Blade Runner 2039 #5 – Comic Review

If there were ever a moment that showcases the continued poignancy behind Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049, it would be the scene where Deckard (Harrison Ford) reunites with Rachael (Sean Young).

Having spent years in isolation and hiding, Deckard is kidnapped by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to learn the secrets which represent the next evolution of the Replicant lifecycle – procreation and reproduction. The real Rachael had died many years ago (complications in giving birth to her daughter), yet the miracle act itself provides the key to unlocking the new future.

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As if time stood still, Wallace presents Deckard a cloned version of his lover. This gift acts as a sweetener, to ease Deckard’s prolonged loneliness and suffering due to her absence. But in a moment of sheer brilliance, thanks to Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s script, Deckard rejects the temptation. The reason (besides her incorrect eye colour): you may have recaptured Rachael’s essence – her distinct walk, the perfectly applied red lipstick and immaculate hairstyle – but it’s missing her heart and soul. That is something which can never be replicated.

We still have a long way to go before Blade Runner 2039 catches up with 2049’s place in the mythology. After all, in capturing a powerful parallel, issue #4’s shocking conclusion, the revelation that Wallace created a Replicant version of Detective Ashina, is brought into a chilling existence by writer Mike Johnson. But issue #5 comes at an ominous time in our relationship with technology.

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We’ve arrived at a precipice moment in our history. At the time of this review, Hollywood is currently embroiled in a writers and actors strike. Pay and worker conditions are rightfully high on the agenda, and so is the added concern behind the application of artificial intelligence and digital replication. The technology is boundless, to the point where Hollywood is no stranger to de-ageing its leading stars (Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny), bringing actors back from the dead for fan service cameos (Christopher Reeves’s Superman in The Flash) or using enhanced AI voice manipulation to recreate iconic voices (James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi). The fear of replacing creative talent and labour in an industry already leaning towards algorithmic decisions is from a very real threat.

To bring this back full circle, Deckard’s rejection – preferring real over a shallow imitation – only serves the emotional, moral and ethical boundaries at play when value and accountability are in constant erosion. Such is the arrogance and abuse of power, Wallace thought nostalgia would ultimately win over Deckard’s heartbroken mind, which says a lot about him as a character. At his core, Niander operates in his own world without empathetic care besides his own goals. Therefore, it’s somewhat befitting that issue #5’s opening panel continues to reinforce this corporate belief of power, high profits and an expendable workforce.

Through Johnson’s confident writing, you can feel the coldness in Wallace’s words when describing previous Nexus models, all destined to fail based on a vision of an “imperfect creator”. Wallace has modelled himself as a saviour, to “wash our human hands of sins once avoidable”. What’s scary is how much he uses that to his advantage. Artist Andres Guinaldo’s atmospheric tribute to Roger Deakins’ cinematography is incredibly effective, providing the necessary chills for a character who’s constantly cloaked in shadows. The creation of Luv and now Ash are game changers. While they may be more efficient and obedient than previous Nexus models, they are soulless entities that will always pale in comparison to the real thing.

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Knowing how deep the Blade Runner rabbit hole goes, the fascination will be the inevitable encounter between Ash and her Replicant self. Somehow, you’ll imagine it won’t go down as expected. Yet the moment will undoubtedly speak volumes on how digital recreations are trapped by the weight of the past.

Wallace’s lack of moral empathy is apparent, but at least Johnson makes room (and balance) for Ash and Freysa. As the story’s heartbeat, their conversation about free will and female autonomy adds the necessary weight to a replicant’s life cycle. Despite their divided opinions, the only frustration is that, yet again, the story sees the lovers part ways to go on a separate journey to stop Wallace’s plans. At this point, they seemed destined to never share this adventure together.

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But it wouldn’t be a Blade Runner story if it didn’t end on a cliffhanger! It ends solidly enough but teases so much potential in the vast playground Johnson is operating in. The curiosity is how it moves forward in its complex direction.

Blade Runner 2039 continues to amaze as well as delight with its intelligent nuances and compelling visuals that always reaffirms its place as a worthy addition to the franchise. The excitement with every issue continues to grow – and long may that continue.

Blade Runner 2039 #5 is out now from Titan Comics.

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