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Blade Runner 2019 Volume 1 (Titan Comics) Trade Paperback Review

    Ian Jane

  • Blade Runner 2019 Volume 1 (Titan Comics) Trade Paperback Review

    Released by: Titan Comics
    Released on: November 19th, 2019.
    Written by: Michael Green, Mike Johnson
    Illustrated by: Andres Guinaldo
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    "Early in the 21st century, the Tyrell Corporation advanced robot evolution to the Nexus Phase - creating artificial beings virtually identical to humans - known as Replicants. Superior in strength and agility, the Replicants function primarily as Off-world slave labor or in hazardous, high-collateral combat situations. After Replicants were declared illegal on Earth, special police operatives - called Blade Runners - had orders to kill or 'retire' and trespassers upon detection. Detective Aahna Ashina of the Los Angeles Police Department was one of the first to quality for the assignment. Her colleagues call her Ash. She was the best of them.”

    Given that this review covers four comics that were released earlier this year, be advised that some spoilers do follow.

    The first comic to tell an original in cannon story in the Blade Runner universe opens in the Los Angeles of 2019. Not our 2019, mind you, but the 2019 of the Blade Runner universe. Here, Ash talks to a perp named Benny about how much she could get on the black market for his different body parts. Benny's killed five people so she doesn't have a lot of sympathy for him. She gives him a choice - she can take him to a coroner she knows who likes to dissect living things or he can do it himself. He goes with the second choice, and Ash is impressed.

    She calls in a cleanup and laments how it's getting harder to make a living hunting Replicants anymore. She meets up with Wojciech to get the details on her next job and is offered a missing persons case involving Canaan Corporation big wig Alexander Selwyn, specifically his wife and four year old daughter who went missing a day prior. Ash is told that Selwyn asked for her specifically and so she's off to Santa Barbara - after all, she doesn't get to say no to this. Ash, however, is impressed with how Santa Barbara has been built up, turned into a series of 'sea locked estates for the blessed.' She meets Selwyn, who tells her doesn't want a corrupt department lifer to work this case, and how his wife took his daughter to a birthday party for Lydia Tyrell and how they haven't been seen since. Without much of a choice, Ash accepts the case and starts digging around L.A., but then, well, we won't spoil it but things go awry…

    We flash back to Ash's childhood and learn that when after her mother found out that her daughter's spine didn't work, she left her. Her grandmother told her that her mother left for the off world so that she could send money back. But she's not angry anymore, she knows she belongs in Los Angeles and when we catch up with her she's picking a lock and letting herself into a chop shop. Why? It's the last place that was called from the Selwyn's spinner - but why would a wealthy woman like Isobel Selwyn by hanging about a dump like this? Ash soon realizes she isn't alone in here - she asks the man about a call he got, he admits Isobel called the night before, wanting info on a birthmark removal. She told him she was on her way home.

    Meanwhile, Isobel and Cleo continue to make their way through the underbelly of the city. As Cleo sleeps in her mother's arms we learn through Isobel's narration that her daughter, if she's lucky, will never see her father again. Someone named The Skin sent her down here to make contact with The Lung, a portly middle-aged woman who has been expecting them.

    Ash wonders what was up with the guy at the chop shop - he was unusually forthcoming and that makes her suspicious. She pulls some strings and has him followed and she's given an address where he was last scene, a dumpy hotel called the Carleton. She speaks to a Mr. Bellingham who instantly sets off some red flags. He cops to being a replicant, having had work done by The Skin to age himself, so that could live out his final seventeen months in the city. Just as the subject changes to the Selwyn's, he attacks.

    Ash's Spinner was attacked and she crashed onto the streets...

    She manages to steer the Spinner to an old part of the city long abandoned, only empty warehouses are there. She survives the crash and walks away with some injuries, but figures this attack was to prevent her from finding Cleo. Ash's instincts are right. We head underground and catch up with Cleo and Isobel where Malik is told 'we got her.' They know they're not safe in the city and are told to head south.

