The thing about cyberpunk – a subgenre in science-fiction that was defined in the 1980s through works like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and William Gibson’s Neuromancer – is that it established an aesthetic that many creators have remixed so much it’s become cliché. Recent works like the video game Cyberpunk 2077, as well as its anime spin-off Edgerunners, may have gained an audience, but didn’t break new ground in the subgenre. Even when you look at the front cover for Dark Horse Comics Wiper, you might think there is something familiar here.
In fact, the sense of familiarity is a recurring theme in Wiper’s narrative, which is about Lula Nomi, a private detective who guarantees complete discretion, taking a memory wipe after every job. There’s something oddly familiar about her in her latest job, hired by the enigmatic robot Klute. The more she investigates the disappearance of journalist Orson Glark, the more she suspects that he’s somehow connected to her own past.
Taking place in the 23rd Century, there are two main settings in the story. The first is Portopolis, the new global capital that was once Johannesburg, South Africa. The second setting is the Hive, a space station that is considered a galactic paradise for humans, robots and aliens, only to reveal the cracks and notice a dystopia. Given the instant similarities you would associate with this type of sci-fi story, it is worth noting that writer John Harris Dunning was born in South Africa, a country that has gone through its fair share of human rights issues.
What gives this graphic novel an edge is its exploration of diversity and the forces that are determined to oppress that. We are siding with the aliens and robots, as the more Lula delves into her own past, she finds her own identity that feels very progressive. There are good intentions behind the themes, even if the story beats are all too familiar to those who are well-versed in the realm of cyberpunk.
The one true saving grace is Ricardo Cabral’s art, which may not have the most polished look, but creates wonders. On nearly every page, there is a new feature revealed in this sci-fi world and through his sketch-like illustrations, he brings such detail to locations and character designs, enhanced by Brad Simpson’s coloring. Some of the alien designs evoke the style of the late, great French artist Mœbius.
Although it gets trampled by the conventions you usually expect with cyberpunk, Wiper has enough of an identity of its own for readers to check out.
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