Sunday, June 21, 2015

Magnum Robot Fighter #1

It's been said that great things always start small.  And in the case of comic books getting a huge resurgence in popularity and readership, it's true.

Not long after he was ousted (fired, quit, retired) form Marvel Comics as its Editor-In-Chief, Jim Shooter still wanted to be in the comic book industry and shake up things a bit.

With a few financial backers, Jim started Valiant Comics and acquired the rights to publish comic books based on Nintendo properties.

While the sales numbers were respectable, Jim wanted to get back into mainstream comics.  He was able to acquire the rights to the old Gold Key characters, Magnus Robot Fighter, Turok and Doctor Solar.

Helming the writing chores, Jim launched a limited print run of Magnus Robot Fighter with the assist from artist Art Nichols with inks by Bob Layton (another former Marvel Comics artist) and Kathryn Bolinger, colorist Janet Jackson, letterer Jade and editor Don Perlin.

I remember ordering the book through Diamond's Preview catalog as I was a big fan of Magnus growing up.  The book garnered enough advance orders to justify a print run.

Suddenly Shooter had a hit on his hands.  The initial 4-issue 'Steel Nation' storyline resonated with fans of the old series and new readers, pleased with the writing and art, rushed to find an issue.

Being that the print run was small (approximately 20,000) there were not enough issues to go around.  The series became hot!

Shooter also instituted something that made the books even more sought after.  In each of the four issues a set of four trading cards were included as 'coupons'.  Fans could send in all four sets and in return receive by mail a special #0 Magnus.

The response was phenomenal.  It also made complete early Magnus Robot Fighter issues even more valuable and sought after.

At about that same time Image Comics came into being and taking a clue from Valiant, it too began offering 'special' incentives and 'limited edition' special covers.

The comic book glut of the early 1990s was soon in full swing.

Speculators began snatching up huge runs of comic books hoping they would escalate in value.
Problem.  The more copies of a book printed, the less the value.  When the speculators went to 'cash in' on their investments they discovered that the books were worth (in most cases) less than they paid for them.

Speculators pulled out and suddenly comic book companies were stuck with huge print runs of comic books that no one was buying.

As a result many companies went under (Valiant included), shops, stuck with inventory no one bought, closed their doors and the comic book industry almost died.

It is true that big things start small. But, in the case of Valiant Comic Books what started out as a publishers' desire to create great stories and art, grew to an infectious monster that almost destroyed the health and life of an entire industry.

The blame should not be placed only on Valiant's doorstep.  Greed took its toll on publishers, speculators, investors, collectors and the entire industry.

Under new management, Valiant is back in the comic book publishing business and is doing quite well.