The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone

A movie adaptation of your first graphic novel gets you many things — among which is a comic sequel. The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone is actually a prequel to The Surrogates (2007), set 15 years before its events.

The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone cover
The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone
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In that first book, reference is made to a group of teens using robot surrogates who kill a homeless man. This book is the story of that series of events: the murder, its investigation, and the impact on society. The main character of the previous volume, Harvey Greer, is here a young police officer assigned to the case. He’s given the opportunity to help investigate the crime and demonstrate his abilities, which makes it a huge chance to succeed as a detective, as he aspires to be, or risk being stuck in his current position if he fails.

Surrogates aren’t in as widespread use at the time of this story, and attitudes are also different. In the previous book, Greer is tired of his wife’s refusal to interact with him in person; here, he’s excited by the new-and-different hot body she offers him after she’s first bought a surrogate. Cops aren’t yet converted, still walking the streets physically. Many factions reappear, in younger guise, including the Virtual Self corporation, who makes the robots, and the Prophet and his religious flock, who object to them in principle.

The style of the case will be familiar to anyone who follows the news. It pits rich youth against the discarded poor, white against black, tech users (those who can afford it, or those who welcome it) against the old-fashioned. The verdict is rendered as much in public, in the media and the attitudes they foster, as it is the courts. Everyone’s out to find the only witness and use him for their own ends.

The art is consistent with the first book, sketchy linework on monochrome pages. I like the way the grey-blues and dark neutrals give the feel of the grimy, overcast city, and the distinctly handmade look of the line art — no computer would produce lines that jagged in feel — underlies the themes of the story. (I believe that Brett Weldele actually produces the composite pages on computer, in a mediated way that has additional echoes of significance.) As in the previous volume, each story chapter is followed by text material — mocked-up newspaper editorials about whether or not to use a surrogate, for example, or a brochure from the Prophet’s church.

I enjoyed this volume more than the first one, since with the basics already established, Robert Venditti could put a tighter focus on the events. However, the story wasn’t as satisfying as I expected. While the first chapters set up a gripping situation, events after that happen a little too abruptly for my taste.

I suspect it’s due to taking on too much. Thinking back on both books, I would have enjoyed them more if the Prophet was removed, because too often, calling someone religious is an excuse for not having to give them fully three-dimensional motivations. If we’d only had the police and the corporation and the people caught in the middle, that would have been plenty of conflict for me. As it is, too many characters are two-dimensional in their reactions to keep the story moving. If you watch Law & Order, you’ve seen many of the cast members — rich white guy buying his way out of justice, street informant only out for his own skin, heartless corporate executive, etc. — too many times before with just as little depth.

There are particular interactions in small scenes that show Venditti’s skill. The conversation between Greer and a grandmother comes to mind, as does the resulting conclusion he draws. It’s a shame that the whole thing isn’t as good as those moments. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

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