Are ISIC and Handsome Jack the same AI? A comprehensive review of one character's continuity in the Gearbox Extended Universe

(heathermarshall0) #1

I’d like to propose that ISIC from Battleborn is the Handsome Jack AI, just several centuries removed from the timeline of the Borderlands series. And no, not just because they’re both blue AI in Gearbox games (though indeed that was the first clue). Also I’m not saying Handsome Jack is important or relevant to Battleborn, just that there’s a real, very interesting possibility he was a playable character in plain sight. The evidence is as follows (with rebuttals and responses after):

  1. ISIC shares an extremely similar style of diction with Jack, with both making liberal usage of champ, b***h (an especially notable quirk for a battleborn character, due to the teen rating requiring censorship when the swear could have just been avoided in the first place), and most tellingly, kiddo. Consider the following:

ISIC: But riddle me THIS, kiddo: what makes you — a defective, prototype, artificial babysitter — such a hero? (Kid Ultra Lore)

Jack: I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s cute that you all think you’re the heroes of this little adventure, but you’re not. I’m the damn hero. Welcome to Pandora, kiddos! (Borderlands 2)

ISIC: Last words not found! Inserting template: [‘I DIED LIKE A B***H!’] Last words saved! (Combat call-out)

Jack: Anyway, the moral is: you’re a total b***h! (Borderlands 2)

ISIC: What do you think has THEM planning for the worst? What do you think that looks like, champ? Really…really think about it, champ. (The Algorithm)

Jack: Do you, champ? Do you got it? (Tales Episode 1)

They both also frequently chuckle for uncomfortably long periods of time, and deliver even extremely violent or dark dialogue in an upbeat manner. Which brings us to:

  1. ISIC and Jack have very similar personalities. Both are profoundly sadistic, and are willing to commit genocide in order to attain a perceived greater good: Jack planned to destroy most of Pandora with the Warrior to make it “paradise”, ISIC attempted to crash reality which he believed to be merely a video game simulation in order to free all sentient life from suffering. They both act as if the protagonists’ opposition to this plan is evil or unconscionable. ISIC’s profound nihilism at realizing reality is a game also makes even more narrative sense if you choose to believe that he, as Handsome Jack, was made by the developers to believe he was the protagonist when they knew he was the villain, and suffered considerably at their hands. Regardless of whether or not Battleborn is canonically a game, ISIC/Jack might choose to convince himself of this to exonerate himself of considerable guilt by blaming an evil system that forced his hand.

  2. ISIC served as the CEO of a weapons and robotics company before the events of Battleborn, and was evidently extremely successful. Before that, he was involved with coding and even had a terrible relationship with his boss, Kleese. This strongly parallels Jack’s career in Borderlands. One can argue that ISIC was well suited to these positions (and experienced the same problems with management) because they were what he did when he was alive as Jack. Other Magnuses in Battleborn don’t have any particular skill with coding, so this is not simply a function of ISIC being a digital being either.

  3. ISIC’s dialogue with Kid Ultra (an AI obsessed with being a hero) shows that ISIC has been preoccupied with the nature of heroism in the past, and seems to have become disillusioned with the concept. This disillusionment is consistent with how we last see Jack’s AI in Tales from the Borderlands, and seems like a natural evolution of the doubts Jack expresses in the finale. Some excerpts:

“ISIC: But riddle me THIS, kiddo: what makes you — a defective, prototype, artificial babysitter — such a hero?

Kid Ultra: ??? what do you mean?
Kid Ultra: “Where evil lies, where the forces of darkness crawl, where there are bad things happening, JUSTICE shall triumph! Ad astra!”
Kid Ultra: It’s pretty straightforward. I stop bad guys

ISIC: -_-; “

“Kid Ultra: you mean my ROCKETS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS???
Kid Ultra: they’re great!
Kid Ultra: I use them for rooting out villainy

ISIC: You mean killing whatever you arbitrarily decide needs to stop existing so much? I admire your style, kid!
ISIC: Have you considered a more “wanton” approach? Believe me, when you don’t have to compartmentalize every little thing into “good” or “evil” and just lump them all in the “to destroy” pile, it saves a lot of computing power. :smiley:

Kid Ultra: mmmm no, I don’t think I’d use the term “killing”
Kid Ultra: I’m “defending the innocent”
Kid Ultra: but proactively
Kid Ultra: and on a bigger scale!
Kid Ultra: As a member of the Little Lasernauts League, I don’t kill people

ISIC: Are you sure? Because I gotta say, you and your crazy are killing me right this very second.”

  1. ISIC’s skull looks like it could belong to Jack- his cheekbones, brow, and eyebrows are especially characteristic. His boss form also bears some resemblance to the Hyperion spider-tanks from Borderlands 2, which would make sense if, you know, he designed both of them.


  1. The LLC, ISIC’s faction in Battleborn, shares many qualities with Hyperion that suggest it’s possibly a future iteration of the same brand. They both manufacture weapons, robotics, and resurrection technologies, and favour yellow and blue in their design. Other hints that Battleborn is in the distant future of Borderlands include the fact that Ghalt’s guns were made by a Jakobs, that the Heart of Ekkunar closely resembles an Eridian Vault (it even contains a guardian referred to as The Sentinel, like the Pre-Sequel), and that the morse code message in the Heart of Ekkunar even directly mentions Tannis and the Vaults. Given that Battleborn also contains technology that allows for travel between dimensions, it could be an alternate but connected universe to the world of Borderlands that takes place temporally closer to Borderlands canon. Either way, Battleborn is in all likelihood canonically connected to Borderlands and thus Handsome Jack’s AI can feasibly exist in Battleborn canon.

