As epic finales go, writer Mike Johnson pretty much goes for the jugular: stand-offs between enemies, shoot-outs, spinners equipped with machine guns, ending with an action-packed crescendo in the San Francisco Bay. Chapter 8 concludes like a teaser set up for its next instalment (thus rushing towards that end goal), but the breadcrumbs left to chew on leave a satisfying conclusion.
The story picks up where issue #7 left off. Mack has been severely injured, leaving Ash to come face to face with her Replicant doppelganger, Rash – and as expected, chaos fills the void.
Blade Runner 2039 has been slowly edging towards its thematic goal – Ash’s legacy. In the grand technological playground, it forces us to examine the digital footprints that we leave behind. What happens to that data? Who has overall access and control? What happens when that data is being misused and abused? Lastly, where does the nature of consent come into play? It echoes what we’re currently seeing in the debate over artificial intelligence and why Hollywood actors (and rightly so) are striking for fair and equal demands from the studios. For Ash, the nefarious Niander Wallace has weaponised Ash’s legacy into a soulless shadow of her former self, raising so many ethical questions and the corporate nature of power that ensues.
What I love about the sequence is how quickly the two Ashs sus each other out. Johnson crafts an effective mood board of escalation where their back-and-forth exchanges are like two animals marking their territory on who is the perfect idealisation of themselves. Human Ash notes that Wallace got the “smell” wrong – a callback/precursor to how Deckard (Harrison Ford) also rejected Wallace’s cloned version of Rachael (Sean Young) in Blade Runner 2049. Rash’s response is equally uncaring: “everybody was made by somebody” signifying a higher power towards the gift of creation. Johnson presents something we’ve always known deep inside – this was never going to be a fair fight. Ash was always involved in a losing battle. Time is against her, age is against her – and she pays the price with Rash breaking her fingers.
Rash’s curiosity presents a chilling parallel as she breaks her own fingers to mirror the pain (and injury) she gives to her counterpart. When a character uses pain as an emotional receptor to prove she is the superior model, there’s a terrifying thought at her growing evolution. The confidence of her actions feels like the franchise is on the cusp of something special in potentially seeing how emotions can challenge someone. Johnson has already laid ample groundwork for this path whenever Rash interacts with Luv.
Artist Andres Guinaldo, alongside colourist Marco Lesko, continue to do their best work. Their ability to give scale and scope to their designs is incredible, and they prove it once again in a thrilling action set piece where Isobel arrives to save Ash in a stolen spinner. Even without the dialogue, you can feel the intensity between each violent panel as bullets and debris fly everywhere in the escalation. But even out of the action, when capturing Niander Wallace as he debriefs his Blade Runners, it beautifully mirrors the standard Roger Deakins set in motion in Blade Runner 2039 with the corporate figure always cloaked in darkness.
But that is the apex where issue #8 reaches. What follows next is a sharp wrap-down of events with characters at a crossroads. While the process is necessary, with the number of stakes on the table, its end also feels crammed in. There’s no mistaking that Isobel has been the MacGuffin of this series, and there’s no mistake that Freysa has been massively side-lined. Yet both of these characters (along with many others) have stories to tell. The question is, will they get that opportunity?
As the past catches up with Denis Villeneuve’s film, that will be the question moving forward. Previous issues have struggled for balance where characters do not get their moment to shine or lack their own individual agency. You wonder whether Johnson will use one of these book-closing chapters to end on a cliff-hanger that’s present ‘in the moment’ instead of ushering in another reset on environments, locations and characters for the next upcoming issue. But you always get the feeling that there’s always more in Blade Runner’s arsenal despite the inevitability that’s around the corner.
That’s the comforting assurance about issue #8. The compelling factor still remains, driven by the chess moves by Niander Wallace (who’s happy to wait out for the next attack and move by Ash) and how Rash further acclimatises to her new reality. This story is far from over, and when that time comes when everything converges again, cue the fireworks.
Blade Runner 2039 #8 is out on 25th October from Titan Comics.