Blade Runner 2019: What’s in a Name?

Blade Runner #1 cover by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, published by Dynamite, 2019

Since I reviewed the first issue of Blade Runner 2019, I decided to revisit it when the trade paperback dropped — while I wasn’t blown away, I found the book’s momentum made me curious to see where it ended up.

Blade Runner 2019

Michael Green & Mike Johnson (writers), Andres Guinaloo (artist), Marco Lesko (colorist), Jim Campbell (lettering)
Titan Comics
November 20, 2019

blade runner 2019

Blade Runner is a challenging franchise for me — while there’s lots I love from the original, there are parts that are jarringly out of place, and the storyline of Blade Runner 2049 left me feeling like it was a missed opportunity to delve into interesting thematic questions. But overall the experience of watching either Blade Runner film in a theater is one I’ll pay money for — the sonic landscape, the visuals, the ponderous pace, all overcome the weaknesses of the story or characterization for at least part of the viewing. The animated interludes worked like The Animatrix, giving us macro-level context to the story about to unfurl in 2049, additional worldbuilding that only added to the scope of the tale.

So I had high expectations for a comic set in the Blade Runner universe — not necessarily to deliver the same experience as a film, but to give me at least a few sensational moments. Co-writer Michael Green was a screenwriter for Blade Runner 2049 along with Hampton Fancher (who wrote the original Blade Runner) and he also wrote for Smallville and American Gods; in short, he’s no stranger to writing in someone else’s IP.

The original film is set in 2019, but in 1982 our current year felt like it could be an impossible future where Replicants lived and were indistinguishable from humans. Appending “2019” to the comic title is deliberate, creating expectations for me as a reader — what about 2019 is crucial to this story line, and how? I want some political themes or engagement with the now, just like all good science fiction. Instead, Blade Runner 2019 is more preoccupied with mimicking the feeling of familiarity with older cyberpunk aesthetics.

Penciller Andres Guinaloo and colorist Marco Lesko do a great job creating lush cityscapes with eerie lighting. But Blade Runner-influenced  design isn’t particularly exciting for me in the actual year of 2019. It’s the same old cyberpunk future as envisioned in the 1980s, divorced from that political reality as well as our own. This was a big problem to me in Denis Villanuvue’s 2049 as well — there was no organic growth to how the world felt. There’s no inclusion of today’s cyberpunk realities, not even something as simple as a particulate filter mask for pollution. There’s not much innovation here.

Why not expand the universe rather than confine yourself not only story-wise but also artistically? It’s fine tugging the same narrative and thematic threads as the original. but it feels surface level and unreflective. It does nothing to further my understanding of any part of the world of Blade Runner — the imagery is the same, the conflicts are the same. The new aspects — a Pakistani woman as the lead, who’s also disabled — don’t feel like they’re anything but window dressing on a serviceable, straightforward tale.

And Blade Runner 2019 is a decent noir tale, about an embittered blade running detective searching for a lost woman and child. Our lead Ash is hard to like (which I don’t mean as a criticism). She’s a dedicated blade runner, working as a cop to track down the last lingering Replicants in Los Angeles. She’s from LA, knows the city, feels connected to it as she runs through her contacts to find a missing child and her mother, the family of the extremely rich Alexander Selwyn of the Canaan Corporation.

There’s an interesting story here — Ash, born with a congenital defect, is disabled and uses a cybernetic implant that needs to be charged regularly to walk. It’s hidden beneath her coats, a secret to everyone except her boss, Chief Wojciech — not even her fellow officers know.

That sets up the inherent conundrum in every Blade Runner story: who gets to be human and who doesn’t? But I wish the book did more than simply present the readers with this dichotomy. How does Ash feel about it? Brusquely, mostly; despite hearing her internal monologue she doesn’t do much beyond appreciating the wry irony.

By the end of the first arc, I didn’t feel like I knew much more about the Blade Runner universe. Unfortunately I didn’t feel like I knew much about the lead either, but I wanted to. The missing persons had their own storyline woven in, but that intrigue felt flat for me — there’s twists but they felt obvious upon reveal. Nothing in the story builds out from the world we already knew — Blade Runner 2019 doesn’t feel like it wants to transform, simply play in the sandbox.

But maybe it’s my lofty expectations that led me to be underwhelmed by this effort. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s a perfectly good comic, the story engaging. It will absolutely scratch that itch for more of the same from Blade Runner. And I will say the last issue looks like it’s leading into a story that will escape the Blade Runner origins, so perhaps this is all a set-up to really blow my mind.

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.