As the mystery deepens, Blade Runner 2019 continues to go from strength to strength. Full of enriching depth, issue #2 manages to pull its audience into a cathartic conversation about survivors in a dystopian future. That future is female (as the common saying goes), and from Ash and Isobel Selwyn’s perspectives, it’s a delightful yet dynamic contrast between the hunter (Ash) and the hunted (Isobel).
What immediately leaps out from issue #2 is its soulful conciseness. Both characters are aptly placed to face the duality of their choices, retaining the heart of what makes Blade Runner a powerful story mechanism. Finding its momentum, the balanced interplay in their interwoven mystery begins to come together.
It’s still early days, but already Ash has grown on me as a character, thanks to the secret revealed in the previous issue. As much as the cold, environmental steeliness may go with the job as a Blade Runner, writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson show there’s more to the reveal than just a plot device. With a quick detour to the past, we see Ash as a sick young girl recalling the last memory of her mother before she left her life. Questions run through this narrative like the random insertion of a unicorn in the original film, but its subtle examination into the off-world colonies is worth the engagement.
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Like a peripheral vision, the feature films have always alluded to the off-world colonies as a prosperous safe-haven, a hopeful escapade from the polluted and convergent landscape of Los Angeles in 2019. But here, taking creative liberties with the material, Green and Johnson indulge in the unexplored concept by providing a human face and reason for the exploration – a mother leaving to make her child’s life better. Now, ‘better’ is a subjective word. It doesn’t go beyond the implied misgivings that the colonies are not as great as people think, or if we know if her mother is still alive, for example. Perhaps that’s a narrative that will reveal itself in later issues. But already the appreciation is reciprocated at how much attention is being paid to expanding its world-building universe. Breaking through that age of innocence, that emotional and isolated loneliness is beautifully captured by artist Andres Guinaldo and colouring by Marco Lesko. With the opening few panels, there’s enough empathic intrigue to show the continuing impact that holds over Ash and her guarded demeanour.
The transition between the past and the investigative present is swift. Ash tracks down a lead only to come face to face with the Skin Doctor – the last known contact with Isobel. After clocking onto her secret, the brief exchange leads to a moment of distrust and another trip down the complicated rabbit hole.
Meanwhile, Isobel’s story migrates from the prestige environment of her husband’s wealth to the poverty-laced underground tunnels. Here within the nuanced underbelly of social classism and pyramid structures, her desperate attempt to get out of the city is fuelled by the revelation surrounding her daughter. With Alexander Selwyn going to suspicious lengths to get his daughter back, it’s clear the child is special. Paralleled with the actions of Ash’s mother, Isobel’s journey shares a unified strength where they’re prepared to go to extremes to protect their loved ones, and honestly, it’s one of the most striking conversations that radiates through.
At this crucial point in the story, issue #2 finds itself in an emotive state of vulnerability. Replicants are avoiding detection by ‘ageing up’ their appearances (thanks to the artistry from the Skin Doctor). Isobel protects her child despite the overwhelming fear that consumes her. Even the fan-worshipped Voight-Kampff test is cleverly deconstructed by Ash, preferring ‘old school’ instincts instead of solely relying on a machine, acknowledging that a machine can only paint so much of a binary picture. ‘More human than human’ has always been the driving heartbeat of the Blade Runner franchise, and in this decrepit state of affairs which have connected these characters, deep down they’re all proving their worth, even if the lines between being a human and machine are blurred beyond recognition.
Making every creative panel count, the action is ramped up with Guinaldo and Lesko. It’s less brutal than issue #1, but its directional shift is handled with a stunning purpose that only enhances its cinematic journey.
Using the medium to their advantage, Green and Johnson’s slow-burn concept is an impressive tease, making every geeky page-turn a revelatory surprise that begs for more. And boy, does it beg for more, ending on an action-packed cliffhanger. A link to the Tyrell Corporation. Ash’s life in danger. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. So hurry up issue #3, you can’t leave it like that!
Blade Runner 2019 #2 from Titan Comics is available digitally and from comic shops from 21st August.