Review: The Surrogates
by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
*No Spoilers!! I swear!
A brief synopsis or introduction would be helpful I’m sure, on The Surrogates written by Robert Vendetti, illustrated by Brett Weldele.
It’s about a society where people no longer deal in the flesh from day to day but rather live through ‘surrogates’: life like ‘models’ that allow the user to look different, be stronger, faster, and live safer. The users don’t feel pain, but can have the thrill of living the acts their ‘surries’ commit. A man can be a woman, a white woman can be black, an Asian can look East Indian, etc. It’s an interesting concept that certainly opens up a world of opportunities but begs the question of who is behind the surrie, and when the surrogate units are targeted for attacks – who’s behind them?
This was made into a major motion picture that released last year starring Bruce Willis.
So, now that you’re interests have been peaked (or at least distracted) I’d like to talk about it without giving too much away. The story itself was lovely in the terns that it was not something simple and straight forward. It is what it quotes, a lovely combo between action, adventure and detective fiction. But that’s not to say it was too hard to follow, the novel keeps the reader up to speed with the characters – not ahead or behind. I like this in a novel, often a feature of detective fiction, because it allows the reader to become the detective themselves; to try and solve it before turning the page. Not exactly everyone’s cup of tea but certainly a good page turner.
Another note often found in fiction is the love story. It always squeaks it’s way in. Normally it’s overdone. Thrown in your face, shoved down your throat, primary while the rest of the story, the action, the mystery, is secondary to the characters quest to find/acquire/save their love. I’m sick of it. In The Surrogates there was no bludgeoning of a love story. Subtly through the not so subtle character Margaret, the reader is shown the dynamic between Harvey Greer and his wife. There is tension, there is frustration and yes a little drama in the relationship but it isn’t the focus of the novel. It plays as an added, not centralized, factor that pushes the main character on. I like this. I really do. The hopelessly centered love stories have their place but not in every graphic novel, fiction, hell even non-fiction piece out there. So bravo! No bludgeoning here.
A wonderful feature discussed at length in the edition of The Surrogates that I have are the advertisements. These advertisements are absolutely brilliant. A lovely way to not only create breaks for the editions releases but also to create a sense of reality. The advertisements are not drawn as the rest of the comic is. They are made with real life models and look professionally produced. The interjection of these advertisements apparently fooled some of the earlier readers of the comic and proved to be effective in creating a buzz. In the motion picture these were not changed and used effectively again.
The art was perfect for a detective action story. The combination of rough penned characters against photo backgrounds that are faded and just barely recognizable gave a smoke industrial feel to the panels. It reminded me of a black and white film, a modern day Sherlock Holmes puttering around looking for clues. Unfortunately I’m not an artist so I don’t know how valued my opinion on style is but I personally liked it. It was the reason I pulled this book off the shelf. I’m not a fan of the cleaned, perfectly coloured lines, solid designs and perfect features. The sketchy look of the comic gives it a darker feel, less perfection and again more real. The characters, even though in surries which are absolutely perfect, have sketched looking frames, features are cut and dry and I love the look. It stands out strong and then when there’s pages of advertisements they complement one another in such a contrasting manner.
I can’t imagine this comic being drawn in any other way.
Negatives, because there is always something.
The ending. Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away. But the ending is…. different. Certainly not a crowd pleasing attempt of the standard ‘Yay we win!’ this ending creates, or created in me, an unsure feeling. I was unsatisfied, I want more. Part of me, taking a step back from the emotional temper tantrum princess response, realises this is a plus not a negative. If you leave your reader completely satisfied you haven’t given them a real answer. The end being so anti-climactic tends to raise the question that there are no perfect happy endings. This is much more common now than any other time in the past I’d say. Fiction, and graphic novels especially, don’t want to end on a happy high note. We don’t always win, we don’t always catch the bad guy and I believe the goal of this book was to create a realistic future reality and with that comes the disappointments that reality provides – whether we like it or not.
This also contributes to my growing desire to pick up the sequel, The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone so maybe not a negative on this one. We’ll go with negative/positive that was perfectly executed.
You’ll see this at any review of this graphic novel that has any information about the movie. IT WAS NOT ACCURATE. The bane of many graphic novelists, hell any book or book like product made into a movie: consistency is shot all to hell. A made-from-graphic-fiction movie rarely hits the button, sometimes not even in the same room as the button! It’s not really surprising though. Detective movies are always chalked full of action, adventure and BAYSPLOSIONS! They need to grab just about everyone to make that first 20 million in ticket sales. So there’s a love story + action + mystery + loss + winning + twist. The Surrogates the movie did this. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I enjoyed the story provided in the novel much more. It was deeper, more engrossing and contained all the nuances most movies fail to even understand let alone replicate. But one can’t complain. It boosted sales for the graphic novel and if it gets more books read, it can’t be that bad.
And as I noted before the movie makes did take the advertisements that were spawned in the comic and brought them to new life in the film. Not just page spreads of models and sayings, but full commercials that spoke perfectly to that tone of ‘Now you CAN be perfect’ when in a surrogate. They did lose the striking effect they had in the graphic depiction between the two very different art styles. Drawn page vs. detailed living model advertisement had a shockingly dramatic view.
So, my arbitrary rating?
Just go pick it up. It’s not expensive, it’s better than the movie and you’ll go through it a few times to pick up all the little hints and nods to the reader that are laced throughout. And then you’ll get your friends to read it and then they’ll get their friends to read it, etc.
Seriously! GO PICK IT UP! What could you possibly have to lose besides a few dollars and a few hours. And the best part about a book? You can put it down and come back later without leaving the TV on pause.
The Surrogates (Vol 1)
by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
The Surrogates (Vol 2): Flesh and Bone
by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele