Not many comic book storylines leave you speechless, yet that’s what writers K. Perkins and Mellow Brown have accomplished in issue #11 of Blade Runner Origins.
Blade Runner has always been founded on the paradigm shifts laid out by its creator Philip K. Dick. A tale of a fragile sociality on the brink of collapse between two different kinds – humans and Replicants. But when that lens switches to a diverse perspective, it takes on a whole new meaning.
I’ve always said that Blade Runner is a powerful allegory for the Black experience. The franchise’s deep dives into commercialism, corporate innovation, and classism between the rich and poor are secondary (yet important) explorations to Replicants seeking freedom and equality. Slaves who should know their place amongst the segregated world. Slaves who should be obedient and compliant in servitude. Slaves who fail to do so, feel the wrath of the natural order when slave catching Blade Runners are sent after them.
Termination in Blade Runner’s dystopian world may as well be a modern-day equivalent to lynching when reinforcing the hierarchy of human authority. Continuing the theme from previous issues, Perkins and Brown refuse to sugarcoat the context. Their blunt force questioning of those foundations in every issue is an aspect I love. And here, the potency of its evocation makes its conclusion devastating and shocking.
The issue begins with Nia and Desiree en route to LA’s broadcast station, where our favourite villain Llora Stahl is preparing to be interviewed. The emotional toll is unmissable. Carrying the traumas from the destruction of Sector-6B adds another layer of scarred memories for a generation forced to live with the atrocities. Their community has been burned to the ground. Nia lost her lover. Desiree lost her best friend (Cal), where corruptible powers have turned him into an institutional weapon. To borrow the instincts of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) from Marvel’s Black Panther, who could blame the women for seeking retribution?
It’s a key sentiment exacted from Perkins and Brown’s deft writing, allowing its audience to humanise with their emotions, even when both characters naturally seek healing, empathy, and a path towards a hopeful future. “I don’t want to talk about endings. I want to talk about horizons” is a poetic justification for why the fight continues, because one day, a change is gonna come.
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Like the emotive Sam Cooke song, the method of choice for change is through brute force. Issue #11 dials up the intensity and tension as its main characters converge at the same target; Stahl is in the hot seat, placing a corporate spin on the Sector-6B disaster, Nia is ‘kicking ass and taking names’ as she shoots her way past security, while Cal furiously drives to the scene.
Artist Fernando Dagnino helps drive the frantic and brilliant pacing of the issue. Each chopped panel delivers a cinematic vibe to the action, playing with perspectives and framing. Perkins and Brown don’t have to do much when the issue is in full flow. Understanding the assignment, every rageful close-up or hostile encounter drawn by Dagnino articulates an unprecedented amount of emotional depth for its characters. It’s by far his best work, and when he even has time to place a subtle tribute to Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ amid the chaos, you know his sublime work is next level!
What happens next feels like the wind being knocked out of you. Perkins and Brown deliver a sucker punch for the ages as a poignant moment that asks us the price of a revolution. We often look at uprisings as euphoric when we give evil empires their P45. But the impressive co-writing team aptly remind us that not all revolutions are the way we imagine them to be.
Even when you feel you know the outcome when the Blade Runner mythology and timeline are set in stone, the prequel re-writes its fabric as a tragedy. The genesis – revealed in a clever flashback – paves the way for more damage and emotional pain for Cal and Nia. And as the final few panels uncover, that shock is broadcasted to the world.
To their credit, Perkins and Brown push their readers toward the bigger picture by removing the simplicity of ‘heroes and villains’ into something darker and subtly prevailing. Something that haunts us now, like the generational trauma of its characters. And now that we’ve walked in those complex shoes to see through the lens of others to understand the nuance left on the table, the mythology is positioned where it needs to be before it emphatically concludes.
The emotional fallout will hurt like hell. But as Desiree already points out in this issue, this is hell. God help us all. The next issue can’t come fast enough!
Blade Runner Origins #11 is out now from Titan Comics.