There’s a reason why Blade Runner has endured after all these years. It’s not just because it’s regarded as a quintessential piece of science fiction, its awe-inspiring visual aesthetics, or its ability to pull its audiences deeply within the complex labyrinth of its neo-noir mysteries. At its heart, it’s the profound use of its social commentary, proving that the franchise is always deftly positioned to have its say on the current state of affairs. And its latest entry lives up to that statement.
Blade Runner Origins may be set in the past – 2009 to be exact – but it’s very much about the ‘here and now’. Reading through issue #6, there’s an unmistakable social dissonance from reality; the class divides between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, the increased wealth gap between the rich and the poor, and the unfettered and abundant (mis)use of capitalist and institutionalist powers and its detrimental effect on the rest of the societal pyramid. To put it into perspective, we currently live in an era where billionaires are rushing around to colonise space (as if it was a brand-new toy) amidst an environmental, political, racial, gender, and global health crisis. And no matter how much of that status-quo consciousness is dressed up to continue that easily digestible, ‘blue pill’ dreamland we’re all living in, it still speaks its own language – they don’t care about us.
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That’s why its evocation by K. Perkins and Mellow Brown hits a nerve. While the slums suffer and degrade, the power people will play. Sergeant Gutman upholds the dirty work of the police that turns a blind eye while Stahl reinforces the commercial aims of the Tyrell Corporation.
But the writing duo offers much more than that. I couldn’t help but briefly think of Judas and the Black Messiah when it came to the comic’s use of ‘kinfolk’ – a subtle play on ‘skinfolk ain’t always kinfolk’. Where societal distrust is sowed and engrained so deeply that everything is met with caution and suspicion. Issue #6 doesn’t pretend to come close to articulating the psychological depths portrayed in Shaka King’s film, but Cal’s mirrored presence only heightens its fear of being that ‘outsider’. It’s complicated. He’s a former Police officer heading back to his community, knowing the Tyrell damage that surrounds it. People have tragically gone missing (again reinforcing how little attention is paid to the communities below the poverty line). It’s ample motivation for revenge – and Cal is subsequently beaten within an inch of his life by Carlisle.
And it only adds weight to the emotional beats of its story. Instead of focusing on the corruptible nature of the people who inflict it with their wealth and privilege, issue #6 is willing to let its guard down to find its point of view, heading to ground zero (so to speak). And in doing so, Cal gains another crucial arc in his character development.
Fernando Dagnino does some incredible work here. There’s a real sense of scale with its characters as they navigate the much-needed conversations they’re addressing. Not only does its style and execution feed into the tension it creates, but on a poetic level, these are characters who are up against the world. It’s a lonely existence that Dagnino manages to craft within its dynamic (yet beautiful) panels. But at its core, he captures a poignancy to the struggle.
What Blade Runner Origins manages to weave together is an empathy to its relationships. Of course, it’s only surface level, but it’s not interested in painting a one-note picture. It’s rooted in healing and reconciling with the past – Marcus and his sister’s transition into Asa, and Cal showing he has never forgotten his roots. Identity is important, but it is the survival that matters the most. Because when you can’t rely on the system, all you have is the community around you.
It’s a moving message to be left with, which only enhances the narratives at play – Marcus joining Asa on the hunt for the Nexus 5 while Cal is left to deal with the aftermath of his capture. There’s no question that the stories will converge at some point. But at this point the story is patient enough to articulate those thoughts.
It’s not without its shortcomings. Desiree goes on an expositional tale explaining Cal’s relentless appetite to fight. It’s a defining moment where Dagnino’s art of raging blood reds dominates the panels. It’s a tricky one – on one hand, it gives Desiree more agency within the story, but you subsequently wished it leaned more into that ‘show, don’t tell’ narrative (as it does so brilliantly with Cal’s memories of his sister).
But those are just minor quibbles. Blade Runner Origins continues to excite as a confident entry into the series, hitting its stride at the right moments whilst still providing the passion and ethos that the franchise so eloquently delivers.
Blade Runner Origins #6 is out now from Titan Comics.