Ever since Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel first introduced Blade Runner to audiences, the themes of societal change and paradigm shifts underpin the franchise’s foundations. There’s beauty and art to how science fiction crafts this as a balance. As much as the genre reveals the threats at stake (ecological disasters, aliens, monstrous creatures, or humanity playing God), like holding a mirror to the world, it’s the characters who receive the revelatory reveal. Not every character reacts the same; some profit while others suffer, and true to the genre’s instincts, it’s a deconstruction of how their journey is shaped and determined by those circumstances.
Inevitably so, that logic is taken to heart in the latest chapter of Black Lotus. Issue #2 finds itself in the calm before the storm with Elle (having found kinship with the community of Fracktown) blending into normal civility. Playing football with Keja and a communal get-together for dinner seemingly has brought a brief respite from the past she’s outrunning. But in classic storytelling fashion, writer Nancy A. Collins doesn’t waste time in lighting the fuse and waiting for the explosions to begin.
READ MORE: Blackbird – Film Review
And when it eventually explodes, it does so with a bang. Enid Balam’s artwork – still vibing in a Mad Max: Fury Road wonderland – is a visual powder keg of chaos, terror and destruction as Barnes and his men declare war. The move – both vicious and violent – illustrates how hierarchies strategically weaken others from fighting back, no different from countless wars faced throughout history. Without any moral conscience, bullets fly (as Miguel is nearly assassinated), rockets are launched, and women are kidnapped as compensation for Barnes’ dwindling pleasure model business.
As expected, there’s not much breathing room when so much is happening! But the appreciation from Collins’ direction is her reinforcement of Blade Runner’s larger themes for examination. The franchise is built on the precipice of change, wrestling with the ideology of who has the power to reign or free others from oppression. There’s a basic understanding of the nature of war and its casualties. However, in acknowledging that dynamic, there is also a disappointing trade-off with its character development, primarily from its leading character.
Like Cal Moreaux (Blade Runner Origins) and Aahna Ashina (Blade Runner 2019 and 2029), having a character lead its audience through its dystopian landscape is the franchise’s bread and butter. At the height of Barnes’ vengeful attack, Elle is utilised more as a reactionary figure, responding (predictably) as Fracktown’s protector – a move that reveals her Replicant secret. The familiarity is how quickly Collins captures the rhythm set by the animated show. Elle incapacitates her enemies with a brutal and visceral force that leaves nothing to the imagination. And before the issue concludes, it’s not long before Elle is rewarded with a katana sword for her efforts, a signature of the character. These nostalgic call back aid to what we already know about her. The downside is that her arc is the notable absence of her voice.
There’s a gamut of questions its newfound storyline asks of its leading character, which it hasn’t found the opportunity to establish just yet. It’s willing to show the lighter side of her personality, but how does she feel being part of a community who have welcomed her with open arms? What does she think or feel knowing her weaponry skills are used once again for combat? Does she fear she will never be able to outrun her previous life? This is not solely a Collins’ issue, but more of a carried-over trait from the animated series, where Elle’s one-directional storyline was chopped and mixed into a cauldron of characters vying for motivations and screentime. The comic offers that ‘clean slate’ reboot, and importantly, a focused direction of who she chooses to be moving forward. But the chapter ends up missing a trick in not tackling this straight off the bat.
READ MORE: The Bourne Identity – Throwback 20
You hope by the next issue Collins will eventually find its way to reconcile its lop-sided approach because the gravity and weight of the consequences inflicted by Barnes and his crew hinge upon whether the character investment is genuinely present. At this early stage, the story is solid without being spectacular, operating on a surface-level narrative that’s still finding its feet amidst its new surroundings. Therefore, any character revelations (and there are a few), don’t quite hit its mark.
Understandably, Black Lotus has barely scratched the surface of what it’s capable of. The growth and progression it seeks rest on a hopeful notion that it will eventually fulfil its intentions – which I believe it will. But on this occasion, it’s going to need more meat on the bones to maintain its interest.
Blade Runner: Black Lotus is out now from Titan Comics.