Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Boom!)
Written by Phillip K. Dick
Art by Tony Parker
Colors by “Blond”
San Francisco lies under a cloud of radioactive dust. The World War has killed millions, driving entire species to extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can’t afford one, companies build incredibly realistic fakes: horses, birds, cats, sheep…even humans. Rick Deckard is an officially sanctioned bounty hunter tasked to find six rogue androids. They’re machines, but look, sound, and think like humans—and infinitely more dangerous.
Fans of science fiction and cyberpunk know this story, in at least one of its incarnations. First, the novel by Phillip K. Dick, which reads almost as a manual of existentialism. Then in the early 80’s, the movie Blade Runner created a more “Maltese Falcon” sort of detective noir version of the story. Both are pretty much regarded as classics in their own right, and both are very much worthy of that distinction. Here, Boom Studios is using Phillip K. Dick’s manuscript directly, adapting it for use in this graphic novel omnibus. You’d think that the original novel had been watered down for this comic book version, but you might be shocked. At 640 or so pages, the original story might not be as edited down as you’d think.
What we have is a story that takes a look at themes of belonging and existing on a dying planet. After “World War Terminus”, the planet Earth is left sparsely populated. Colonists have left in waves, heading for Mars with their complimentary Nexux 6 android servant, hoping for a new life on a new world. With radioactive dust clouds moving at the whim of the winds, those left behind are left wearing cod pieces made of lead and watching a weather report that includes fallout conditions. Where some people stick around out of choice, a growing number are actually refused passage off planet due to genetic degeneration of one degree or another. Citizens are encouraged to use their “mood organ” every morning to dial in their appropriate emotional content to start their days. Owning a pet is a moral imperative as well as a status symbol, with high rise residents tending to rooftop pastures. Incidentally, Deckard himself is stuck with a malfunctioning electronic sheep, the real one having gotten sick and died. Until he can come up with the money for a real live replacement, he has to content himself with pretending to care for the copy.
Remaining by choice is Rick Deckard, freelance bounty hunter for the San Francisco police force, tasked with hunting down and “retiring” rogue androids here on Earth illegally. Having to wait in line behind a senior hunter for his bounties (and to collect a paycheck), Deckard’s prospects for a living, breathing animal are looking pretty bleak… until he gets the word that the senior bounty hunter has been hospitalized, gunned down in the line of duty by one of his android targets. He’s assigned the remaining bounties, six Nexus 6 androids reported to be on the planet and living in the area. If he bags all six, he might be able to afford an ostrich. Live to dream, man…
Meanwhile, in an even more sparsely populated area, John Isidore believes himself to be the sole resident of the apartment building he’s currently squatting in. You see, John has been refused off-planet emigration because of his own genetic deterioration. He’s one of the many stuck here with no prospects for the new life that’s advertised on the television. Instead, he’s left with his Empathy Box, spending his mornings before work connecting to the shared experience of like people across the planet, and extending to the colony planets… In a world, a universe, where the population is so low, many rely on this artificial means to make any kind of human connection through cyberspace… I know, crazy right? Before long, John comes to realize that someone else has taken up residence in his building; an attractive, if a little bit odd, young woman named Priss. She seems nice, but distant… cold… maybe lacking a bit in empathy and common human frames of reference. She just needs some furniture for her apartment, and maybe he can cook her dinner and they’ll be great friends.
By no stretch of the imagination is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep to be considered “light reading”. The story by Phillip K. Dick has withstood the test of time, still garnering plenty of attention as an outstanding work of fiction. While the film Blade Runner might have strayed from some of the themes presented in the original work, it still did a great job of posing the question, “What makes us human? What makes us… real?” Personally, I think it’s fantastic that Boom Studios chose to take on this project using Dick’s manuscript to elevate the medium, as opposed to having other writers pare down and adapt the work to fit. While something like this may not be for everyone, I will say that it accomplishes some pretty significant things, and asks some pretty important questions.
So what do you think? Are you sure you’re real? In the end, does it matter?