reason for this – most of them are awful.  Padded well beyond the breaking point, issue-long fight scenes tend to say nothing beyond, “What you are doing right now technically counts as reading. Technically.”  All of which is to say, had I known what Magnus: Robot Fighter #3 was about, I probably never would have given it a shot at all, despite having mostly enjoyed the first two issues of Dynamite’s recent relaunch.  But, under Fred Van Lente and Cory Smith, Magnus: Robot Fighter has turned into an uncommonly intelligent book, and – to my pleasant surprise – that carried over even to the way they handled the lengthy chase and fight of this third issue.  I know that calling a book titled Magnus: Robot Fighter ‘uncommonly intelligent’ might make me come off as a mildly insane person, but, hey, this is the world we live in, and under Van Lente and Smith, Magnus: Robot Fighter is surprisingly ambitious.

At some point in the future, robots have taken over.  Humans are a minority, strictly controlled and forced out of most positions of power.  Magnus knows nothing about this.  Magnus was raised in a virtual simulation by an AI that believed that humans and robots can peacefully coexist, shown a society where everyone works together… only to have it ripped away when the AI is discovered and Magnus is forced on the run.  Now, Magnus has come into contact with ‘Leeja Clane’, a human policewoman foremost among the ‘human hunters’ the robots employ to track and capture outlaws.  That’s right, it’s ‘Robot Fighter’ vs ‘Human Hunter’, with Magnus’ short-lived freedom on the line.

I had some concerns about Cory Smith’s action in the book’s opening issues, but he really impressed me here.  Magnus: Robot Fighter #3 features two absolutely gorgeous two-page spreads, both of which are fascinating in very different ways.  In the first, Leeja gives chase to Magnus and H8R, both parties in flying cars.  Rather than opting for close-ups that inflate tension while obscuring location, Smith pans way out, rendering the two vehicles as tiny little avatars puttering around the futuristic city.  It’s a clever choice; while it lacks some of the immediacy of close-ups, it gives us a new perspective on the city and a step back from the artificially induced stakes of Leeja’s show.  It also wonderfully sets up the next spread, which finds Leeja and Magnus clashing in mid-air.  Smith captures the initial power and grace of the moment quite well, showing us in a single moment how precisely the pair of them are matched.

Ultimately, Magnus: Robot Fighter seems to be an attempt from writer Fred Van Lente to contextualize the way cultures tend to assimilate, dominate, and rebrand other cultures in an effort to make them safe and appease the population.  This issue featured my favorite example of that to date, as Leeja – the star of a reality show about hunting humans – takes a brief moment to interact with a minor character who will never appear again to mention her allergy about cats, because the robots have required that all human entertainment pass the Bechdel Test.  Nevermind that it misses the point of the test, as the story, and the bulk of their conversation, is about Magnus.  The robots have taken a bit of human culture meant to illustrate the lack of equality in popular culture, and turned it into a tool meant to give us the illusion of equality without considering the actual meat of the issue – not unlike the way many people use the test today.

Van Lente casts his net for such moments of appropriation far and wide, from Magnus’ choice of reading material to H8R’s speech patterns, and some of them are a little more cringe-inducing in the way they’re used.   Nevertheless, I’m definitely interested to see where Van Lente is taking this idea, which tackles issues we rarely see explored in mainstream comics with a confidence I haven’t seen from him since he redefined The Incredible Hercules.  Magnus: Robot Fighter #3 is another step on the smart, modern recontextualization of the character, and when you toss in Smith’s excellent art in this issue and some quick, clever background worldbuilding, you’ve got a winner.  This issue may have been primarily a single extended action sequence, but it was still one of the week’s smartest comics.

My Rating: 4.5 / 5

Magnus: Robot Fighter #3 preview