In 2005, current "X-O Manowar" writer Robert Venditti introduced readers to the world of "The Surrogates," a future where humans have forsaken physical contact with each other in favor of using surrogates -- humanoid remote controlled replicas -- to interact with one another. "The Surrogates" starred Lieutenant Harvey Greer, who investigates the destruction of two surrogates and the deaths of their owners, becoming embroiled in a plot expploring the potential dangers of technological over-dependence. In 2009, Venditti returned with "The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone" exploring the world of "The Surrogates" fifteen years prior to the original series. Now, Venditti and Top Shelf plan to continue the technological thriller with "The Surrogates: Case Files," a digital-exclusive series.
Set between the events of "The Surrogates" and "Flesh and Bone," "Case Files" tells a series of self-contained stories with a more procedural feel. Written by Venditti with art by original "Surrogates" artist Brett Weldele, "Case Files" focuses on one-and-done mysteries with the occasional two-parter focused on surrogate technology crime.
Venditti spoke with CBR News about the stories and themes of "Case Files," exploring the digital-only space, the timeline of the series and further developing the character of protagonist Harvey Greer.
CBR News: Robert, let's start with the obvious -- what is "The Surrogates: Case Files" and where do we find Harvey Greer in this new series?
Robert Venditti: "Case Files" is a series of self-contained stories set in the world of "The Surrogates." It picks up where "Flesh and Bone" left off, with Harvey Greer having made detective and just starting on his new career path. He's an intelligent cop and he has good intuition, but he lacks the experience necessary to put it all together. Enter his new partner, veteran detective Ray "Townie" Townsend, an old-school guy who has an aversion to those in need of on-the-job training. He also likes crayons and coloring books.
The series is comprised of self-contained, single-issue mysteries (with the occasional two-parter), each one focused on a crime in which surrogate technology plays a role, hopefully in an unexpected way. It's basically my love letter to the one-hour cop drama.
What are the stories and themes you'll be exploring with "Case Files." Will they always be investigations where surrogate tech plays a role? Do you plan on diving in to the characters and their back stories outside of the investigations, or are the investigations really what's driving the story and the rest follows?
Surrogate technology will be connected to the crimes in some form or fashion, hopefully in ways that the reader won't see coming. We're playing with basic elements of crime -- means, motive and opportunity -- and exploring the impact surrogates would have on each of them. But the series is about much more than the crimes themselves. At its heart, the stories will be about Greer and Townsend. As new partners from very different backgrounds, they'll have to find a way to understand and respect each other.
This book is set between the original "Surrogates" and its prequel "Flesh and Bone." What was the thought process behind the setting and timeline?
From day one, the goal has been for "The Surrogates" to be three graphic novels. So far we've published "The Surrogates" and the prequel, "Flesh and Bone," which is set fifteen years prior. The third book, which is already written in my head, would be set roughly fifteen years after the first book. So the entire trilogy would encompass thirty years or so.
But it occurred to me that there was a lot more I wanted to do with the story. I had all of these ideas about the ways people could use surrogate technology, but they didn't fit into the original three-book framework. "Case Files" is our way of telling those stories while still operating with the confines of the overall plan.
I think the best way to describe it would be a series of miniseries. [Series artist] Brett Weldele and I both have other projects we're working on, so we'll do "Case Files" as a series of mini-arcs, then take a break and come back to them when our schedules allow.
This series is digital-exclusive for the single issues -- why go digital-only and what are the plans long term for print? Will there be an eventual collection?
Whether or not there will be a collection will be Top Shelf's decision. As for our reason for going digital first, I've been wanting to do serialized "Surrogates" stories for a while, but single-issue print comics isn't really Top Shelf's stock and trade. Digital allows us to get the episodic feel we're going for.
With the switch to digital, how, if at all, are you changing your approach to writing this series? How is Brett changing his approach to layout with this?
I'm writing with much smaller settings: apartments, cars, interrogation rooms, dry cleaners and so on. I'm taking the more claustrophobic reading space inherent in a tablet or smartphone and trying to use it for the story's advantage. I'm also staying away from double-page spreads and things that work well in print, but are harder to execute digitally.
How many issues of "Case Files" do you see Brett and you doing to start? Are you at all concerned that a big break in the middle of "Case Files" could hurt sales momentum, or does digital distribution -- and being always available -- throw that concern out the window?
The first two issues are in the can, and I have the next three down on paper. So the plan is to start with five issues and see where things go from there. This is an experiment, in many ways, not just for Brett and myself, but for Top Shelf as well. None of us have tried something like this before and we're anxious to see how it's received.
In regard to there being a gap between chunks of stories, I think our readers are already acclimated to that. It was three years between the publication of "The Surrogates" and "Flesh and Bone," and now it's been three years between "Flesh and Bone" and "Case Files."
Would you ever entertain the idea of a guest writer coming in and tackling some case files themselves?
I've never thought about it. I had fun with the film adaptation, in part because I enjoyed seeing others bring their own influences to the characters and settings in the graphic novels. I guess we'll have to see what the future holds.
"The Surrogates: Case Files" is available now via Top Shelf Comix and comiXology.