    We cut to the hospital where Ash is told by Wojciech that the department is upset to learn that her 'lower half shuts down when her battery runs out.' She's also told Selwyn wants someone else to do the job. Ash counters that being shot out of the sky is a pretty good indicator that she was getting close but it falls on deaf ears - the case is being given to someone else. The hospital charges her brace and sends her on her way and while she knows she should just forget it like she's been told to do, she instead hops a cab and heads to the Tyrell Corporation. She arrives and is surprised to find out she has an appointment she didn't make with someone she doesn't know - Ms. Elo. Ash is taken aback by how much Elo knows about her and by the fact that Eldon Tyrell has made it clear he wants to hire her. Elo also tells her that Isobel was a Replicant given to Alexander Selwyn as a gift by Mr. Tyrell. The real Isobel has been dead from cancer for a few years now. Cleo doesn't know any of this and believes her natural mother to be alive. Cleo also possesses a rare mutated gene the Tyrell Corporation believes could lead to a longer life span and that Replicant Isobel has kidnapped Cleo to prolong her own life. Elo tells Ash that if she accepts the case not only will she be very well paid, but they'll also provide a permanent solution to her spinal issues - no need for a brace any longer.

    Ash begrudgingly agrees.

    Selwyn pays a visit to Slattery at his chop shop. He wants to know why Isobel called and what he knows about her disappearance. At El Santuario, Isobel adjusts to her new surroundings and spends time with Isobel, knowing that her time left is limited. Their play time on the beach is interrupted when Ash shows up, heavily armed. Of course, she runs into resistance when she tries to get Isobel to head back to L.A. with her - but Ash is smart enough to listen when they tell her there's another way. After learning a bit about El Santuario, she sees the evidence that Isobel left with, evidence documenting Alexander Selwyn's correspondence with Eldon Tyrell wherein they arrange for Cleo to go into the Tyrell Corporation's custody in exchange for Isobel being 'created' and gifted to Selwyen. Isobel knows that the Tyrell Corporation wants Cleo for experiments that the girl will not survive - which is why she fled, and subsequently why Selwyn and Tyrell want her back.

    Before the conversation can go much further, they're interrupted by the arrival of two ships full of paramilitary types and by Selwyn himself…

    Co-written by Michael Green (who also wrote Blade Runner 2049, Logan and American Gods) and Mike Johnson (who penned issues of Batman/Superman, Supergirl and, for IDW Publishing, Star Trek), the story here is off to a good start. Ash is properly established in these four issues as an interesting character. There are things we want to know that are revealed in the issues, but we're left wanting more - we don't know everything yet. It stands to reason that, if we're patient, the story will get there. This is well written, mature, noir-infused sci-fi and it makes for a very good read. The dialogue feels right, the characters are interesting and the Los Angeles of this world is setup in such a way that, yeah, this feels like Blade Runner - which is obviously key to making a series based on a super popular property like this work.

    The artwork from Andres Guinaldo, which is nicely colored by Marco Lesko and lettered by Jim Campbell, is excellent. There's a lot of great detail here and while a couple of pages seem like they're paying service to the fans simply for the sake of paying service to the fans (the two page spread of Ash in her Spinner above L.A. being the biggest example) it doesn't matter simply because it's so nicely illustrated. There's lots of great detail in the foreground and the background of the pages, not just in the characters but in the vehicles, the outfits, the architecture and the building interiors as well. This is a very good looking book and the feel and tone of the artwork matches the feel and tone of the story pretty much perfectly.

    This fourth issue is the end of the first storyline and it definitely finishes things off with a pretty big bang. It's a cliché to call it action packed, but it isn't wrong. Green and Johnson have done a great job setting this all up in the three issues prior, so it stands to reason that we'd get to the boiling point around this time - and we do. It doesn't disappoint, this is tense stuff with some solid twists that does a great job of setting up what's next to come in the storyline.

    This series had some pretty high expectations to meet but thus far in its short lifespan, it has managed to rise to the challenge and it will be interesting to see where the next storyline takes us.

    This trade paperback edition, which is dedicated to Rutgar Hauer (a nice touch), reprints the first four issues of the series in their entirety and also includes a cover gallery (there were a lot of variants done for this series and they look to be all included here) as well as some cover development artwork pages, character design pages and a few try out pages that Andres Guinaldo presumably submitted to land the art gig on this series. Creator bios are also included.

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