10/06/2010

The Mighty Magnor

By Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, Tom Luth, Stan Sakai

In 1993 the then wildly popular Image Comics ended their partnership with Malibu Comics, leaving the latter company with a huge infusion of cash reserves which they used in part to fund a new line of comic books. But Malibu's success was rather short-lived, and the publisher was purchased in 1994 by their bigger rival Marvel Comics. One of those discontinued titles was from the team led by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier. Bringing their Mad Magazine brand of satire to the superhero genre, they created six issues of The Mighty Magnor. In the letters section a buoyant Mark expressed hoped that the series would go on to be have a long and successful run. Yeah, those were the days. Mark does mention on his website that there was once a Spanish language trade paperback. Other than that, I'm unaware of Magnor being reprinted elsewhere.


Like Groo the Wanderer, Magnor is about a thick-headed protagonist who wreaks mass destruction every time he attempts to perform heroic acts. In reality he's an amnesiac super-powered alien soldier who crash lands on Earth. He's then discovered wandering the streets of New York by two wannabe comics professionals, C.J. Delaney and Gil Gillman. They take him back to their studio and hire him to model for their new superhero series called "The Mighty Magnor". While there, "Magnor" reads C.J. and Gil's entire comic book collection, and begins to believe that he's an actual superhero. Unfortunately, his crime-fighting goes unappreciated by the police mainly because his actions tend to cause significant collateral damage. But things only get worse when the evil ruler of Magnor's home planet attempts to retrieve him.


Magnor is a hilarious snapshot of the excesses within the comic book industry at the time. The protagonist himself is a walking cliche of the increasingly violent superheroes that dominated the market. Magnor has no personality of his own, but speaks entirely in dialogue lifted from television and comic books. That probably makes him just a tad less engaging than Groo. Other issues that weighed heavily on Sergio and Mark's minds are the burgeoning awareness of creator rights and the speculator craze driving demand for comic books. The only editor in the entire series is a money-grubbing, over the top figure who barely pays his employees while profiting from their work. He does get his comeuppance in the end. Meanwhile, scorn is heaped on the practice of bagging comic books without reading them. This must have been a real pet peeve at the time, given the way the story keeps coming back to the issue.

Anyway, here are my favorite pages in the series:


I really enjoy this two page spread, especially the love given to Jack Kirby. I keep imagining Rob Liefeld and Frank Miller being among the people kissing his ass. Actually, it was the news of Comic Con's decision to stay in San Diego for at least the next five years that brought back memories of this image, and prompted me to take another look at Magnor.

Re-reading Magnor seventeen years after its initial release imbues it with a oddly nostalgic vibe. Sure, the comic book industry would implode soon after. And yes, the superhero remains the one true genre within the Direct Market. But it would never regain the glamour it had during this period, nor would its comics be attached to such over-hyped superstars. And as much as Sergio and Mark poke fun of superheroes, a real affection for the genre does come through. It's also rather quaint how much more centered the comic book industry was around the DM back then. So is its comparatively nascent working relationship with mainstream media. While the series skewers Hollywood's increasing involvement with comic books, it never gets past portraying it as a brief and dangerous flirtation. And as a comic written before the world wide web exploded into the public's consciousness, the story's context almost feels like looking into the last days of some medieval era before the introduction of movable type. But creator rights and copyright ownership is an important issue tackled in Magnor that continues to be unresolved, and has only gotten a whole lot more complicated since then.


Then there's this conversation between two nameless pedestrians spotting Magnor on the street:

- It's the most powerful man in the comic book world!
- That's Todd MacFarlane?

Oh, how the might have fallen.