Blade Runner: Black Lotus #4 – Comic Review

Finales are hard, something I do not envy writer Nancy A. Collins. The ability to craft effective storylines is a challenging experience, and Blade Runner: Black Lotus illustrates that tough negotiation between distinguishing a new direction and franchise legacy.

It’s an applicable sentiment given the outcome of its latest chapter. As a climax, issue #4 is eventful – explosive in its action-packed repercussions and emotional in the stakes raised for its characters. Even its cliff-hanger delightfully tangles at the potential to come. Yet, despite some positive inroads made from its last issue, where readers glimpsed into Elle’s voice and agency within the series, the satisfaction level still doesn’t reach its potential.

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Black Lotus chapters 1-4 have played fast and loose within its Mad Max: Fury Road-style adventure. Elle has joined during a time of fractured chaos, where – true to Blade Runner’s essence – the fabric of society is hanging by a thin thread. Collins’s speciality (as all issues have done previously) has incorporated elements of societal discord fuelled by sexism, misogyny, and abusive power structures. But frustratingly, what doesn’t help issue #4’s cause is how rushed its narrative conversations feel.  

It begins with the fallout of Elle’s rescue of Nyoko and Kaja and the rest of the kidnapped Fracktown residents. Like opening Pandora’s box, everything is happening all at once. Nyoko and Kaja safely return to Miguel. The convoy truck carrying the remaining Fracktown party is killed in a vicious ambush. Kozlov (from his elevated pedestal of authority in taking over his cousin’s operations) gains support from the local people, labelling the explosion as an eco-terrorist act and blames the ‘co-op greenies’ for its destruction.

These are great sources of engagement by Collins, gazing its eye at the ugliness of division and how just causes are weaponised into conspiracy statements and misinformation by its opposition. This environmental spin that Collins evokes heavily leans into the climate change deniers – or, if you’re Julia Hartley-Brewer, suggest climate change fears is just “the weather” on a recent Question Time appearance. But unfortunately, that is as far as the conversation goes.

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That feeling is also noted in Preston’s out-of-the-blue revelation on his feelings towards Nyoko. In returning to the camp, having “escaped” the bullet deluge that killed his friends, he professes his undying love for her and his intentions to whisk her away to the city for a fresh start. Predictably, she rejects him, and things turn ugly.

What should have been a clever, nuanced exploration into toxic masculinity, jealousy and how it plays into power fantasies and unhealthy obsessions, like a lot of things Black Lotus introduces, ends up being surface level at best. These concepts are introduced at a whiplash pace and then quickly discarded for repeated revelations of missed opportunities. And the honest assessment is the aching wish of having more time with these characters, so they leap off the page more as well-defined additions to the story.

The quick resolution where everything is wrapped cleanly into a neat bow may also feel disingenuous, knowing the volatile state of Blade Runner’s world. Yes, it closes a significant book in Elle’s newfound life in Fracktown and the incremental growth of her character, which reinforces her choice whether to kill or not. That is perhaps its biggest takeaway from all of this. However, the ‘rough around the edges’ execution is what stops its elevation as one of Blade Runner’s best.

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Bringing this discussion full circle now that the first arc now complete, these stories feel like prologues rather than delving straight into the main course. It’s done its job in solidly telling its desired story – faults and all – and has tried to position Elle’s story within the wider context of Blade Runner’s mythology. But it needs to venture down a path where its next chaptered adventure is more personal and intimate. Reduce the number of characters so we get to know the ones that matter most and continue to elevate Elle’s voice and agency as she grows beyond her assassin identity. While it’s not beyond the realm of possibility we may return to Fracktown in the future (because – you know, consequences), based on its last panel, that is the direction it is heading.

Thankfully, what has remained consistent are Enid Balam, Bit and Marko Lesko’s combined artistry on the panels. The vision and scope switch effortlessly between dialogue and action, using colours to emphasise the imminent dangers that surround its characters, particularly in the final showdown between Elle and Kozlov.

The untapped potential is what keeps Black Lotus alive. Its conclusion teases the opportunities for depth and nuance. Let’s just hope its next chapter has more luck than this one.

Blade Runner: Black Lotus #4 is out now from Titan Comics.

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