Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
A review by Kylee Sills
What opens as a genial family man headed off to an average day at work quickly takes a turn in Magnus #1. In the year 2020, Artificial Intelligences have become commonplace. They work alongside humans and earn their vacation time like the rest of us cogs in the machine. And just like any run-of-the-mill office drone, AIs have their fair share of problems. Enter Magnus: a human psychologist able to enter the AIs’ digital world and counsel them on their home turf.
Re-imagined from previous versions and runs of a character that has been bounced around titles and licenses, Magnus used to be a robot fighter. Now, she might be the only one able to help out on a case involving AIs. Mix up some noir, Blade Runner, and The Matrix to understand the vibe that this series is aiming for.
This first issue sets up the world for readers. There’s a rather unspectacular look inside the servers set up for the AIs – though that may be the point. It’s an average suburban neighborhood and the same sort of cities built up all over the world. If it weren’t for the excess wiring or what looks like arcing circuitry details in the artwork from Jorge Fornes, there would be nothing ‘other’ about the AIs digital world.
Fornes’ art highlights just how similar humans and AIs are despite their societal circumstances. This is especially evident within the two-page spread of screens, wires, and one open window at the beginning of the issue. Just as many humans as AIs are shown interacting with technology, the world around them, and each other. It’s a gorgeous technicolor introduction that sets the tone. Throughout the issue, colorist Chris O’Halloran continues to give brighter colors to the digital world and a more muted, darker pallet for the real one.
Beyond that contrast, there is plenty of symmetry that carries through the themes and panels of the issue. A particularly noteworthy two-panel picture showcases one AI’s face split between a ‘traditional’ human appearance and one of the robot casing, the dichotomy is startling. Magnus’ dinner date cuts back and forth between her and the man she’s arguing with. There’s a movement and flow to the panels, which often spread over two and three separate spaces and really gives a sense of progression through the art.
As a character, Magnus herself uniquely straddles the line between humans and AIs. She is a psychologist that empathizes with AIs and must meet them in their own environment. It’s something very few humans are able to do without losing their minds, affording her a perspective that alienates her from her peers. When she’s called on to return to her bounty hunting ways, it’s with a reluctance that may foreshadow her ability to complete her assignment. After all, she’s just a civilian, as one of the cops derisively notes.
Granted, the story isn’t asking a new question of sci-fi aficionados as the relationship between AIs and humans is explored. Essentially, Higgins and the team are asking if AIs begin to outpace humans, but humans continue to treat them as lesser, what happens? What does that say about humans and society as a whole? It’s a classic question that shows promise for perhaps a different answer as the story progresses.
Buy It! Without being familiar with the male counterpart to Magnus, this female iteration feels completely in her element, acting as a mental health professional to slowly self-aware AIs disrupting society. The setting and characters feel shiny and new while the themes are well-tread for sci-fi fans, making for a comfortable, interesting kick-off to Magnus #1. I’m a sucker for cautious tales about technology and morality and exploring female protagonists. This is a highly relatable tale set in the near-future, just close enough to remind us that Siri and Alexa are only so far removed from mobility. And then what?