The Surrogates caught me by surprise when it came out a few years ago. Here was a book with a unique premise, which appealed to the Sci-Fi fan in me, as well as the crime drama/mystery fan. The story was fairly unique to me: In the future most people will not leave their houses at all, they do all their business and interactions through the use of realistic looking robots called Surrogates. These surrogates have changed all aspects of society: cops don’t have to worry about being killed in the line of duty; gender roles are easily switched by using a surrogate opposite of the users actual gender; and body image is no longer a problem, since your surrogate can be as good looking as you want it to be. All of this changes when someone begins to go around destroying other people’s surrogates. What follows is an examination of how we interact with each other in an online world, the role of religion verses technology, and really just a well crafted mystery.
The original Surrogates mini-series, by Robert Venditti is an interesting piece of work. It’s one of the most thought provoking series that I have read over the last few years. The world we live in today is one where people can go years without actually meeting people they interact with every day. You can keep up with complete strangers via any number of message boards, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, or a million other social networks. You can raid a dungeon in World of Warcraft with someone who could be half a world away, or they could be your next door neighbor, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The Surrogates takes the concept of this isolation that many people live their lives in today, and asks what would happen if no one had to leave their house if they didn’t want to. The best thing it does though, is take this interesting concept, and wraps it up in an also interesting murder mystery.
The mystery is really the core of the story, with Detective Harvey Greer trying to hunt down someone who’s going around destroying Surrogates. This person may or may not have ties to a radical religious group that believes Surrogates are an affront to God, and whose members live on a reservation and call for the destruction of all Surrogates. I won’t spoil anything but I’ll assure you that the story takes its fair share of twists and turns before reaching its conclusion. It’s a mystery that I enjoyed, because the clues are there in the book (particularly the sections between the chapters that use a variety of methods to give information about the world), and you could figure it out if you look, but I was surprised by who the killer is revealed to be. That’s always a sign of a good mystery to me.
Surrogates: Flesh and Bone serves as a prequel to the original series. I had read the original series before, but had forgotten most of the details, so after reading Flesh and Bone I had to go back and re-read the original, and found all the stuff that this prequel was referring to. Flesh and Bone is less of a mystery than the first one, and I guess it could best be described as more of a police procedural comic. We know who committed the big central murder of the book right from the start, but the fun is in what that murder means to the world, and how it affects the characters. We see how Greer came to be a detective on the force, and also how the Prophet and his people gained their reservation. I don’t know what the best way to read these books would be if you’re picking them up for the first time. Part of me says that you should read them in order of release, so you can enjoy the first story, and then see how Flesh and Bone elaborates on it. The other part of me can understand reading it in chronological order, because I don’t think it will ruin the mystery of The Surrogates, but it will give you more information about the characters. Either way you want to read it should be fine.
The Surrogates works well on its own, and both books work well together, but I don’t know if I would recommend Flesh and Bone by itself. It’s still good, but it really only works in conjunction with the original series. What it does do well is explain some of the character’s motivations; it examines the main themes of the first book, and gives us a look at the background events that set up the original series. Unfortunately, I don’t think the main story is interesting enough to merit a whole book. Everything is explained well enough in the first series that we don’t necessarily need the full story as presented here. What I think I would have preferred is a new mystery in the same setting, because I think there’s a lot of ground to be covered in the world that the creators have established. That being said, for fans of the original series, you’ll find a decent enough story, and it’s at least worth the purchase.
One the plus side, both books feature the art of Brett Weldele whose dark, atmospheric work fits the story perfectly. He’s got a very rough style, rough in that he uses a lot of ink on the page and his characters have a very sketchy look to them. The artist I’m most reminded of when looking at his work is Ben Templesmith, but Weldele is a bit more angular. The art really fits the dark mood of the story. The other really nice addition to both books is the inclusion of extras between each chapter. These sections take the form of various magazines, newspapers, religious tracts, and advertisement material. Each offers a different look into the world the story takes place in, and they just add another layer to the story.
So if you’ve never read this series before, I highly recommend it. If you’re any kind of sci-fi fan, and you’re looking for a good, mature story, you will find it here, or if you like a good mystery, there something here for you as well.
These two softcover graphic novels were recently re-released to coincide with The Surrogates film, which arrives in theaters tomorrow, and are also available now as one deluxe hardcover edition (“owners manual”).