Mr. Charlie #89 wishes that some (if not all) of the attention DC Comics received for their all-new, all-gay Batwoman would go to a company like Top Shelf Productions for the many fine comic book and comic book books they publishing, especially for something like their 2005-06 five-issue mini-series, THE SURROGATES. The Georgia-based company is making another big push for the acclaimed series with the release of the trade paperback collection scheduled for a July 2006 release [$19.95 (US), 208 pp., color, ISBN: 1-891830-87-2].
The story: By the year 2054, science and technology with the willing participation of human vanity has reduced life to a data feed. Virtual reality and cybernetics fuse to usher in the era of the personal surrogate. Surrogates are android substitutes that let users interact with the world without ever leaving the comfort of their homes.
A fireman can still be a fireman without the danger. He just jacks into his android stand-in who goes out and does all the work, while the owner has the experience and sensations without risking his own neck. In fact, in the story’s setting, the Central Georgia Metropolis (Atlanta?), all the firemen are living through androids surrogates that perform their jobs. A civil servant such as a fireman or policeman can even have the city replace an android damaged in the line of duty.
Fat, overweight, old… ugly: People can have sexy looking surrogates replace them in the real world, while they, obsessed with physical appearance, can hide in the safety of their homes away from prying eyes. Any consumer that can afford it can have beauty on demand via a sexy surrogate (for the gals) or a ripped and muscular surrogate (for the guys). Some guys may even want to live through a female surrogate.
It’s a perfect world, but someone thinks otherwise – enough to launch a wave of terror. It begins with the seemingly accidental destruction of a pair of surrogates. Chips, circuitry, and wires: all of it fried as each received a direct hit from a bolt of lightning. Lt. Harvey Greer and Sgt. Pete Ford of the Metro Police Department are assigned to the case as detectives. After a few more instances of surrogates found fried by a power surge, Greer realizes that these aren’t accidents. Someone is destroying them and Greer, in true tough cop form, is determined to find him. What he finds is a techno-terrorist, destroying surrogates and infiltrating the giant corporate manufacturers that make them, a mysterious figure that Greer names Steeplejack.
If that weren’t bad enough – there is quasi-religious leader named Zaire Powell, III, also known as “The Prophet,” who once led massive demonstrations against the surrogates. In a peace treaty with the city, he and his people who believe that those who live through surrogates will spend eternity in (the Judeo-Christian) Hell, live in their own fenced off section of the city, the Dread Reservation. But The Prophet and his people are stirring again and Greer knows that his hunt for Steeplejack just got more complicated.
It may be awhile yet before we can call The Surrogates a great comic, but it’s certainly a very good comic book. The storytelling is strong and the characters are engaging, but most of all the story (gasp!) has ideas.
Yes, writer Robert Venditti has something to say about the American (or perhaps, Western) preoccupation with physical appearance, and his ideas and notions are spot on. In fact, while this is one of the best sci-fi comic book series (in a medium that produces little high-quality science fiction), The Surrogates actually leans towards being speculative fiction, the kind of sci-fi that makes a hard guess at the near future of humanity. The writer considers a particular subject or issue, and takes a look at where we will be in terms of that issue – in this case preoccupation with good looks and safety. How far will people go to achieve physical perfection and safety from harm?
Perhaps, Venditti has noticed that in addition to American obsessing about physical appearance, many are also choosing security over freedom, as if they could micromanage reality by “plugging all the holes in the dike” so that no one ever gets hurt. In The Surrogates, people don’t feel pain or die, and they can live in the safe womb of their homes. Regardless of whatever sparked this notion in his mind, Venditti thoughtfully approached what he was trying to say with this comic book.
I’m assuming that artist Brett Weldele relied on the computer quite a bit to produce the illustrations for The Surrogates. That’s certainly evident in the coloring. While Weldele seems to have drawn the characters by hand, he uses computer coloring to give the art texture and mood. Weldele establishes the signature mood for the series, much the way the cinematography in the film Blade Runner did for that film. Both that film and this comic book are eye-catching. The visuals define a future world, but they set the tone for a tales that are actually about identity and what goes on inside a character’s mind – basically emphasizing the human element in the fantastic world of sci-fi.
So if anyone doubts that comic books can do high quality, real science fiction, The Surrogates is the antidote.
[Single issues of The Surrogates, #1-5, are still availabe from the publisher at the topshelfcomix.com website. While there, you can also pre-order Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's already controversial, Lost Girls.]
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