Out now, Dark Horse‘s video game tie-in Cyberpunk 2077: Trauma Team #1 applies a Blade Runner aesthetic to a story about PTSD. Written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Miguel Valderrama, colored by Jason Wordie, and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic, the book is a strong introduction to the world of the game and a strong story in its own right.
Set in dystopian Night City, Trauma Team #1 revolves around a paramedic/security hybrid squad as they execute their duty to protect high-paying clients. The focus of the story is Nadia, who, for half the book, recalls a mission gone wrong. She’s undergoing a mental health evaluation to determine her “combat readiness” if you will.
What helps the story flow is its structure based on Nadia’s interview. In captions, Nadia’s vague, terse responses to leading questions are juxtaposed with revealing flashbacks. This allows for the simultaneous artistic introduction of the world and a foundation for sympathy with Nadia.
Cool Dystopia, Bro
The creators establish this balance on the first page, wasting no time in their worldbuilding. The page opens on a busy street, capturing in what I would call digital watercolor style cybernetic people as they witness a shootout. In a long stretch of white space, Nadia’s dialogue with her interviewer breaks up the action, setting the tone, location, and character attitude.
What’s more, the caption design seems to come straight out of a video game or your cell phone with the alternating colors distinguishing between speakers. These irregular little boxes are unobtrusive, accenting the action, and complementing the aesthetic.
But it’s the character-driven storytelling that allows the comic book to stand on its own, removed from the video game. In the second half of the issue, after she’s been cleared for active duty, Nadia immediately joins a new team and goes out on a mission. On this mission, she recognizes the man who killed members of her team, the source of all her psychological trauma.
Now that the story has its antagonist, the question driving it is whether Nadia will seek revenge and fully contend with her problems. After all, what makes dystopia and cyberpunk interesting is how characters psychologically grapple with their relentlessly cool and dark high-tech environment.
Nonetheless, given that the video game has been pushed back for release in November, the book may satisfy fans’ desire to see what’s been teased in action. Still, fan or not, familiar with cyberpunk as a genre or not, the story has broad appeal.
Who knows? Maybe Trauma Team #1 will make you a fan of the genre. And if you’re a fan of Blade Runner and Altered Carbon, give this book a try.