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MAGNUS #3

by Thegreatmagnet on August 23, 2017

Magnus words by Kyle Higgins
Magnus art by Jorge Fornes
Magnus colors by Chris O’Halloran
Doctor Spektor words by Aubrey Sitterson
Doctor Spektor art by Dylan Burnett
Doctor Spektor colors by Triona Farrell
Published by Dynamite
 
I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the Magnus solo series so far. Like any good re-imagining, this series updates the story and characters for the modern sensibility, while staying true to the core concepts of the property. While the classic depiction of Magnus is admittedly a bit goofy (dude in a skirt punches robots’ heads off), this is a more sophisticated take that grapples with some heady sci-fi ideas, while also introducing an admirable amount of novel world-building. In this issue, we see the threat of the malevolent A.I. systems starting to crystalize as Magnus and her police accomplices pursue the investigation in both the cloud world and the real world, respectively.
 
At its core Magnus has always been about the power dynamics between humans and intelligent robots. Across the numerous iterations over the years, humans are usually the group in power, although there has been at least one version where the premise has been flipped and the robots are the ruling class. Magnus has often been a character stuck between the two worlds, perhaps the logical outcome of a society built on the immoral subjugation of an entire class. One of the compelling and novel innovations in this iteration is that the A.I.s (or “systems” as they are called) in this story are essentially human in many ways. Each system is the unique result of their fundamental programming and their experiences (nature vs. nurture). No two systems are the same, and furthermore they do not have backups of their identities. If they are damaged or destroyed in the real world, they may not be able to make it back unscathed to the cloud world. However, the humans treat the systems cruelly, ordering and demeaning them like common slaves, and occasionally even subjecting them to vicious hate crimes. Magnus clearly has sympathy for the systems, perhaps even moreso than for the humans, and that led her to change professions from bounty hunter to robot therapist. She understands the plight of A.I. systems and she wants to help them, perhaps as penance for her past deeds as a bounty hunter, until the inciting events of this series require her to help preserve order.
 
The conflict in this series definitely reflects a more modern sensibility, incorporating some of the trappings and vocabulary of modern terrorism. The rogue systems are apparently an underground splinter faction, and their tactics involve the use of bombs in the human world, rather than the physical strength of steel robot chassis. The effect is more visceral and more directly applicable to our current experience in the world. Clearly the tactics of the systems are extreme and likely unproductive, and they’re no more in the right than their human oppressors (who I’m guessing will eventually resort to their own brutal tactics in the coming issues). Throughout all of this, Magnus just wants to keep the peace and prevent harm to robots and humans alike. She’ll be constantly pushed to pick a side, but it will be a challenge given the current dynamics wherein both sides are wrong and right.
 
I’m also fascinated by the narrative innovation of the cloud world, especially as it pertains to the role of A.I. systems in the real world. They are not necessarily true slaves, in that they’ve been granted four hours of freedom and independence per day away from humans in the cloud world. But why would systems ever return to their servitude in the real world, rather than remain in permanent freedom in the cloud? The answer revealed in this issue is that human technology and resources run the cloud world, and systems need to work for humans in order to keep it operational. The cloud world is essentially compensation for their labors in the real world. The humans exert some control in terms of how they are willing to allocate memory resources, so there is scarcity in the cloud world in a sense. However, black market coders have found a niche in this environment providing things that the human government will not: upgrades and even families for the systems. The systems are working for the humans but they’re allowed some small semblance  (or illusion) of independence. I would compare them to sharecroppers in the post-Civil War South, whose experience was in practice not overwhelmingly different from previous conditions during slavery. This is an interesting nuance of the premise as compared with earlier iterations of Magnus.
 
I’m very satisfied with the art in this series, and this issue is no exception. The cloud world is always a feast for the eyes in terms of the architecture and the wild character designs that the systems create for themselves. I also love O’Halloran’s evocative colors in the cloud world (that striking, otherworldly emerald sky), and I’m looking forward to some brilliant lunacy as Magnus enters “the Outskirts” in the next issue. By contrast, the real world of New York City is very grounded and gritty, with lots of fine details and a darker color palette. I’d also like to give props to Fornes for some very interesting panel layouts in this issue, most notably the double-page spread of Magnus breaking into a casino skyscraper. This was a great device to convey the action in real time and it’s perhaps our first taste of Magnus’ physical bounty hunter chops. The art is solid and unique, and it does a great job keeping up with Higgins’ provocative writing.
 
The Doctor Spektor backup was not my favorite, although it’s probably still premature to pass judgement. My concern is that they seem to be portraying Spektor as a dirtbag, grafter, slacker, and screw-up, which could get old quick if he’s not pushed to grow as a character. Flawed characters are all well and good, especially if done right, but it can be frustrating when characters cannot keep out of their own way. I also hope that they move on to a bigger narrative, rather than just a constant struggle to con his way into a security deposit. We’ll have to wait and see.
 
Overall, this is another strong issue of Magnus as they continue to flesh out the terrorist plot of the Frederick system. They are creating such a rich world and introducing so many ideas, I just hope that the series can last more than twelve issues. This is shaping up to be one of the strongest interpretations of Magnus yet, and it vastly expands the possibilities for the character in the future. Granted, if they can maintain the current quality, this series could be very tough to top.
 

Our Score:

9/10

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