My servant wrote this review for me . . . . . . .
THE SURROGATES TPB by Robert Venditti, illustrated and colored by Brett Weldele (reprint 2009, Top Shelf Productions)
Another science-fiction comic gets adapted to movies with the September 25th premiere of THE SURROGATES in theaters. The movie trailers look interesting and appear to at least remain faithful to the major theme of the limited series comic. Although there are several scenes depicted that I don’t remember as occurring in the original storyline. I hope the film gets it at least half-right.
BLADE RUNNER was an interesting movie that helped jump-start Hollywood’s interest in science fiction works as good subjects for film adaptation. However, the movie was just a shell without the guts, namely all the secondary themes and good stuff that made the original novel (DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?) so memorable.
I, ROBOT was an entertaining piece of cinematic escapism complete with Will Smith. It bore even less resemblance to the legendary work by Isaac Asimov.
But I’m not here to review movies. I just hope THE SURROGATES movie is good enough to generate some interest in the original work and drive new readers into comics shops in search of it. It’s an incredible work deserving of more attention. I don’t know how I missed the original five-issue mini-series in 2006; but I’m glad I happened upon the trade paperback before seeing the movie. The movie can’t ruin my enjoyment of the comic series.
THE SURROGATES (the story) as created by Venditti and Weldele will easily make it into the Top 10 list of the best original science-fiction graphic novels that I have read. ( This gives me a great idea for an upcoming article.) This is so much more than just a one-trick pony. Venditti imagines a new spin on the familiar “android” theme and then fully explores and exploits it to the maximum. What begins as a simple idea/notion/usage for “surrogates” (android replacements or stand-ins for real humans) becomes a complex exploration of all the consequences, including the effects on politics, socialism, marketing, and law enforcement (to name just a few).
On just the surface level THE SURROGATES is a very entertaining and involving police procedural, which I suspect is what the movie will concentrate on with some extra action sequences added just to make sure today’s modern audience doesn’t get restless in their theater chairs. Dig just a little deeper and be enthralled with Vendetti’s complex speculations on what such a future might bring. It’s not too far away and less than 50 years into the future (2054).
In Vendetti’s future every citizen has access (so long as they can afford it) to a personal substitute. That substitute can go to work for them and interact with the rest of society while the owner sits back and never leaves home. The substitute, aka Surrogate, doesn’t even have to be a duplicate copy of the owner. Most people have physically superior versions of themselves running around while they get fat and lazy (and older) and some even chose to create a different persona in their surrogate form. For example, a male owner sends his attractive female surrogate out for some steamy action while he stays at home plugged in via virtual reality, saving all the action to video for repeated viewings. Or a politician in a historically black election district sends his black surrogate out to campaign so that voters can relate better to him. And the potential for all-surrogate police forces has led to both an increase in law enforcement as a career choice as well as a dramatic reduction in the actual incidence of criminal activity.
In the first chapter we are introduced to Central Georgia Metropolis detectives Harry Greer and Pete Ford as they investigate the double-death of a surrogate couple apparently interrupted during some back-alley romancing and burned out (their circuits were baked and fried) during a freak electrical storm. As the investigation continues they learn that it was actually a murder, and a terrorist may be involved as future victims (all surrogates as well) expire in similar fashion.
Credit in part the gloomy atmospherics and dreary look and feel of this book to Brett Weldele, whose minimalist art style takes advantage of coloring and combines it to full effect with shading, shadows, lines and photo washes. I like the way that he meshes city photographs into his backgrounds with a surrealistic appearance.
Chapter One: “Field Test” really expands on the surrogate palate and all its possibilities as we move deeper into the story with every page. Even poverty-level lower class have access to surrogates although they may assume more risk to do so, as we learn when the detectives interview one of the murdered surrogate owners. The saddened owner bemoans that the female
surrogate that his personal stand-in was having sex with was actually owned by another male. He comments ironically “why can’t people just be who they say they are?” as we learn that his job in construction is in jeopardy since he can’t send his surrogate to work tomorrow, and his personal body is in no shape for that kind of physical activity. Venditti wisely shows us the complexity of this future through the use of end pieces, articles and features following the conclusion of the story in each issue. This helps us see how much research and speculation he has done without interrupting the main story with detailed explanations or lengthy exposition. It’s a great technique and I admire it. Chapter One ends with an analytical article (complete with footnotes and references) describing the impact of surrogates on society that is very detailed and in-depth. It accomplishes in just four pages of text what would have required a full issue of multi-paneled pages to convey and visualize.
Chapter Two: “Life Unfiltered” reveals further insights as detective Greer makes a decision to report to work rather than send his surrogate and almost ends his life as a result. Rather than discourage him it sets his resolve to continue life sans surrogate and this leads to further complications in his married life, etc. Another fascinating character is introduced, the cult leader and evangelist Zaire Powell III who has an as-yet unrevealed connection to the terrorist murders. The end piece this issue gives us more background on this prominent character by printing the transcripts of a police interview conducted at an earlier turning point in his life. This is very powerful stuff and it really pulls you into this story. I nearly went without sleep and had to discipline myself to save the next chapter for another day. ( I couldn’t afford to send a surrogate to work in place of me.)
I won’t go any further into detail. I hope I’ve provided enough information here to at least encourage you to check out this work. And the ending will have you shaking your head either in disbelief or sympathetic understanding. You need to see and read some of these chapter end pieces to really appreciate all the effort put into this work. The reasons behind the invention and creation of surrogates is a story unto itself, especially when learning how greedy opportunists capitalized on the concept and what new and contemptible spin the marketing department has in mind now. What’s even more impressive is that this is Venditti’s very first work in comics, and one that he spent four years in conception and development. Remarkable. And the background information that reveals how he broke into the field by becoming a mailroom employee for an independent publisher is a source of inspiration to all aspiring comics writers and artists.