Earlier this year, Lost in Translation reviewed Cyberpunk 2077: Trauma Team, which followed a MedTech working for the emergency medical provider, Trauma Team. The comic was based on Cyberpunk 2077, the video game successor to the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk 220.127.116.11., both created by Mike Pondsmith. The games, both video and RPG, are set in a near future where corporations control the country and people are left to eke out lives either in the gilded cage of a corporate office or on the sidelines. Cyberpunk, the genre, is not a happy place to live, yet the only difference between cyberpunk and today is the lack of implanted augmentations. Maybe by 2077.
The other theme in cyberpunk and in Cyberpunk is that while it may not be possible to change the world, it is possible to change the world around you. The change doesn’t have to be for the better. In Neuromancer, Case leaves the world in a new situation, one that it has to adjust to, while his own life has changed greatly despite his efforts.
As a genre, cyberpunk began as literary but relies heavily on imagery that it was a natural to be picked up in more visual mediums. While Blade Runner didn’t start as cyberpunk, its film adaptation provided the visual esthetic that it’s part of the genre’s DNA. Moody, neon, gritty, and focused on the outsiders.
That brings us to Cyberpunk 2077: Where’s Johnny from Dark Horse Comics, written by Bartosz Sztybor, with art by Giannis Milogiannis, colours by Roman Titov, and letters by Aditya Bidikar. The plot follows Wallace, a reporter who is working to bring down the corporations, who is brought into a complex plot. The hook, a lead into who planted a nuclear bomb in Arasaka’s Night City HQ, the missing Rockerboy, Johnny Silverhand. Get proof, and Wallace has it made at his employer.
Naturally, things are never as they appear. Wallace is being played. Everyone wants to know where Johnny is, but Wallace finds out something else. A body allegedly recovered from the former Arasaka Tower, died not of radiation or being crushed but by having her throat slit. Wallace might not be able to bring down a corporation, but he can bring the woman’s killer to justice of sorts.
The graphic novel is definitely using elements from Cyberpunk 2077. Johnny Silverhand is a legacy character, showing up first in the Cyberpunk 2013 Night City supplement then in the Cyberpunk 18.104.22.168. core rules as an established character before being portrayed by Keanu Reeves in the video game. Johnny has gone through a lot, including a few deaths; thanks to technology, it is possible to back up memories to be implanted in a clone if you can afford the medical insurance. Johnny’s trademark is a chromed cybernetic arm and hand; in 2020, he often treats it as a separate entity, a reflection of a loss of humanity due to its implantation.
The arrival of the Silverhands poser gang brings in an element that doesn’t really appear in the videogame. Poser gangs get cosmetic surgery to look like a celebrity or a group of celebrities. In 2020, sample poser gangs include the Gilligans, who look like the characters from Gilligan’s Island and the Bradies, based off The Brady Bunch. WHile most poser gangs are considered annoyances, especially by other types of gangs, they can be a problem. Witnesses giving a description after an organized snatch-and-grab are going to all describe Gilligan in different ways. The videogame didn’t include because of issues with permissions, though if the Silverhands appear after an update, they would fit in well.
In the end, not much changes by the end of Where’s Johnny. Corporations are still warring. People are still oppressed. But Wallace does get in justice for the dead woman in a way that could not have happened through regular channels. And this is at the heart of the game. Wallace is still the same, but he can live with himself at the end. It’s not the large change, but the series of small changes along the way that will improve life for people. Cyberpunk 2077: Where’s Johnny mixes up elements from tabletop and video game, mixes them up, and provides a story that fits in both.
Cyberpunk 2077 has made an impact since its release in December 2020. The video game is based on a tabletop roleplaying game designed by Mike Pondsmith, who was involved in the video game. While the video game has had a few problems since release, it is popular. And when something is popular, it gets adapted.
A quick bit of history on Cyberpunk. The first edition of the RPG, Cyberpunk 2013, was released in 1988. 2013 had four supplements, including Hardwired, written by Walter Jon Williams, basing it on the novel he wrote. It was followed up two years later with the second edition, Cyberpunk 22.214.171.124. 2020 expanded the setting, the character roles, and the mechanics; the game was rereleased in 2014. The third edition, Cyberpunk V3.0, released 2005, wasn’t as well accepted; changes to the setting left the fanbase cold and the artwork was controversial. Finally, in conjuction with the video game, Cyberpunk RED was fully released in November 2020, a month before 3077‘s release. The RPG is seeing a renaissance, complete with new miniatures including one of Pondsmith and his dog.
Going back to Cyberpunk 126.96.36.199, the game made Night City the default setting, where the city was a supplement for 2013. Night City was very much inspired by William Gibson’s Chiba City, with dashes of Hardwired and other cyberpunk works plus other sources such as Blade Runner. Night City became a living, breathing city, with gangs and gang wars, corporate headquarters and corporate wars, besieged citizens, besieged cops, and many ways to escape, some of which are legal. Life is cheap, cybernetics expensive, and going about daily business without a subscription to a paramedic service.
In the Cyberpunk setting, there are a few subscription emergency services. The services’ contracts lay out how a recovery team will retrieve the wounded subscriber, though there are added costs to that on top of the monthly subscription fee. Reviving a clone costs even more on top, plus the fees for making a memory backup. They’re the US health care system expanded as US gun violence also expanded. Trauma Team International is the largest of these subscription emergency services, but not the only one. REO Meatwagon, also mentioned in the core rules, is one competitor determined to carve a slice of the pie, even if it means shooting down a Trauma Team aerodyne.
The day-to-day job of a Trauma Team crew sounds like it would make for drama, whether in game or in an adaptation. One part paramedic, one part combat recon, all dystopia. Thus, in September 2020, Dark Horse Comics released the first issue of Cyberpunk 2077: Trauma Team, then released issues 1-4 as a trade paperback in March 2021. The series was written by Cullen Bunn, with art by Miguel Valderrama, colours by Jason Vordie, and lettering by Frank Cvetkovic.
The series follows Nadia, a young medtech who joined Trauma Team International out of a sense of duty. Even after two years of service, she still had some idealism. However, when a heavily cybered solo manages to kill everyone on her rescue squad except her and the client, she’s taken off duty for psych eval. Her first response after returning to duty is to retrieve a client in an apartment block in gang-controlled territory. The platinum membership client turns out to be the solo who killed her previous team wounded and pinned down by gangers, leading to Nadia having to make difficult choices.
Night City in the four issues is a neon-filled grime even in the nicer parts of the city. The apartment block looks like it should be condemned, except that would mean someone in the city government cared. The solo’s abilities may seem superhuman, but that’s what cybernetics can do in the game. Enhanced reflexes, enhanced strength, and a lack of empathy for humanity; medical science in 2077 has made amazing advances.
In terms of appearance, the comic takes queues from Blade Runner, with neon lights and rain, masses of people wandering through the streets, the forgotten dregs in a desperate fight, and corporate negligence. Nadia’s Trauma Team is kitted out for a war zone, which describes many parts of Night City too well. In game terms, Nadia is a medtech, the client is a solo, the rescue squads are composed of medtechs and solos, and Nadia’s psychologist is a corporate. The story definitely fits in the setting.
Cyberpunk 2077: Trauma Team fits right into Night City and the Cyberpunk franchise. Idealism is the first thing to die in a dystopia, something Nadia finds out the hard way. While playing a Trauma Team employee is out of the scope of the video game, the comic expands the setting for fans, showing what happens when a rescue squad encounters resistance.