May 13, 2010

Getting Graphic: "The Surrogates" by Robert Vendetti & Brett Weldele

Title: The Surrogates
Author: Robert Vendetti
Illustrator: Brett Weldele
Published: Top Shelf Productions (2009); originally published in 2006
Genre: Science-Fiction
ISBN 978-1-891830-87-7

To sum up the world this story takes place in, I'll just ask this: What if the people in The Matrix were there voluntarily?

It's 2054 and everyone--everyone with the bankroll to back it up anyway--is living their life via a surrogate. A surrogate is a remotely controlled android, that's the personification of vanity, and acts as both a reflection of the user's ego and aspirations. The users sit at home and experience life through the six senses provided, filtered electronically, by the "surries."

After two young lovers are attacked by a hooded stranger in a dark alley, law enforcement arrives to find two fried surrogates and the task of informing the live users about what's happened to their property, as well as trying to figure out who would do such a thing ... and how. Enter the detective, Lieutenant Harvey Greer.

Greer is given the task of figuring out why someone is attacking surrogates, which leads him to suspect the leader of an anti-surrogate faction in a segregated section of the city, Zaire Powell III (aka the Prophet). As the attacks worsen and motives start to become clear, Greer has to contend with not only an impending assault on the entire city, but his own emotional state regarding his life through a surrogate and his estrangement from his wife. After Greer's surrogate is destroyed and he gets his first taste of real life in years, he realizes just how detached people are from the world around them, most notably his wife.

This is a five-issue comic book compiled into an engrossing graphic novel. The artwork has a gritty, austere approach to the pen work, while the colors added to each scene breath life and give the rough-around-the-edges artwork an organic quality. With a world so steeped in technological insulation, the artwork manages to hone in on the human element remarkably well and winds up being the draw for this book. It's kind of like seeing a guy's sketchpad on steroids.

Between each chapter (or issue), there are interludes into the background, including advertisements for surrogates and upgrades, news articles regarding public relations, and retrospectives on the initial riots on decades earlier. It helps add dimensions to a fully-formed world that mind be hard to understand through just the story as it's being told.

In the trailers for the film adaptation, there is a mention of users killed as a result of surrogates being destroyed, but that little plot point does not exist in the graphic novel. Nor is it required, as the story given on the pages is more than enough to entertain and hook readers. I personally cringe at the idea of our world turning into a World of Warcraft or Second Life atmosphere through physical avatars running around city streets, so I was able to really get into the meat of this story. And even if you aren't interested in that, and you just want a good mystery/thriller then you'll find something to like here.

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