Delving into the Blade Runner mythos is always a near-impossible challenge, even if you have the best intentions. Philip K. Dick’s highly imaginative and niche philosophical concepts are so ‘out there’ that they polarise audiences. But don’t let the so-called ‘box office failures’ stamp determine the franchise’s unquestionable contribution to science fiction. Ridley Scott’s 1982 original and Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 are underrated cinematic masterpieces. But enough cinematic gushing. It’s 2019, and Blade Runner is back in a brand new format and with a new sense of curious trepidation.
There are obvious limitations with comic book adaptations. What formed as the bedrock of its existence, visually indulgent in its nuance like its movie counterparts wasn’t going to be the same. Going into issue #1, the resounding question it had to answer is whether it would complement the franchise and its familiar ‘more human than human’ themes. Well, tasked with the writing job is the combined writing force of Michael Green (co-writer of Blade Runner 2049) and Mike Johnson (IDW’s Star Trek and DC 52’s Supergirl). Functioning as a canonical expansion within the Blade Runner Universe, the franchise was always well equipped with expansive stories, and judging by its opening, there’s an instant sigh of relief.
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Hitting you with a wave of nostalgia, it’s amazing how with just a few graphic panels you’re blissfully reminded of its recognisable world. Andres Guinaldo’s cinematic artwork beautifully re-captures Syd Mead’s iconic vision of the future with its grungy palettes that reflect the rich and poor divide within a crumbling society and its blended cultures. And if that wasn’t enough for your psyche, as if by magic as you scroll through the pages, you can ‘hear’ Vangelis’ majestic score.
Issue #1 works because of the brazen confidence from the writers. Finding its voice and tone (which is always tricky when it comes to franchise adaptations), their atmospheric-noir script respectfully honours Blade Runner’s past while crafting enough intrigue about its new investigative story – the apparent kidnapping of a billionaire’s wife and daughter by Replicants (or so it would appear). Appearances can be deceiving, but there is a nice counterbalance between its introductions, ‘Easter eggs’, and future plot set up. It manages to do just enough to keep its narrative threads entertaining without doing too much ‘hand holding’ in its subtle reveals and dangled questions. Green and Johnson use the medium to their advantage, operating as if this was their very own ‘theatrical cut’ with voiceovers helping to push the story along.
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Introducing a female protagonist Aahna Ashina (Ash for short) is a welcome change. Traditionally, sci-fi has always been male-dominated (both in terms of writing and its mediums), but with Ash’s introduction, Blade Runner 2019 ensures that women are part of the social conversation in dystopian futures. Calling her a ‘female Deckard’ would be a lazy and undeserved trope. Ash is part of the fabric of Blade Runner’s world (and that includes its ugly and harsh undertones), and by bringing a secretive, complex tale to the table, Green and Johnson establish Ash with a different, archetypical value, where you never for a second question her existence.
That works in favour of the comic where that quick and normalised acceptance is established in its opening scene (an imaginative occasion where you can envision this moment on the big screen). There are shades of 2049’s intro, but its journey is more of a twisty elaboration of the Voight-Kampf test as an unapologetic, cold and graphically brutal examination of a Replicant’s essence of choice and free will.
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Just from a few snippets, there’s already a blurred grey area between being a Blade Runner and her secret. The missing person’s case serves only to heighten that, left with no choice thanks to the insistence by her boss, Wojciech. There’s definite room for development and improvement; several scenes emotionally leap out which could have benefited from a motion comic treatment (such as Watchmen) in capturing her isolating distance and personal struggle. But right now, this is just the beginning, and the comic has done the hard part of getting off the ground.
Already the story poses interesting questions. Does the opening (and iconic) prologue hint at Ash’s eventual fate as a Blade Runner? Could her mission eventually cross paths with Deckard? What else does Alexander Selwyn (the billionaire in question) really know? The beauty of issue #1 is that it leaves you wanting more.
Just like opening Pandora’s Box, issue #1 is off to an intriguing start with a mystery that will be impossible to close. But it’s safe to say that Blade Runner 2019 is in the right hands.
Blade Runner 2019 #1 is out now from Titan Comics.