As Blade Runner 2039 charts towards its ‘Endgame’ crescendo, if there was proof that Mike Johnson was having fun as a writer, then issue #4 leaves no doubt whatsoever. If you’re a fan of the franchise and you’ve come this far, then like the recent episodes of Succession S4 and The Mandalorian S3 have proved, faith and patience are the rewards for a dramatic payoff, which Blade Runner has mastered in delivering.
Blade Runner 2039 continues to ride a euphoric high in its storytelling. The stakes remain engaging, and with a bleak and impending future ahead, what’s admirable about this chapter is how it plays around with expectations. To be fair, the previous comic issues have teased us to that point, but what could have easily transpired into an epic, action-packed showdown ends up being a reserved, low-key affair that sees its story on the verge of an important breakthrough.
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You wouldn’t have it any other way when the story begins with a significant step forward. We see Ash delve into the heart of the mythos, decrypting key information thanks to the help of Cas and Pol, two hacker twins who could give The Matrix a run for their money with the cybernetic setup of their machines. And upon their discovery, Ash now possesses the key to the future – the blueprint for Replicant fertility. It has been a long-time coming, but we’ve finally reached the holy grail revelation that changes the fabric of Replicant history (thanks to Isobel’s genetic code) and the power that Niander Wallace seeks to create the next evolution of Replicants.
Niander Wallace’s shadowy presence hauntingly lingers throughout the issue, where you can feel his God-like intrigue through Andres Guinaldo’s artwork, which brilliantly channels Roger Deakins’s cinematography in Blade Runner 2049. But as mentioned in my last review, Wallace remains a nefarious antagonist for the franchise. When someone has that level of power where he answers to no one (including governments and institutions) but his own intentions, the pursuit of technological control means that everything and anything is on the table. Knowing this chilling fact, Johnson does well to dial up the tension towards this revelation. With Luv aware of Cleo’s real identity, we get a thrilling moment where their conversations translate into power play manoeuvres befitting a chess board. By the time Ash enters the scene, it’s who can play the game smarter to escape.
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This is where Johnson plays to his strengths as a convergent storyteller. It was inevitable Ash and Luv were going to cross paths, but the impact relies on how much the scene factors in the different ideologies and our emotional investment. Old Blade Runner vs the next generation. A moral compass in the fight for equality vs someone who is taught to be obedient and compliant and destroys threats in her wake. It’s reminiscent of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and his speech in The Terminator. When Ash comes face-to-face with someone who’s “less human than human”, they’re beyond bargaining. But it sets up a compelling battle of wits where Ash’s experience saves herself and Cleo from the worst possible fate and kick starts into motion a shocking conclusion.
Without divulging spoilers, fans of 2049 will instantly recognise the emotional parallel and what that technology is capable of. The series has always danced barefoot on the concept of change, and those chilling final panels not only forecast what is to come but spark further debate on the abuse of said technology. We’re heading into darker territory with Johnson wading into a widely debated conversation about digital preservation and the afterlife. And whilst the dramatic moment raises further questions, the dangers are all too apparent. Time is running out, and with Wallace being one step ahead, it has me fearful for these characters and their fate.
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Aside from the bombshell of a cliffhanger, the next chapter will be stacked with characters, in Cleo, Freysa, Ash, Lexi, Sapper, Isobel, Hythe, Wallace and Luv setting its tone. The comics have been guilty in the past of struggling for balance (most notably, the second volume of 2019 and some elements of 2029), where characters were left on the sidelines (missed opportunities for nuance and further application of their story) and the tendency to rush through the story. Blade Runner 2039 #4 does enough to starve off those criticisms, but you just hope they do not become casualties in its next direction.
But in looking ahead, there’s a playground of opportunities and possibilities in play, with all roads leading to Denis Villeneuve’s film – and the excitement couldn’t be more real.
Blade Runner 2039 #4 is out now from Titan Comics.