“They don’t even know that their world has changed.”
In issue #4 of Blade Runner 2029, writer Mike Johnson left his audiences with plenty to chew on. It was an issue that accepted its dark inevitability, consciously knowing there was no last-minute reprieve or saviour manoeuvres to sweep in and save the day. And in its most pivotal and defining moment in the comic series, it was a deftly executed reckoning that deeply challenged our resolve with humanity’s moral choices.
In the shocking aftermath of terror and destruction, the latest issue functions as an emotional come down. And from the ashes, Johnson articulates a crucial point about how humanity reacts to tragedy.
It’s an emotional dissonance we create, a bubble where we can compartmentalise the horrors of the world. We can enjoy society’s privileges, unaffected by the grief that death and loss of life brings. And that cloud of immunity means we don’t have to worry about its directness to ourselves. We can still function and go about our normal lives. It’s an unspoken law that society operates by, and the accuracy exploited by writer Mike Johnson is that grey area, shaping up a trojan horse of connotations where Yotun’s ‘surprise’ is just the beginning.
The opening panels further continue Yotun’s deep and entrenched ‘messiah’ beliefs where the world needs to be transformed into a new world order. Like those who have a high functioning ‘God complex’, only he is destined to bring about change. And he goes as far as proving that notion with his ‘no fear’ attitude by jumping onto speeding Police Spinners and single-handedly destroying them using the strength and prowess of being a Replicant.
It quickly dawns on you how much Blade Runner 2029 has stepped up another gear in its story. Issue #5 takes up the challenging mantle of what this new world entails – judgement. Welcome to hell in Yotun’s radical new world, and Johnson continues to wade into that nuanced debate with enough patience and craft to deliver another compelling issue. At the centre of that wrath is Detective Ashina, held captive within Yotun’s hidden hideout under the watchful eye of Kalia and Lelia. She fashions an escape (once again showing impeccable timing), but the dread it builds means hope is nevertheless futile. There’s nowhere to run.
When the issue is built on entrapped circumstances, it sets up an intriguing yet expected meet between Ash and Yotun. It feels somewhat apt that their ‘reunion’ is set on the ruins of a waste treatment plant – so overwhelmed with trash that the plant “disappeared under the garbage”. Blade Runner’s world is so enriched with poetic analogies and parallels about its dystopian future that it serves as an environmental reminder about the perils of humanity’s self-destructive tendencies. In the case of Blade Runner, it has reached the point of no return. And yet, Yotun found an applicable use for the site, as a recycling hub for replicants no less.
But it’s the beautiful contrast that sets this scene apart. Andres Guinaldo’s artwork – a tonal mix of greys, blues, and browns vs the popped, standout colours of its leading characters – brings a necessary scale and weight to the scene. And the stylistic choice amplifies the tension that Johnson is aiming for. A moment where Yotun turns the screw knowing how he has the superior upper hand against a powerless Ash.
What’s crucial about their engagement is how much Johnson’s writing pits their ideals against each other. Despite their personal resolve, according to society, they’re two characters who are broken and obsolete. Their commodity value is disposable and irrelevant, that they belong on the trash heap – a solemn graveyard of the past and humanity’s arrogance at societal classism. And despite the briefness of the dialogue, the exchange is smart enough in alluding to something nightmarishly sinister.
Ash’s involvement in this issue is more reactionary, but the personal journey she has embarked on has been the driving force of her exploits. Not since the death of Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) in the original film at the hands of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), where characters have had to (forcibly) reconcile with the sins of their past and receive their ‘punishment’. True to its homage nature, the unease that issue #5 provides is an increased stake that leaves its audience in great anticipation for the next issue.
With a heightened sense of mystery and intrigue, Johnson’s religious allegory is not lost on its readers, exploring a fascinating combination of ascension and rebirth. It challenges the dynamics of what the franchise is capable of and the continual blurred lines the story is beginning to entail. Hope is found in Freysa (Ash’s lover), but as we await the next instalment, the resounding question left is this: but at what cost?
Blade Runner 2029 #5 is out now from Titan Comics.