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Who is Johnny Silverhand?

by Connor Harvey
Johnny Silverhand

Who Is Johnny Silverhand? Played By Keanu Reeves, This Enigmatic Character Will Be Featured in Cyberpunk 2077

Do we really know who Johnny Silverhand is? More people have been asking this question since the figure was seen in the popular Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, played by internet treasure Keanu Reeves. This newfound curiosity calls for a revisiting of this enigmatic character’s roots. 

We’ll begin by looking back to 1988 with the first publication of Cyberpunk tabletop RPG by R. Talsorian games and Mike Pondsmith. It’s within the pages of these books and handouts that Johnny Silverhand finds his origin. He is an influential character used both as an example of his class (Rockerboy) and as an interactive element for players during particular adventures.

A Younger Johnny Silverhand
A Younger Johnny Silverhand

Dark Beginnings for Johnny Silverhand

Johnny Silverhand’s personal biography begins in 1990 during the First Central American War. The conflict erupted when US military forces seized the Panama Canal after its treaty expired, sparking a guerrilla war against the nations of Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.

It was a war very much in the vein of the Vietnam War, pitting well-equipped American troops against a grassroots opposition using local geography and populace to their advantage. It is here that Johnny Silverhand serves among the elite Mechanical Light Infantry Battalion. He gradually finds himself disenchanted with the conflict and unmotivated to fight in a corrupt war.

Johnny eventually deserts the army and makes his way back to the USA. There, he gains his namesake in the form of a silver cybernetic arm replacing the one lost during the war–a phantom pain that reminds Johnny of his purpose to rebel.

Birth of the Cyberpunk Rockerboy

To birth this rebellion, Johnny forms the band Samurai. Together, they make music that fans the flames of revolution among the common people. Samurai scored chart-topping hits with songs like Chippin’ in and Never Fade Away. However, the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Through an altercation, keyboard player Bes Isis ends up in prison, ultimately resulting in the breakup of the band. 

But Johnny is now an extremely famous musician in his own right. He uses his star power to launch a solo career while pushing his own agenda. He is contacted by a large musical studio during this time in an attempt to blackmail him into signing with them. The label tries to use his desertion from the army as a point of shame, threatening to expose this fact to the public if he does not bend to their demands. But Johnny isn’t the type to take oppression lying down, so he flips the script on the studio by releasing a solo album called SINS of Your Brothers. On the album, he admits to his desertion. In turn, he exposes the brutality and corruption of the Central American War, pushing his success even further.

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A Cyberpunk’s Rebel Yell

It is around this time that players of Cyberpunk 2020 can begin to interact with Johnny Silverhand during the adventure Never Fade Away. In this storyline, the players are hired by Johnny himself to aid in a task. Mega Corporation Arasaka have kidnapped Alt Cunningham, Johnny’s girlfriend and a skilled Netrunner, as part of their plan to create a software known as Soulkiller. The software copies and downloads a Netrunner’s mind with one small caveat: it kills the target.

Johnny’s plan is to stage a Samurai reunion gig outside of Arasaka Tower in order to draw massive crowds and make an ideal distraction. This intentionally rabble-rouses the crowd, keeping the Arasaka heavies at bay and focusing attention away from the players as they storm the tower to rescue Alt. Johnny shows off his tactical know-how by drawing Arasaka into a publicity nightmare, especially if they make a move on him during a large concert. Despite all this, the players are too late.

Cover of Cyberpunk 2020
Cover of Cyberpunk 2020

They find Alt to be dead and her mind copied into the Arasaka mainframe. This is the first instance of a Netrunner’s mind being copied by Soulkiller, and something to keep note of.

The next time players see Johnny is during the Cyberpunk 2020 expansion Firestorm which depicts the war between two large mega corporations, Arasaka and Militech. It’s during this period that Johnny tries to rescue Alt’s digital consciousness from the Arasaka mainframe. However, Johnny’s bad luck strikes again. He is last seen being cut down by an Arasaka assassin known as Adam Smasher who’s more metal than man and almost a full ‘borg. His assault leaves Johnny dying and with no sign of rescue. This is the last that Johnny Silverhand is seen within the pages of the Cyberpunk RPG. That is, until the reveal trailer of Cyberpunk 2077 where he utters the iconic line:

Wake the fuck up Samurai, we’ve got a city to burn.

Johnny Silverhand

What Role Will Johnny Silverhand play in Cyberpunk 2077?

It seems that Johnny has some scores to settle and he needs you to help him do it. In his absence, the people have held hope that Johnny is out there somewhere, ready to step back into the limelight, lead the revolution, and liberate the oppressed.

A few questions arise from all this. At the point of Cyberpunk 2077, Johnny would be well into his hundredth year, yet he looks the figure of health apart from the odd visual hitch. 

What’s Johnny’s secret? Stimulants? Cosmetic surgery? Nothing has been confirmed yet, but judging from his past history, it seems like Alt Cunningham’s Soulkiller program may have something to do with it. With no option left for Johnny after the botched rescue of Alt during Firestorm, a digital life may be better than no life at all. Or maybe Arasaka wanted to keep a trophy from one of the biggest thorns in their side. Morals aren’t exactly high for a megacorporation of their size. This would explain why Johnny looks physically in his thirties when he should be reaching triple figures in his age. Either way, it seems that Johnny is no less bitter now that he lives in digital form, and Night City is within his sights. Will he return as its mechanical messiah or as a destructive daemon? Only time will tell.

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

Leave a Comment

1 comment

Celine Punk September 20, 2020 - 10:58 am

The fact that Keanu Reeves is playing the character, it makes the character even more powerful. Everything about the character is looking awesome,the story, the concept etc. I like the kind of personality he seems to have. Like the whole guy eating an apple off a knife at the bar looking to tell you a story vibes. I am pretty sure that I will enjoy him throughout the story.


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