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'Blade Runner 2019' Vol. 1 Review: the future is now

Comic Books

‘Blade Runner 2019’ Vol. 1 Review: the future is now

“When you know the city like I do, you know where to cut. You know how it bleeds.”

A young girl has been kidnapped by a rogue replicant. It’s up to a blade runner who has lost her soul to uncover the reasons behind the kidnapping and get her job done by any means necessary.

I’ve gone on record as loving the original Blade Runner film, but feeling as though the story didn’t entirely translate smoothly to comics. With that in mind, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Blade Runner 2019, which manages to feel like a piece of the film series and uses the comics medium to bring some new things to the table.

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'Blade Runner 2019' Vol. 1 Review: the future is now

The storytelling of Blade Runner 2019 feels like a near-perfect synthesis of what works best in both Blade Runner films, including the theatrical cut of the original. While Harrison Ford’s narration in that particular version of Blade Runner is much-maligned for its insistence on explaining every little detail to the audience, it’s used to great effect here. Ash’s narration gives us not only a better insight into her character and the world around her, helping us put together the clues as she does, but it also shows us the kinds of lies people tell themselves to help them get through life.

There is no clear delineation between good and evil in Blade Runner 2019. Even when we see people committing despicable acts, there’s a constant feeling that this is simply the way people get by now. The world has changed and is so alien to what we would understand. Even Ash’s bigoted feelings toward replicants seem to stem from a self-hatred and fear of being outed.

Much like the first film’s flirtations with Decker’s darker side that we see him exhibit toward Rachel, Blade Runner 2019 walks a very fine line and never once asks us to accept or support Ash, but merely to let her have her say and hope she learns her lesson. The first time we see Ash, she is gloating about the fact that she plans to sell her target’s eyes for some extra cash. In other words, we’re not meant to side with her. To the credit of writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson, the story succeeds in convincing the reader that Ash is the right character to tell this story, regardless of likability.

'Blade Runner 2019' Vol. 1 Review: the future is now

Massive action sequences are done largely without dialogue and there’s not a sound effect to be found, which feels very true to the moments of violence in the films. None of it is meant to be lingered on. Bad things happen and it’s up to our characters to either die or figure out why this is happening to them. The illustrations by Andres Guinaldo and colors by Marco Lesko are gorgeous, with the cityscapes rendered in detail that shows a clear love for the production design of the late Lawrence G. Paull without being slavishly devoted to it. Guinaldo also does some interesting things with perspective, bouncing from extreme emotional closeups to large, destructive splash pages with an ease that shows us the humanity amidst the carnage.

The only time this really falters is in the final confrontation of the book, which somewhat devolves into a massive shootout involving interchangeable henchmen and replicants. The emotional core of the narration is still there, but it’s somewhat swallowed up by page after page of silhouetted characters we don’t know being killed. It’s a horrible sight, but it doesn’t feel entirely fulfilling on either a visual or storytelling front.

Still, the majority of the story here is very strong. There are no easy answers in the Blade Runner universe, and this book doesn’t much care to provide them. Again, it’s all about the lies people tell to themselves and others to make it through the day. The world of 2019 is all about getting by, which our characters here prove they will do at any cost. The story ends on an uncertain note that will have fans of this universe chomping at the bit for what comes next.

'Blade Runner 2019' Vol. 1 Review: the future is now
Blade Runner 2019 Vol. 1
Is it good?
This series takes everything that worked in the films and marries it to the medium of comics without ever once feeling like the source material is being diluted. 'Blade Runner' fans need to seek this one out, while the uninitiated will still find it to be a challenging and immersive detective story.
The characters and the central mystery are all very well-written, giving us no easy answers and no real heroes to latch onto until the final pages
The artwork is fantastic, bringing the larger than life production design of the films to the page and then some
Echoes the tone and style of the films, but brings enough of its own flavor so that it never feels like it's just trying to ape them on the page
The final action sequence feels a little rushed and involves characters we've barely met, which leaves it feeling slightly underwhelming

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