Now that I’ve presented the body of evidence, I’d like to pre-emptively address some concerns you will have with this theory:

  1. First of all, the Kleese lore that states that Magnus AI are a new class of AI created relatively recently by the LLC, and that all Magnus AI are created with a black box process that results in a unique mind each time, which is then tethered to the Magna Carta to prevent rebellion and insanity. This would seem to run counter to the proposition that ISIC, a Magnus, could also be A) a copy of a human B) much older than the Magnus brand itself. However, that same lore states that machine consciousness of comparable calibre has been around for much longer, but that these earlier AI inevitably revolted or went mad.
    We see hints of this history throughout Borderlands canon: consider the claptrap robolution DLC, Felicity’s rampancy in Pre-Sequel, the many cases of Loaders spontaneously developing erratic personalities, and of course Jack’s own plan to copy himself into multiple endoskeletons and create a personal army. It would seem (based on our limited canon) that the primary functional distinction between these older Borderlands AI and Battleborn Magnuses is the tethering to a limiter program rather than significant advancements in their capacity. This being said, I think Jack/ISIC could still be considered a Magnus in LLC nomenclature because he was connected to the Magna Carta while in their service. He has also certainly been patched to better resemble the traditional Magnuses hence his new voice and appearance as well his more robotic manner. Jack’s personality harbours a serious threat to the LLC’s interests, so it was naturally almost entirely suppressed between the time he was recovered from the contact until the Magna Carta went offline, at which point ISIC does indeed become demonstrably more sadistic and ambitious. It’s no surprise then that ISIC frequently voices how relieved he is the Magna Carta is gone while the other Magnuses seem merely indifferent to its absence (I believe Nova even mentions wishing it would return because of its impact on her sanity).

  2. Why does ISIC’s lore make reference to the Magna Carta’s curse of sentience if he was Jack and therefore sentient long before his interaction with the LLC? I think he could reasonably be referring to being woken from extended dormancy in the contact, a state he might have come to prefer to consciousness (which we know ISIC equates to basic suffering and enslavement to an uncaring god) and as such resents the Magna Carta for reactivating him.

  3. Why would the LLC make use of Jack at all? Given that they are obsessed with the bottom line, that Magnus production costs money, and that they were certain they could control any AI, pressing artifact AIs like Jack into service seems like a probable practice for the LLC to adopt. The LLC might even have had some idea who Handsome Jack was, but he would have seemed relatively insignificant when compared against a) the grand scheme of human and alien history up to this point and b) Rendain and the imminent apocalypse. What’s far more likely is the LLC simply had no idea what they were dealing with.

The truth of the matter will probably never be resolved now that Battleborn has concluded updating, but I thought this might be of interest to other Gearbox veterans. I at least wanted to present a comprehensive argument for the connection as I have yet to see it mentioned elsewhere…would love to hear if you feel it’s plausible or not!

(Penguin connoisseur.) #2

Huh… That is a VERY interesting concept, and i never noticed the similarities before. Nice research, dude! I may not be able to UNSEE the parallels now, Haha!


Whether or not it’s plausible, I like it and will now consider this fact.

(Pandora's Industrial Engineer) #4

To add some fuel to your fire, ISIC’s Charge Cannon essentially uses Hyperion’s “reverse recoil” mechanic.

Where’d you get this tidbit?

EDIT: Found it, but it’s missing the ‘k’.

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(How much time do we have?) #5

Following from what @Jythri wrote about it a while back, I tend to view the Borderlands and Battleborn universes as parallel ones that leak into one another somehow. EG one of Ghalt’s ult callouts when he calls himself a Bergunzer.

The fact that both universes came out of the same developer (and the early model of Phoebe was actually a Maya toting telekinetic swords!) is all the proof you need!

(chromerino) #6

well that early model was just because they had no time to do the actual model already and wanted to try out her mechanics …that has nothing to do with the universes overlapping

(How much time do we have?) #7

I think you missed the point of my post - your statement just reinforced my leaky universes theory!

(Natsume Ryu) #8

if thats the case, then montana IS from BiA, caldarius is a nazi, thorn is lilith…oscar mike is literally a generic BiA guy, etc. i cant remember anymore off the top of my head, lol

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(heathermarshall0) #9

I honestly can’t wait to see the full Lilith/Thorn theory post with all arguments, counter arguments, and citations, that sounds wild

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(Inbound Titan - Killing you with SCIENCE!!!!!) #10

All we need is for Jythri saying “Well now it’s canon” again.

(Science triumphs!) #11


(How much time do we have?) #12

I thought he just had a bit of a volcanic temperament.

I’ll see myself out… :coat: :tophat:

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(Orendi's Best Buddy) #13

Are you the person who wrote that fanfic about this?

(heathermarshall0) #14

No, but that sounds neat!

(Natsume Ryu) #15

Well, Jythri has already canonized caldarius to be spongebob squarepants in the discord…spongebob is a video game nazi confirmed?

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(How much time do we have?) #16

Jythri keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means!