There’s an end in sight now. Two years on and Tony Parker’s beautiful, painstaking, attentive translation of Philip K. Dick’s opus Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep into comics is nearly at an end. And it rounding this final corner, it feels how it should feel, a kind of heavy, paused, silence. Like someone has forgotten to press play again.
Everything from BladeRunner (Ridley Scott’s more famous adaptation of Dick’s book) has played out, but not exactly as you remember it. Killing Roy and the final three Nexus-6 androids was not the trial you’ll remember. Protagonist Rick Deckard’s home life was not the sullen voiceover of Harrison Ford. The android Rachel was not the victim of circumstance that Sean Young was scripted to be. And the phantom police station was not even mentioned in Scott’s adaptation.
If there’s a cognitive dissonance between Parker’s adaptation and Scott’s, it’s because Parker’s adaptation is a direct adaptation of each word in Dick’s original text. Parker’s genius lies in his pacing, his comics-blocking of dialogue and exegetic narration, and his keen eye for knowing where to break each individual issue.
‘Reading’ Parker is not the right word. The 23 issues have already been an immersive experience. The range and depth of what Parker has shaped is nothing short of breathtaking. And ‘reading’ Parker it is easy to feel cheated by Scott’s BladeRunner. Not because some story elements have been deleted in the Scott adaptation, but because the entire thematic structure is so wholly innovative it’s hard to track Dick’s original voice in Scott’s version.
The phantom police station is crucial to this point. In the original story, Deckard attempts a ‘retirement’ (assassination) of the android Luba Luft. She gets the drop on him and places call to a police station. Deckard is taken into custody for not being able to prove his identity. But the police station he’s processed is not the San Francisco PD headquarters he knows. Momentarily, readers are pushed into questioning Deckard’s identity. Is he really a police-mandated bounty hunter? Or could he himself be an android?
As the subplot unravels, Deckard discovers the truth. The entire station is in fact staffed by Nexus-6 androids. In BladeRunner Deckard’s true identity became the intellectual core of the plot. How could Deckard be anything but an android if Edwin James Olmos’ character knew his dreams? (Remember the origami unicorn?).
But in Dick’s original, this manufacture of false identity is nothing but a blind alley. The real focus of the story is Deckard’s emotional response to a colleague he knows to be an android but cannot bring himself to confide that knowledge in the colleague.
One issue from the end, and Parker raises the stakes even more.
Issue 23 sees Deckard absolutely distraught. He has just returned from retiring the final three Nexus-6 escapees. And like Ulysses, he anticipates an easy road home and well-earned rest. But Deckard’s world is broken, before he’s even realized it.
Rachel, the android he’s had a dalliance with, returned to his home to kill his newly-bought pet goat. And television showman, Buster Friendly’s final gambit has just been enacted. Buster has demonstrated the globally-accepted religion of Mercerism is nothing but a fraud.
This is Dick’s finest writing from the original story. A deep, character-driven well that remained untapped by Scott. And this is Tony Parker at his best. Parker’s page breakdowns, his panel breakdowns, and the sheer weight of exegetic text that he balances stands as a singular achievement. With this issue, as with the entire project, Parker has wandered well beyond Eisner Award territory and into Pulitzer.