Since its arrival, Blade Runner 2029 has continued the tradition of examining what it means to be human, morally blurring the lines with a deft examination of class and societal division. And considering what issue #9 proposes, its latest direction has been a long time coming.
Taking place six months after the Yotun’s brand of Replicant terrorism, the city of Los Angeles still remembers. The police department is in disarray, fear and suspicion of Replicant identity is rife, and Blade Runners – as a forceful measure – are more prevalent than ever. Showcasing why science fiction has always been a gateway for real life, societal discussions, the response echoes the aftermath of 9/11.
We saw the birth of the War on Terror, where wars were fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Interrogation for secrets. Government laws, which flirted between public safety and privacy. “Weapons of Mass Destruction” became highly publicised buzzwords. Content like 24 and the early seasons of Homeland became the audience’s coping mechanisms for traumatic pain and imagined retribution against the enemy. And the reinforced sweep of patriotism that painted its battle into an ‘us against them’. The evocation is so powerful that it becomes a fascinating application in seeing a Replicant torn between loyalties, extending beyond the humans vs. Replicants argument but examining the fractured divisions within the Replicant movement itself.
Ambrose – that Replicant in question – is a “people person”. He cares for the elderly, is well respected, and is a valued worker for The Heidecker-Vostro Health Consortium. That’s until he’s pulled into questioning by his superiors. In pleading in his innocence, he quickly unravels how he’s connected to both the Replicant Underground (lead by Freysa and Ash) and Yotun’s extremist army. He was seen as a rescue mission in exchange for safe refuge amongst his people. But as Blade Runner has always accomplished, his encounter with both parties reveals more secrets they must all reconcile with.
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The ease with which writer Mike Johnson pulls his readers into this new chapter is worth the readership alone. The hints were always present, but given the scale of the story, there was never enough time to indulge in its implications between two warring sides with different belief systems on what is the right path for Replicant freedom. Issue #9 carries that ‘no excuse’ label. The bravery in Johnson’s writing comes from not trying to give this story that clean, Hollywood fantasy outcomes – a clean slate that magically disappears what previously occurred. It’s a continued, nuanced dive into its complicated aftermath and the restoration of power by those who wield it. And at this point, he’s not resting on any laurels. Just like its reference to the War on Terror, the rippled effects carry substantial weight for what’s to come.
One significant panel highlights this sentiment with the overwhelming dread of inevitable danger for Freysa and Ash. There’s a fear in their exchange, knowing their relationship hangs in the balance. The police want Ash to partner up to expedite the search and termination of all Replicants. Freysa’s Underground is in a perilous condition knowing the task of keeping their movement a secret grows difficult. The beauty within Johnson’s writing is the couple’s honesty and frankness with each other. It’s never played for sentiment, but the struggle and toil of their adventures are evident when every line is laced with that close guardedness and protection whenever their emotions threaten to break.
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It’s great to see issue #9 return to this foundation. We haven’t had that feeling from the female pair for a while, not since 2029 first debuted (and when they first met in 2019). The strength of their characterisation proves why they are the emotional bedrock of the franchise and represents everything good about it. It creates a better balance and agency for the storyline, which needs to be leaned into more often.
Their relationship contrasts to Yotun – still wielding his twisted messiah complex all over the comic book page (to uncomfortable levels) as he calls his achievement a “glorious awakening”. But even that rhetoric has a consequential price to pay on his health – something which I have no doubt will be explored at greater length in the upcoming issue.
But ultimately, issue #9 feels it had undergone a Voight-Kampff test – characters staring into the machine as they adjust to the new realities they face. Johnson is no stranger to anticipation, imparting that feeling on its readers. It’s the confident knowledge that everything about Blade Runner’s world is about to change. And when on top form, Blade Runner 2029 is a class above the rest.
Blade Runner 2029 #9 is out on 3rd November from Titan Comics.