There’s a ‘gung-ho’ attitude about issue #5 of Blade Runner 2019. Michael Green and Mike Johnson, writers who have made sterling efforts interweaving the Blade Runner mythos into every panel, are doing so with aplomb and respect. But given where the issue takes us, never did I expect the comic book to take a substantial time jump!
The year is 2026, seven years after the climactic war between Selwyn’s army and replicants at their idyllic safe haven. Isobel had made a sacrificial choice, leaving Ash and Cleo to disappear amongst the chaos. Issue #4 may have served as a ‘book closing’ chapter, but here the storyline moves towards the harsh environment of the off-world colonies.
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Issue #5 swiftly hits the reset button, and therefore I wouldn’t blame you if you felt there was an element of ‘cheating’, knowing there are questions left unanswered. With the Nexus models now “retired”, banned from production to live out their remaining days off-world with their masters, your mind can’t help but track back to the fates of Alexander Selwyn. Did he (somehow) survive? Will he feature in the new arc? Or (as seemingly so), will the arc introduce new protagonists? Unfinished business looms in the air in the hope that some of its interesting dynamics are not abandoned but saved for future issues, but the prologue does offer a ‘cheeky’ Easter Egg to the year 2022 which fans will immediately recognise as a nod to Blade Runner 2049. But instead of looking back to the past, Green and Johnson use this opportunity to build a new foundation for the series, and with that time-hopping, mic drop of a revelation, you can almost hear that infamous Vangelis soundtrack!
With a new setting comes a new artistic challenge, but there is no need to fear; everything about Andres Guinaldo’s artwork is exquisite and beautifully layered and continues to take advantage of the medium and pay tribute to Syd Mead’s visionary imagining of the future. Every panel is a bleak depiction of the despair and horrors of the regimented colonies. But notably, the absence of colours is telling; grey, beige and muted yellows and greens, all painting a grim and bleak architecture of slavery and hard labour versus the magnitude of power of corporate control. But what I also admire about Guinaldo’s artwork is how his artistic interpretation wouldn’t look out of place in Ridley Scott’s Alien.
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And speaking of Alien, that synergy between art and story establishes a new and fractious dynamic between Ash and Cleo. They find themselves significantly older; Ash now in a wheelchair (most likely due to the failing cybernetic back brace) and Cleo looking like a miniature Ripley from Alien 3 (with a clean-shaven haircut to mask her gender). It’s an unfortunate situation for the pair, summed up perfectly by Ash’s “acting the mother, acting the child” commentary, but the new arc is now defined by the differing POVs and growing adolescence.
The great thing about the latest issue is its utmost refusal to settle in a bogged down trope where Ash would have to conveniently rescue Cleo from perilous conditions like some McGuffin. Issue #5 grows up, adding steeliness and strength that has a predictable yet shared resemblance to Ash and her firm outlook. And by doing so, Cleo’s behaviour is a source of increased independence, seeing the world in a completely different light that is wholly robbed of innocence and naivety. Green and Johnson casually reinforce that there is no such thing as ‘happy families’, but what will be a defining moment in the issue will be her determined willingness to reclaim her identity. With the possibilities open on where her journey takes her, the franchise can take a bold new direction.
And despite the vast changes, what has been essential in Green and Johnson’s retention of its core ethos has been in place since the comic started – a female voice; a voice that has been largely absent in the genre but a voice they’re ensuring is the heart and soul of the journey. They make every page count, which is why the series has always been a worthwhile read in their continued efforts to re-define the benchmark for high art and compelling storylines.
How this new arc will pan out is a mystery, but if its next phase is as good as its impressive first chapter, we are in for one hell of a wild ride.
Blade Runner 2019 #5 is released on 18th December from Titan Comics and is available digitally and from comic shops.