It’s poignantly fitting that issue #6 of Blade Runner 2019 is dedicated to Syd Mead, the visionary behind Blade Runner’s iconic universe. His work re-imagined the possibilities of what the future looked like, influencing every facet of the science fiction genre.
Whatever that future may hold, it won’t be an easy task to fill that void, left in the aftermath of his passing back in December 2019. But as Blade Runner 2019 has now become a tribute to his artistry and legacy to the franchise, artist Andres Guinaldo has lived up to the difficult challenge of capturing Mead’s ideas. And the payoff shows with every issue – you study every visual panel with love and admiration.
And as we say goodbye to a legend, the latest issue is all about its future.
There’s no question that issue #6 is a bit of a filler, concluding the vicious slaughter by replicants on human workers in the off-world colonies. In theory, the move makes sense, using the chapter to continue its environmental reset with Ash and Cleo. However, with a limited number of pages at hand, not all of its merited intentions hit its mark.
That’s partly because of its return to its familiar, two-pronged storyline, accommodating the female protagonists on their incredible journey through a dystopian landscape. It’s not necessarily the fault of writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson; comic books are often limited by how much scope they can cover between each issue, and issue #6 re-positions its chessboard pieces where ‘we need to take what we are given’. Depending on its upcoming plans, this gripe might be a short-sighted view, but the emotional ‘heavy lifting’ (so to speak) is instigated by the reader to compensate for its plot-heavy narrative.
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It begins well enough; a flashback to 2020 with Ash (a reluctant mother) reading an improvised bedtime story for Cleo (as innocent as you would expect from a naïve young child). As a prime example of dual identities and the barriers we rely on, it’s a cathartic memory for the characters to share, which eventually takes on a reflective poise toward the end. But in what could have been expanded as a significant arc, the issue finds itself in a rush to get from point A to B; Ash is interrogated by Hythe, a Blade Runner-esque detective who unravels her secret with thorough ease to get her ‘back in the game’, (she should be counting her coincidental lucky stars that Ash even survived the massacre), and Cleo still living up to her disguised pretence that she’s a boy.
In the grand scheme of things, issue #6 just needed to breathe a little more. It needed to be patient, allowing Cleo and Ash ample time to reconcile with the emotional decisions they’ve been forced to embrace, no matter how hardened their personas have come. The set-ups are brilliant; you get greedy thinking about its significances which tease more of their growing divide, tension and independence. But on a rare occasion, the concluding payoff doesn’t feel as rewarding as it should. You miss an internal monologue that directly taps into their headspace (with Guinaldo’s impeccable artwork helping to fill those gaps where possible). There’s no escaping that the intimate exploration it poses is a condensed effort, introducing new protagonists and new alliances in haste to ensure our key players are exactly where they need to be in time for the next issue: Ash back as a Blade Runner and Cleo on the run – the hunter versus the hunted.
And that is somewhat a bit of a shame, considering how consistent Blade Runner 2019 has been. This storyline has already seen some whiplash changes, and it would have been preferable to see more of Ash and Cleo in their current off-world predicaments before the inevitable occurred.
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But you also get the feeling that this new chapter will be a battle for balance. For argument sakes the previous issues had Ash taking the natural lead; her investigative narration and anti-hero prowess helped re-introduce the familiar with the new, with Isobel (Cleo’s mother) fulfilling her destiny of protecting her special child. But as the dominant voices grow between Cleo and Ash, it will be a curious journey to see how that balance is re-addressed.
But when Blade Runner 2019 is at the top of its game, the lasting images it introduces are the type of hype that would send your synapses into a head spin. Seeing Ash on the receiving end of a Voight-Kampff test by Hythe is a brilliant reversal, showing how resolute she is. But it also signifies another point – you can take a girl out of ‘Blade Runner’, but you can’t take the ‘Blade Runner’ out of the girl.
Judging by the last few panels, issue #6 may have been a slight misstep, but all the signs point to ‘business as usual’ come issue #7.
Blade Runner 2019 #6 is out on 19th February from Titan Comics.