Best Shots Advance Reviews: BLADE RUNNER 2019 #1, THE ADVENTURE ZONE: MURDER ON THE ROCKPORT LIMITED

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited
Credit: Carey Pietsch (First Second)

 

Credit: Titan Comics

Blade Runner 2019 #1
Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Art by Andres Guinaldo and Marco Lesko
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

 

The world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner comes to comics in the pulpy, engaging debut of Blade Runner 2019 #1. Penned by Blade Runner 2049 and Logan screenwriter Michael Green and long time IDW Star Trek writer Mike Johnson, Blade Runner 2019 aims to tell the first in-canon expanded universe stories in this world. And in that regard, Green and Johnson resoundingly succeed, introducing us to new Runner Detective Ashina, an “honest hunter” with a big secret who is forced to take an off-the-books job when a Santa Barbara CEO’s family goes missing.

Leaning into the both the dime novel detective tone and cyberpunk conventions that made the movies pop, Green and Johnson’s script drips with mood and baits a very interesting story hook for the first arc. Ashina is also a really fun new take on the typical “Blade Runner” - while Rick Deckard was just a regular joe on the job and Detective K was a stoic “haunted investigator,” Ashina grew up on the ground in this world, living and breathing poverty and struggle, which makes her perfect for the job. Offering another rich window into this world rife with story potential Blade Runner 2019 #1 is the best possible scenario when it comes to a new “expanded universe” connected to an iconic film franchise.

Right from page one the creative team lets long time fans see that they aren’t sacrificing the look or gritty tone of the original. Set the same year as the first movie, penciler Andres Guinaldo and colorist Marco Lesko, scaffolded by Green and Johnson’s terse narration from Ashina, drop us right back in the world of Blade Runner. Opening with a dense, multi-cultural city scape dominated by neon and smog, this issue wastes little time getting to what we really want from Blade Runner.

From the exterior, we then move into a blue-toned interior where Ashina has tracked down her latest quarry. It is here a couple of things about the story become apparent. One is Guinaldo’s sketchy, highly detailed pencils. Using the anime and manga influences that are already inherent in the franchise, Guinaldo’s style here has tightened significantly from his time on Justice League Dark. Along with the consistently solid colors of Marco Lesko, the pair really adhere well to the visual language of the franchise, translating it to the medium of comics with a sort of early WildStorm or Vertigo science fiction energy.

The second thing readers will notice is that Ashina is not your usual kind of Blade Runner. Instead of just taking in the “skin jobs,” she seems to be wrapped up in a kind of black market replicant organ trade. To spoil why would be giving away one of Blade Runner 2019’s best turns, but trust me when I say it is really good stuff. Ashina also has a whole other approach to the job, one more focused on the streets and her own self-preservation. Pressured into taking a missing persons case from her superiors, Ashina’s whole investigation style revolves around speaking to those who don’t get spoken to, her own origins and establishment as a “streeter” herself giving her virtually free reign below the smog. Which is great because on a surface level, Green and Johnson’s plot isn’t all that groundbreaking. Rich families go missing in neo-noir all the time, but to see Ashina tackling this case and with a more street-focused POV (and massive chip on her shoulder) is a really neat direction to see this “expanded universe” taking.

Expanded universe and sequel series are always a minefield to navigate. Either they can be wildly disparate from the original basis or too slavishly similar. Blade Runner 2019 #1, however, finds a really neat balance between the two. Inhabiting the already well established world, both on a visual level and scripting level, Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Andres Guinaldo and Marco Lesko deliver a worthy new Blade Runner tale with a brand-new, very interesting lead character.

 

Credit: Carey Pietsch (First Second)

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited
Written by Clint, Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy
Art by Carey Pietsch
Lettering by Tess Stone
Published by First Second
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

 

Big train rolling down the line … into The Adventure Zone! Tres Horny Boys are back with a brand new adventure adapted from the hit podcast of the same name by the McElroy brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin, their father Clint, and illustrator Carey Pietsch. Murder on the Rockport Limited brings the second arc of the show to the page for the first time with the perfect blend of action and humor to satisfy all your summer reading needs.

After the, ah, mixed-bag results of their previous adventures in Haverdale, wizard Taako, cleric Merle, and warrior Magnus find themselves unexpectedly recruited into a secret organization dedicated to protecting people from similar disastrous events. And, perhaps more unexpectedly, they immediately find themselves thrown into a new mission: recover a dangerous artifact before it rolls off into the sunset on the Rockport Limited in the hands of a thief who doesn’t know the dangers of the jackpot they’ve just hit. The McElroys and Pietsch deliver a fantastically-paced tale that unfolds as part heist, part murder mystery, part Speed, building on the overarching world introduced in Here There Be Gerblins with a follow-up installment that’s just as much of a page-turner.

A not insignificant part of the charm of The Adventure Zone (the podcast, not the book) is the McElroys’ unique humor, and the way their family dynamic plays out through that, and the challenge of adapting a McElroys show is not just bringing the story to life, but capturing the verve and warmth that makes the McElroy family of products so delightfully accessible. Illustrator Carey Pietsch and letterer Tess Stone are the perfect team to bring the McElroys’ work to life — Pietsch’s character designs are bouyant and emotive, fully embodying the personalities the McElroys breathed into them through the show and adding a transformative new visual dynamic that will make Murder on the Rockport Limited feel at times like something brand new for longtime fans of the podcast.

Pietsch and Stone have a knack for visual gags, Pietsch in the characters’ expressive faces and Tess in the careful rhythm he captures in his lettering. The McElroys’ tight script paired with Pietsch and Stone’s eye for layout and timing make every joke sing — the visual timing in particular is impressive, with Pietsch and Stone toying with panel layouts and breaking those boundaries to find clever ways to introduce some of the more meta Dungeons & Dragons elements (including babiest brother Griffin) without disrupting the story’s narrative. Pietsch does a similarly stellar job with fresh character designs for the book — the world of The Adventure Zone graphic novels is a fantasy adventure all its own, and Pietsch explores the expectations of typical high-fantasy design and subverts them in delightfully anachronistic ways not just through lineart but her vibrant use of color to maintain the unique personality of this world and its residents.

If you’re looking for a fully immersive, no-frills high fantasy tale, this won’t necessarily be the right book for you, but if you’re in the market for something a little more light-hearted Murder on the Rockport Limited will deliver. Murder on the Rockport Limited is just flat-out fun, and though you’ll want to be familiar with the first graphic novel Here There Be Gerblins before diving in or risk spoilers, the McElroys and Carey Pietsch have done an impeccable job creating a engrossing and accessible world for anyone whose bookshelves are in need of a playful summer pick-me-up.

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