Blade Runner 2039 #6 – Comic Review

“You think you can threaten Niander Wallace? You would have better luck breaking into heaven.” When Luv can deliver a line with such cold, menacing weight, you know you’re in for something special in Titan ComicsBlade Runner 2039. Because to suggest the concept of heaven only confirms how much Blade Runner’s world has descended into hell.

It’s somewhat of an apt yet ironic comparison when Wallace (who practically views himself as a God-like saviour) can turn ‘The City of Angels’ into his technological playground. For every paradigm shift of power and resources, every issue of Mike Johnson’s epic saga is a cautionary tale into a terrifying new reality. Wallace ups the ante by creating a Replicant version of former Detective Aahna Ashina. In issue #6, we see her in action – and she is far from heavenly.

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From the jump, the dynamic between Luv and Replicant Ash (codename: Rash) mirrors the Star Wars relationship between a master and an apprentice. Luv positions herself as the investigation’s lead, a commanding, authoritative figure. Ash sees otherwise! There’s no escaping Mike Johnson’s intention here. They’re deliberate attempts to distinguish between the two female characters, knowing they are in an enforced partnership of unique circumstances. As an elite weapon of corporate design and strategy, Johnson reminds his readers who’s the superior Blade Runner – and the answer was always Ash.

It’s scarily eerie to watch Ash in ‘factory reset’ mode, transporting audiences to the 2019 comics to bear witness of her former life. Before the empathy, the compassion and the personal causes that changed her entire outlook, such as protecting a young Cleo Selwyn and falling in love with Freysa, we’re back to an interpretation devoid of such emotions and commitments.

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This Ash (or Rash) is cold-hearted and relentless. By design, her codename articulates various meanings – one in particular is enough to get under your skin if your mind ventures in a certain direction. Her knowledge of the streets (a familiar setting where 2019 Ash always felt comfortable) is played to her advantage, one-upping her counterpart Luv. Being able to suss out lying suspects by comparing the human race as “children” as if blind ignorance and innocence were written all over their faces, is a skill not even Niander Wallace could have programmed.

Such is the nature of a convergent storyline, it wouldn’t surprise audiences if Johnson crafts an endgame scenario where Ash meets her doppelganger. And if he does, it will speak volumes on how the digital and technological world has merged into an image of so-called ‘perfection’. Identities, core beliefs and emotional substance are seen as flaws, attributes which are easily sacrificed (or upgraded in Blade Runner’s ideology) for obedience, manipulation and control. More human than human? Not according to Niander Wallace!

We see this in how Rash slowly takes charge of the investigation, showing Luv ‘the ropes’ (so to speak). Knowing that human Ash and Cleo are long gone, they swiftly move on to a former Selwyn scientist – Mr. Hollis – and their investigation leads to the return of a familiar face in Hythe.

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Alongside artist Andres Guinaldo and his cinematic artwork, Johnson delivers an action-packed entry, dovetailing Luv and Rash’s investigation with Ash and her desperate fight to keep Cleo alive, having barely survived their encounter with the raiders. Ash and Cleo take a backseat in this issue, but their involvement is still equally important, providing the emotional contrast to two soulless Replicants who are absent of feelings. Still, despite the imbalance, the tension built throughout illustrates once again why Blade Runner is at the top of its game – and what lies ahead are some juicy permutations.

Luv talks about how the past is irrelevant, but as the comic franchise comes full circle, it is the past we return to. The creative team behind Blade Runner repeatedly signal throughout 2039 how much the past is adamant in its pursuit, emerging from the shadows ready to haunt our complex characters for the choices and consequences they previously made.

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Here, Ash spending time with a gravely ill Cleo, echoes their time together in the off-world colonies. Hythe’s reintroduction is always a great sight (even if her time is limited when she has more stories to tell). A mysterious new stranger who comes to Ash, Cleo and Lexi’s aid keeps things compelling. Some may feel some of its creative decisions are too coincidental or predictable, but the exciting closing moments do just enough to stave off such thoughts.

I guess the honest curiosity is to figure out its next move. In every issue, Johnson’s writing delightfully teases and surprises with its unexpected direction. Alongside Michael Green – creative consultant and co-writer of Blade Runner 2049, the breadcrumb cookie trail is determined to leave an impactful legacy. If it manages to pull that off, it will highlight an incredible achievement in storytelling.

Blade Runner 2039 #6 is out now from Titan Comics.

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