As a fan of Blade Runner, it’s great to see the franchise thriving. Since its last cinematic adventure hit our screens, the franchise has steadily gone about its business, building a universe of adventures which have become more than mere gap fillers for the timeline.
Under Titan Comics, these anthology stories become worthy additions, pushing the scope and quality of the mythology. Blade Runner 2019 kicked things off and introduced us to a new protagonist. Its sequel, 2029, examined the faith placed in leaders (with dangerous consequences). And the brilliant prequel entry, Blade Runner Origins – the best of them all – embodied a socially conscious heartbeat as seen through the eyes of its Black characters. Therefore, there’s no surprise we’re back delving into Blade Runner’s enriched world again with its latest entry Black Lotus.
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Unlike its comic counterparts in the Blade Runner universe, Black Lotus operates from an advantage. The comic – based on the 2021’s Adult Swim/Crunchyroll CG-animated series – sees the return of the amnesiac Replicant prototype and assassin Elle. After discovering she was part of an elaborate plot by Niander Wallace Jr. (Wes Bentley) to take over his father’s company, issue #1 finds Elle travelling the desert in search of a new life and redemption. But as the comic quickly acknowledges, that peace is short-lived.
From the offset, we’re immediately thrown into the chaos. Like a scene straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road, Elle is forced off her spinner bike by three male scavengers intending to rob her. As she physically disarms her opponents, she steals their truck, reclaims her broken bike, and heads off towards a nearby desert habitation called Fracktown.
Immediately, the story naturally provides an extension of Blade Runner’s intricate world-building, adding a different context and flavour. Fracktown, positioned as Blade Runner’s wild west, is an open playground where rules are unwritten, and civilisation is a law amongst themselves. Visually, it’s a striking contrast from the familiar neon-drenched nights of Los Angeles we’ve previously experienced. The power institutions held was generated through an established hierarchy that benefited the capitalist rich and left the expendable poor at their mercy. Here – in Fracktown – it’s survival of the fittest amongst its people. As Blade Runner loves and adores delving deeply into societal paradigm shifts, writer Nancy A. Collins takes on the weighty task of looking outward to provide the necessary scope to those evolutionary dynamics.
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But like all opening chapters, Black Lotus, understandably, takes a while to get going – a process made easier if you have prior knowledge of Elle’s backstory. What’s crafted is a slow-burn introduction as it arranges its chess pieces into position. Artists Enid Balam, Bit and Marco Lesko use neutral colours to add visual texture and composition to every panel for Fracktown. And already, it establishes a geographical map of its environment and how Elle – at this early stage – fits amongst its community.
Collins’s writing does offer a considerable balance. Upon arrival in the new town, Ellie’s source of hope is found in Junkett Jones, the town’s mechanic and Miguel, who takes her under his wing. But Collins doesn’t scrimp on highlighting Fracktown as a dangerous creature. The town’s dark underbelly – Emile Barnes – an ill-tempered character who thrives off bullying, control, and patriarchal exploitation, uses Replicants as pleasure models as his business. The despairing correlation between the present (and the recent overturn of Roe versus Wade, for example) and 2032’s bleak future shows how humanity has failed to evolve where women (Replicant or human) are not treated as sexual desires or objects of violence.
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Ultimately, Elle can provide a counterbalance to that narrative. In a story rooted in memory loss and violent trauma (think The Bourne Identity), Collins finds moments where she’s allowed a brief respite, befriending Miguel’s daughter Kaja to play football for the first time. Already, it’s a marked improvement over the TV show, pulling her out of her comfort zone to reset the boundaries previously set for her character. The animated show may have provided plenty of atmospherics, mystery, and revenge, but its unevenness and occasionally one-note direction stood out like a sore thumb. The clunky animation style didn’t help matters either. Yet, this simple interaction with Miguel’s daughter is hopefully the necessary starting point to see Elle find her voice. And the comics will allow for that to happen.
As Collins lays down the fundamental groundwork, the teased threats, and Elle’s role as the town’s potential protector begins to materialise. It’s the calm before the storm as the story finds its feet. And that’s ok. As with every Blade Runner adventure, it’s the curiosity that remains. Black Lotus offers plenty of potential and compelling characters to start this journey as a fun ride.
Blade Runner: Black Lotus #1 is out on 10th August from Titan Comics.