I had never heard of The Surrogates before it was given to me as a birthday present last year by my good buddy Brant. He said he’d heard of it because it’s supposed to be made into a movie starring Bruce Willis. Huh.
My buddies and I spent several weeks recently in an ongoing discussion (on-line and off) about MySpace, Second Life, and the logical, apocalyptical end-point of those social networking efforts. Well, Surrogates writer Rob Venditti was in some very similar headspace.
I read a book called THE CYBERGYPSIES by Indra Sinha for one of my grad school classes. Written in the late-90s, it’s a true story about people addicted to the Internet and cyberspace. Something about the characters-people who were willing to jeopardize everything, even their careers and families, to maintain their online personas-stuck with me. I began thinking about what it would be like if, instead of being confined to cyberspace, people could send their virtual selves out into the real world. Then they could work, date, get the groceries, and do everything else without ever having to drop the faÃ§ade. What would that world be like?
(Interview excerpts from this Independent Propaganda piece.)
Combine those net-futurist elements with some hard-hitting crime-drama bits, and a humanist passion and you’ve got The Surrogates.
It’s a hell of a book. The world it creates is utterly convincing, and Venditti, a careful plotter and a writer of sharp dialogue, has obviously given a lot of deep thought to the consequences of life in such a superficial world, from the larger political effects – explored in a series of newsmagazine articles included in the book – to the havoc wreaked on formerly intimate relationships. The pain inflicted on Detectives Harvey Greer by his wife and her refusal to be seen in human state if as palpable as the violence that erupts from the Dread riots that occur in the third act of the book.
I would greatly be remiss, of course, if I didn’t mention the art of Brett Weldele. It’s a beautiful combination of watercolor-like colors and scratchy, expressionistic line-work. It’s probably best just to show a couple of examples.
Beautiful, right? There’s a great script-to-page feature in the back of the trade paperback (which is pimped-out like a DVD with a covers gallery, pin-ups, character sketches, and more). It shows a page of the script, then breaks down Weldele’s process as he moves from rough pencils to computer work in Photoshop and Painter. Don’t let his reliance on the digital scare you, though, the art definitely feels hand-made. Here’s a bigger, more colorful example to prove the point.
Another note on the completeness of the world created in The Surrogates. Venditti and Weldele went so far as to create in-comic ads for Virtual Self, the company the sells the eponymous surrogates meant to improve life in the future world.
The ads are terrifyingly convincing. Wouldn’t you like a surrogate that can present to the world your best vision of yourself, while recording all the most important moments of your life for playback later, freeing you from discrimination, and protecting your real-self from physical injury?
That last advantage is particularly interesting in the comic, since all the cops in town have been replaced by fakes, it’s a controversial for Det. Greer to put his own body in the line of danger.
The Surrogates is high-minded sci-fi, no doubt, but it’s also an action-packed story of heroes, that even features a super-villain. I particularly like the pull-quote on the back of the book from Javier Grill-Marxuach.
The Surrogates exists not as a projection of the future, but as an urgent warning about our present-day lives.