Blade Runner: Black Lotus – Leaving L.A.

Writer: Nancy A. Collins
Pencils: Enid Balam
Inks: Bit
Color: Marco Lesko
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Titan Comics
Publication Date: February 2023

Blade Runner: Black Lotus – Leaving L.A. has a large task ahead of itself: pick up from the anime, which ran 13 episodes, and progress the character into their new story. An introduction is provided before the comic starts, which brings the audience up to speed (spoilers for the anime): Here is Elle, she doesn’t remember her past, and is suddenly being hunted for sport somewhere just east of Los Angeles. Thanks to some hidden abilities, she survives the hunt, steals some data, and then heads to the nearest city (L.A.). Here she will learn that she is an early model Replicant, codenamed Black Lotus, that was meant to be an assassin (hence the abilities). The corporation wants their data back, and her Replicant creator wants his creation. But, in the end she wins the day, after losing someone close to her, and decides to flee the city.

So, where do you go from there? You have a character who has resolved part of their story and run away from perhaps a larger, more difficult part of their identity. Like any good replicant, they want to be human and fit in wherever they’re trying to go. In the desert, now with a spinner bike in the shop, Elle finds herself immediately in the middle of two colonies who don’t like each other very much – Fracktown and Inland Empire Clean Energy Co-op. Big money/environmental evil and cooperatively political greenies. After a near-incident in town, Elle is accepted by the Inland Empire crew and returns with them to their compound to get some light medical attention. But the tensions are already high between the two colonies, and Elle will be forced to step in to help.

The Blade Runner universe is no stranger to politics and the effects of corporations on the living who work for them, and Black Lotus – Leaving L.A. makes that pretty clear. In addition to the more obvious statement about fracking versus clean energy, there is also a plot about the position of women in the world. In Fracktown there is a place called The Golden Garter, which is a stripclub/brothel that uses pleasure model replicants (on lease from the Tyrell Corporation). But, we find out in the first issue, these pleasure models are being killed. Tyrell Corporation has come to repossess the pleasure models, but not because something terrible has happened to them, or what that terrible thing means to the larger treatment of women in this desert society, but because it breaks the agreement of their rental contract. Later in the story, after an action-packed battle between Fracktown and Inland Empire, it is implied that some of the hostages being taken are for the direct purpose of replacing the pleasure models in Fracktown and several comments are made about not being sure the men even want “the real thing” anymore. 

A lot of the more interesting social commentary, and emotion built up throughout the four issues in the Leaving L.A.’s trade paperback, are unbalanced next to the drive towards action. There were many times when I wished the story had focused on the smaller details of the people living in this desert environment, working in factories, and existing next to pleasure models and their rich business owners. What does it mean to live in a cooperative split off from the main “town”, for example? While there are elements of set dressing and commentary, the action is the primary focus.

Whether it’s through extreme-sports levels of jumping over explosions, or katana-wielding action set pieces, Elle finds herself directly in the line of action. The co-op, which happens to have a retired blade runner and someone with a katana passed down through their family for generations, must defeat the evil corporation, even if that means the violence they were trying to avoid is the only way. The nature of comics allows for a way to quickly move between long scenes of action and quiet moments of drama, and it’s hard work to make those two modes feel balanced. In the end, for me, the conclusion felt rushed and ultimately unsatisfying. 

All of this is to say: I do not envy the position of the creative team. They were given a hard assignment. So much of the Blade Runner world is set in rainy, dark, crowded cities, where it’s easy to slip into pockets of people’s lives and environments, not an open desert, where the post-apocalyptic future technologies are easier to see. The melancholy tone of other titles, like Blade Runner 2039, would be out of place in this sunny, empty landscape. If you liked the anime, and are itching to see where the story goes from there, check out Blade Runner: Black Lotus – Leaving L.A.. But if you’re looking for a more traditional Blade Runner story, I would point you to the other titles from Titan Comics: Blade Runner 2019, 2029, and 2039.

Final Verdict: Browse.

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