“You lack the imagination and empathy to understand. You’re the machine.”
Every now and again, the Blade Runner Universe finds a compelling statement for its story, and when on form, its measured and nuanced response strikes a chord with its words cutting deeply.
It’s somewhat befitting that Freysa gets the honour to remind us of that truth. Standing in the face of danger, yet her words delivered with purpose and emotive poignancy, is symptomatic of a divided world that refuses to acknowledge or understand. Same-sex relationships and gender rights, Brexit, the pandemic, the war on classism and race, politics and climate change have all found themselves in the weaponised hotbed for toxic discourse and discussion. Points of view aimed to discredit and solidify biases while devaluing the essence behind these causes – by removing humanity from the equation.
For context, Freysa’s response treads familiar ground. Humans vs Replicants. More human than human in a polarised world now forged on distrust and anger. But according to Marlowe (who deceptively uncovers Ash and Freysa’s secret), the mere idea of a Replicant falling in love with a human is unfathomable to him. After all, Marlowe’s affiliation with the Blade Runner’s code paints everything in black and white. We might as well be robots in a society devoid of original thought or consciousness when maintaining the status quo is all that matters. Which is why the following events make it all worthwhile.
However predictable and straightforward issue #11 of Blade Runner 2029 leans itself into, love is front and centre. But it’s not love in the traditional sense. The complex and rebellious emotion is captured through devotion and sacrifice as seen through others who are willing to see their plans succeed. The short-sighted, twisted kind that blinds from seeing what’s real, even when the harm doesn’t justify the endgame. And that danger puts its main characters in perilous situations and thrilling reveals.
Jokingly, I couldn’t help but think of General Ackbar’s “It’s a trap” quote from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Such is the magnitude of the consequences, Ash and Freysa have inevitably walked themselves into one. But it goes to illustrate how Mike Johnson’s writing once again cognises how everyone is living on borrowed time.
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Yotun’s cult-like Replicant army remains in the chapter’s spotlight, with Ash discovering the extent of their deteriorating damage after a reported break-in at an industrial complex. Even when their biology betrays them – their bodies failing due to Yotun’s experiments – even in death, their belief is unshakable
This is where Johnson’s writing and Andres Guinaldo’s exceptional artwork excels, capturing the creepiness of their demise. Such is the psychological depth, as a reader, you wonder what it would take for Yotun’s army to wake up. To understand that their so-called saviour does what most extreme leaders do when acquiring power – use and destroy. Keeping in tune with the toxified world, they might as well be classed as expendable casualties to the cause because the human cost has lost all its meaning.
Stripping back the engaging, philosophical edges the Blade Runner Universe loves to delve into, what shapes the issue is how Johnson keeps the adventure focused this time around. It’s lean and compact, with a healthy balance between raised stakes and dramatic action. But there’s also a powerlessness that’s felt knowing what happens is inevitable. And it comes as no surprise that Ash and Freysa are anchored as the moral consciousness within this adventure.
The pleasing aspect is how much issue #11 grounds its heart on their personal choices. Ash’s 1000% commitment to finding Yotun is never questioned whilst Freysa protects the remnants of the Replicant Underground. Freysa is given her due (and rightly so), instantly dispelling any ‘damsel in distress’ notion that was tinged in previous chapters. But their defiance openly rejects what is about to happen – this is not the world they want to live in, even when they’re offered a seat at the table. It brings them closer to the truth and that belief keeps them surviving.
Even with the revelation of Yotun possessing Eldon Tyrell’s book of secrets on Replicant production – holding the book like finding the sacred Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones – is not enough to quell his motivation. He’s too far gone for that. But perhaps the intriguing facet is how Johnson positions that inevitability. There is a bigger picture at stake. Yet whether it is Marlowe or Esper, they’re fighting the wrong battles where their so-called victories are hollow at best.
This is a story that has reached a climactic breaking point. You almost wish for more time because it’s deserving of that. There’s a lot to resolve, but no matter how it concludes, the continual reward and patience for the readers is witnessing the franchise always venturing in the right direction.
Blade Runner 2029 #11 is out now from Titan Comics.