Exclusive: Fred Van Lente dishes on comeback of Magnus: Robot Fighter



Continuing with its relaunch of the Gold Key universe, Dynamite will soon add Magnus: Robot Fighter to its line. Written by Fred Van Lente (G.I. Joe, Brain Boy, Archer & Armstrong) and drawn by Corey Smith (Fathom), the book will follow the life and times of Russell Magnus.

To get the real nitty-gritty on this nostalgic move, Cosmic Book News Managing Editor Byron Brewer exclusively met with FVL. Here is what he found out.

Cosmic Book News: Fred, how nostalgic does it feel to bring back the Gold Key universe?

Fred Van Lente: I am old enough to have bought Gold Key books off the rack — when Western Publishing had the license and reprinted those classic Russ Manning robot fighter stories, which still hold up, in their own, fun way, to this day. They sold them in this thick newsprint proto-graphic novel format you could buy at the magazine stands in grocery stores. I got some Solar and Dr. Spektor then too. But it’s funny, that hadn’t really occurred to me until I started working on our book itself. 

CBN: So how did Fred Van Lente come to Robot Fighter?

Fred Van Lente: I happened to be going out with my buddy, editor Nate Cosby — we did Incredible Hercules, Wolverine First Class and a lot of Marvel books together — the night he was discussing Gold Key with Dynamite for the first time. He knew I wrote for Valiant, which had the GK license in the 90s, and asked me what I knew about the characters — which wasn’t a lot, but still more than he did. So as I was describing them I started pitching out ideas kind of inadvertently for Magnus, in the vein of “Hey, it’d be really cool if you did this … and that … and what about this?” and by the end of the evening we had the basic structure for what became this version pretty well sketched out! It came out very organically, which was cool. 


CBN: Tell us about Russell Magnus.

Fred Van Lente: Well, Magnus, at first, isn’t sure that what he knows about himself is true. He thinks he grew up in a secluded mountain enclave where humans and robots live in perfect harmony, raised by an artificial intelligence called 1A. But he soon awakes in the sprawling mega-city of North Am, where he’s told 1A is a dangerous terrorist and he is an illegal robot fighter. 

At least this much is true: He can instantly spot the weak spot in any robot and dismember it with a well-placed strike. A skill that is going to be extremely useful as he tries to find his way back home — if there is a home to go back to.  

CBN: Can you tell us a little bit about his world and the first arc in the magazine?

Fred Van Lente: North Am is a robot theocracy run by a Synod, a religious council on which the father of one of our other main characters, Leeja Clane, sits. Robots have taken over humanity for what they claim is humanity’s own good. They worship the Singularity, a merging of humans and machines that supposedly combined and left Earth (and left Earth devastated) centuries ago. The Church of the Singularity believes that if robots emulate humans perfectly — in effect, become more humans than humans themselves — the Singularity will return and “rapture” them up to some kind of synthetic nirvana. 

How true or untrue this dogma is is one of things Magnus must explore, and battle — and perhaps he’ll even come face to face with the Singularity itself.  

CBN: What makes this “Robot Fighter” different from most of the sci-fi heroes out there these days?


Fred Van Lente: I’m biased, of course, but the North Am world is a very unique place that people are going to be excited to explore along with Magnus. In his previous life, Magnus was a schoolteacher and a martial arts instructor, married, with a pregnant wife he’s trying to get back to, and so he’s a very hopeful and idealistic character, a source of light in an otherwise dark world. I think he bucks the antihero mold of a lot of recent series in comics and out, and people are going to want to spend time with him. I know I do.  

CBN: What is your inspiration? The Russ Manning original takes, variations by other publishers, something else?

Fred Van Lente: I got a lot of inspiration from Manning’s Gold Key stories — I read the whole series, all 30-odd issues — and reading about the recent advances in cybernetics and robotics, which really has progressed by leaps and bounds even from the 90s when Valiant did its Magnus series. 

CBN: Why do you enjoy books like this?

Fred Van Lente: I enjoy fantasy as metaphor, and the best science fiction and super hero stories take inner lives and philosophical concepts and “out” them where the characters can grapple with them in real space and time. Magnus Robot Fighter is about what makes us human, what the difference between a copy and an original is — if any — and if one is better than the other. 

Oh, and there’s a lot of kung fu and explosions. It’s bad-ass! 


CBN: Tell us about the art of Corey Smith.

Fred Van Lente: He is absolutely amazing. He has created a distinct world with North Am and a variety of robots and the Magnus karate chopping the heads off robots has never looked so awesome. He is going to be one of the breakout stars of 2014, you heard it here first, kids.   

CBN: Fred, are there any projects present or future you would like to discuss?

Fred Van Lente: A lot of fun stuff is coming out from me in 2014 — I have a very cool announcement shortly at the Image Expo in January. I hope people dig it!

Cosmic Book News would like to thank Fred Van Lente for taking time out on these holidays to answer our nosy M.E. We would also like to thank Dynamite’s own Nick Barrucci who helped make this interview possible.

“Magnus: Robot Fighter” #1 hits stores March 12th!