“I talked to her a lot about other places. A better life. But I never bothered to take interest in her world.”
There are moments within Blade Runner Origins issue #4 where the lines cut deeper than usual. Call it the effects of lockdown. Call it reminiscing or being reflective, knowing there has been a greater internalisation of emotions during a challenging recovery from a global pandemic. But in this evocation, it has come at a moment of sacrifice, where the value was taken for granted. Where the value of a life was transactional to the benefit of another one’s needs. And in the end, the statement becomes a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and its cruelty, knowing the action cannot be undone.
There’s an overwhelming sensation in the latest issue that we’ve reached a crossroad moment. A crossroad moment for its story. A crossroad moment for its characters, and a crossroad moment for the belief systems that have underpinned their motivations in how they manoeuvre within Blade Runner’s technological landscape. And within the depths of that exploration come new bonds, a new mutual understanding, and most importantly, the continual growth of a compelling arc.
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As the reader, you’re thrown into the middle of the chasing chaos between Detective Cal Moreaux and Asa (the replicant formally known as Dr. Kine). It’s an intense and frenetic action opener – a duel between humanity and its next evolution. The city becomes their playground obstacle course, taking the reader through opulence and the city’s daily grind. The brilliance is how much it manages to convey its story using the bare minimum. And if this issue can be labelled as an artistic highlight in displaying the weighted dramatics (along with the classic Blade Runner iconography), then Fernando Dagnino brilliantly emphasises those qualities.
It’s two panels by Dagnino in particular. One where Asa shows no fear in leaping off the rooftop. Despite the relentlessness of the chase, Cal is unable to follow through, faced with a resurfacing memory as he nears the edge. It’s a ‘pause for thought’ moment, where writers K Perkins and Mellow Brown instigate a ‘show, don’t tell’ mandate. On one hand, you wish there was more time to delve deeper. But for a character who is emotionally unravelling, it’s a retained mystery that keeps it alive. The next is its climactic conclusion, where its atmospheric convergence leads to a death of a character. And as if it was played out in slow motion, it’s a beautifully layered deconstruction of devastation and heartbreaking desperation.
What follows next is a cold-blooded exchange between Ilora Stahl and Detective Cal Moreaux. Blade Runner has always adapted a comparative narrative within its framework, but what Perkins and Brown have carved out is a battle between the original ‘Blade Runners’.
Both Stahl and Moreaux make a formidable, antagonistic pair, operating on opposite ends of the loyalty spectrum. For Ilora Stahl, that is obvious. Her true colours – a sinister mix of manipulation and vindictiveness – are revealed. Her work was always designed to ‘clean-up’ the mess, and she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to make that a reality. For Cal, there’s a responsibility to the truth. The powers that be want him to fail, but his conscience won’t let him. And at what cost when the enemy is prepared to threaten what he loves most. Issue #4 leaves him with a dilemma to reconcile, and the intensified anger and the disillusionment are starting to leave their mark.
It’s as if Perkins and Brown are having an active discussion about the DNA make-up of a Blade Runner. What attributes are required for the job? Can you effectively do it without being morally complicit? There’s no easy answer to this. Based on judgement, you’d imagine an amalgamation between the two characters. For such a murky underbelly, it leaves no cathartic resolution to be proud of.
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It adds weight to what comes next. Despite the ‘neatness’ of the storyline (wishing for longer engagements with characters instead of the shocking abruptness that death brings), the death is very much a predicted catalyst, a re-evaluation of the bigger picture. It’s a striking resignation, of the truth at how characters were societal pawns in an elaborate, technological game. It’s not without its contradictions. In one panel, it’s summed up as “Do your part – save our city”. Yet somehow, the conflicting statement might as well beg the question, what kind of city is Cal saving? When the game is rigged not in your favour to win, it’s a deeply shadowed metaphor that good intentions can still mean you’re part of the trash.
The foundation being built is impressive. It makes the subsequent team-up intriguing going forwards, and Origins is fast becoming a great, mystery-noir thriller that every Blade Runner fan can get behind.
Blade Runner Origins #4 is out now from Titan Comics.