The Surrogates is a strong debut by writer Robert Venditti, ably supported by artist Brett Weldele (Couscous Express). It reminds me of Fell in several ways: the cop investigating bizarre crimes, the grid-based layouts, the grimy, scratchy art. Venditti’s approaching his story as more traditional science fiction, though, taking an intriguing premise and playing out different implications within an action framework.
Fifty years from now, most people interact through the use of surrogates, idealized robot forms that make virtual reality physical. They allow their drivers to become other people, stronger, younger, more attractive, even a different gender. When a terrorist starts destroying these androids, police detective Harvey Greer has to find out who’s behind the politically motivated attempt to force people out from behind their technological sock puppets.
His work is complicated by his home life, where his wife is more comfortable living through her surrogate, and then there’s the enclave led by the prophet, preaching life without enhancement as God’s will. There was more potential in this world and these concepts than could be fit into the book, which is backhanded praise for the writer’s imagination. The first chapter, where the basics of this society are expressed through the preliminary investigation, is the strongest because of its emphasis on the culture.
The cover copy calls the book “a commentary on identity, the Western obsession with physical appearance, and the growing trend to use science as a means of providing consumers with beauty on demand.” Those ideas are nodded to, but this might have been a more substantial work with more in-depth exploration of them. Which isn’t really fair, because it’s a way of saying that this particular reader found the interpersonal aspects more interesting than the detective work and the action scenes, although those were ably executed.
It’s also a shame that the wife’s concerns aren’t portrayed more sympathetically, because she’s facing the horror of aging that every woman has to deal with. Her fears are shown as two-dimensional, set up to make the hero more sympathetic, and I’d have rather seen more balance than the shrill bitch she was sometimes made to be.
The extensive extras included in the book were eye-opening. Each chapter is punctuated by a fake artifact, whether ad campaign, news transcript, or scholarly article. At the end came concept sketches, examples of page development, a deleted scene, and pinups by other artists. The script samples, especially, showed that this was early work from Venditti, since some of the things he asked for seemed too complex for a single panel. That’s exciting, since it means he still has room to grow, and his next work should be even better.
Later on, Venditti makes the typical choice of a newer writer, of erring on the side of too much exposition instead of having faith in the reader, and that bogs down the second half of the book. The roots of the story in a miniseries are sometimes visible, as information is repeated to make sure the reader remembers it between issues.
More information is available at the publisher’s website. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)