Thursday, October 22, 2015

Revenge of the Renegade Robots!

   My friend Richard Lee Byers posted the cover from an issue of Magnus: Robot Fighter on Facebook, and spurred a memory of something I haven’t thought of for decades. An early bit of writing, all the way back to seventh grade, in fact, when I was an erstwhile student at Canton Elementary School in rural Georgia.
   My seventh grade English teacher was a bit of a hippy, as many young women were in the 1970s. We’ll call her Miss C. Miss C played guitar and sang folk music. The students all liked her because she was cool in a way that most of our teachers weren’t. Heck, some of my grade school teachers had also taught my parents, which gives you some idea of how long some of them had been in the school system. But Miss C was young and hip and all about encouraging kids to be creative. She often asked us to write short stories, and as I already enjoyed doing that sort of thing, I looked forward to those assignments.
   Miss C also liked to give us cool things to read, and one day she had us read a Ray Bradbury short story Marionettes Inc, about a company that would provide you with a robot duplicate of yourself which could take care of the less pleasant parts of your life. Being a Bradbury story, it took a dark turn of course.
   Then Miss C told us that she wanted us all to write a story about what we would do if we had a robot duplicate of ourselves. Most of my classmates wrote one page stories about sending their duplicate to school or using it to prank their friends.
   But not me.
   I had recently read Gold Key Comics’ Magnus Robot Fighter issue #37. If you’re not familiar with Magnus, he was the hero of a comic book science fiction series set in the far future. In a society that relied more and more on robots to do the work of humans, Magnus was a constant voice of warning against people becoming too dependent on their mechanical servants. When robots went rogue, Magnus would destroy or disable them using nothing but his bare hands and a form of super karate. The series was drawn by one of my favorite Tarzan comics artists, Russ Manning, and really, it was a sort of futuristic version of Tarzan, where the hero had been raised, not by apes, but by a robot who had achieved an almost human level artificial intelligence.
   Anyway, in issue #37 (which I didn’t know at the time was actually a reprint from about a decade earlier) Magnus ran into a scientist who was creating robot duplicates of animals and humans, seemingly for entertainment purposes, but of course he had secret, evil plans. See where this is going?
   My story about my robot duplicate turned into a battle with a villain who planned to replace highly placed government officials with robot duplicates and to eventually rule the country. He was using the money generated by the sales of his seemingly harmless robots to fund his nefarious schemes. Like the villain in the Magnus story, my bad guy had an underground base, (built under the bank where my mother worked, if I recall correctly) and much like what happened in the comic, the base was flooded by a burst water main in the climax, and I had to escape by swimming through dark corridors. The villain drowned of course and his plans came out.
   The story was probably ten pages or so, written by hand, and Miss C loved it so much that she had me read it out loud to the class. I got an A+ on the assignment and much praise from my classmates.
   Certain elements were cribbed from the Magnus story, but most of the plot and such were all me. So yeah, I’ve been a storyteller since I was just a kid.
   Anyway, that’s what I remembered when I saw that cover. Thanks, Richard!


Keith West said...

That's a cool thing to remember.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Yeah, I was surprised how all the details came flooding back.