You know what’s a sign that you’ve encountered a quality book? You read through the PDF copy you’ve been given to advance review without any breaks, completely engrossed, and then, when you’ve finished, you think to yourself, “Wow, I should buy this when it comes out.” That how good “The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone” is: I still want to buy a copy once it’s out. That’s the sign of a quality book right there.
A prequel to the five-issue series of the same name, this book takes place 15 years prior to the original, over the course of one month in the summer of 2039. Three teens using their fathers’ Surrogates -- robotic replicas of people remotely operated -- kill a homeless man, which sets into motion not just a high profile murder case, but also a larger reexamination of the role of Surrogates in society.
The manner in which the murder case plays out is reminiscent of an episode of “Law & Order” with the father of one boy using his wealth and influence to do everything he can to protect his son. First, he claims he was operating the Surrogate, but, when the police prove that to be a lie, he uses his high-priced attorney to come up with a ludicrous defense and, even, resorts to bribery. On the other side is Harvey Greer, a uniformed police officer with the hopes of making detective. His relationship with the only witness who was close enough to the murder to disprove the boys’ new defense, but the witness has gone on the run and must be found.
However, this book isn’t just a typical murder story. Venditti and Weldele go beyond those narrow parameters to show how this murder affects society. A new religious cult uses it as the opportunity to push their anti-Surrogate agenda, the company that makes Surrogates needs to come up with a response to the public outcry, and there’s the ever-present idea of “How much advancement is too much?” These ideas are presented, at times, through text pages like the op/ed section of an online ‘newspaper’ or an interview in a business magazine. These elements are integrated well into the story and effectively deliver a broader view of the world. The examination of how Surrogates have strengthened the divide between the rich and the poor is very smart and rings true.
Weldele’s art has never looked better. His style is sketchy like the work of Ashley Wood at his most coherent, as Weldele avoids obtuse, impressionistic images in favor of easy to understand storytelling. As he also colors the book, he really focuses on mood for each scene, often using colors that blanket scenes, like using a blue filter in a film. Mixed with a very traditional, three-tiered layout throughout the book, his art gives a cinematic feel.
He is able to jump between quieter, dialogue-driven scenes and violent fights with little difficulty. The sight of ‘blank’ police Surrogates pacifying a riot is stunning and disturbing; as are the dead bodies that Weldele illustrates, often choosing to show half-drawn sketches made up of quick lines and circles, like the first steps in ‘how to draw’ instructions.
“The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone” is a spectacular read, both for fans of the original series and newcomers. Venditti and Weldele take a pretty basic science fiction concept and build an engrossing story around it, delivering a complex world that mirrors our own in many ways.