May 12, 2009

[Comics] The Surrogates

The SurrogatesThe worlds of comic books and science fiction have often crossed paths many, many times over the years. After all, some of the earliest tales of fantasy were rooted in our desires to look to the stars, to the depths of the seas or through the veil of time, to name a few examples. These are the very same tales that were first illustrated and eventually re-told in comic book form.

Of course comic books turned to the worlds of super heroes or supernatural beings more and more and while science fiction concepts still played a key part, it was no longer the star player.

Thus beyond the marketing driven movie tie-ins, it's not that often that you really get your hands on a "true" science fiction comic book these days, and thus the few that pop up are truly meant to be treasured.

The Surrogates is one of those rare comic books (or graphic novels if you prefer) that truly is a science fiction story. Set in the world of 2054, mankind has evolved (?) into a society that interacts with the rest of the world through life-size humanoid robots called surrogates. These units are their avatars in the real world and are advanced enough to not just let them see the world through the surrogates eyes but to experience it.

The concept alone is staggering - creating humanoid robots so realistic in appearance and function that their controllers are able to experience life through their surrogates. They can taste the food the surrogate "eats" and they can smell the things their surrogate can. Homosexuals desiring to become women can realize their dreams through a female surrogate unit. Even the most health conscious person can now experiment with smoking, drugs and other such vices without actual harm to themselves. How real is a world that you only interact with from the confines of your home?

Of course nothing is ever perfect and a series of crimes starts against surrogates. Now the police have to get involved to determine who's been destroying these surrogates, why this is being done all before it's too late.

The tale had that slight taste of cyberpunk to me, mainly because of the need for humans to use highly advanced virtual reality headsets to control their surrogates. Instead of connecting into a virtual cyber world where you get to be whoever you want, these people get to connect to the real world with the same absolute control over self-image.

What further contributed to this notion was the perspective adapted for the comic book - that of the detective assigned to the case, doing his best to try and piece together exactly what was going on despite the risks. The serial "killer" remains on the loose, targeting surrogates left and right, thus how does an all-surrogate police force handle such a crime wave?

I know it feels like I've already said too much in terms of spoilers, but believe me, there's a whole lot more to this story than just those facts, which is definitely part of the appeal of the book. The writing involved as the same level of complexity and intricacy that I've come to associate with some of the better crafted science books in recent times. It's absolutely brilliant how that story got translated into images so readily in way that look as little as possible from the core story behind it yet at the same time enhancing the story in the way that only comic books can.

I count myself lucky that a very good friend of mine was generous enough to let me read this title - more importantly, he called my attention to its existence. To be able to enjoy a good comic book like this, before it gets turned (or bastardized?) into a movie later this year. I have to admit I'm a bit skeptical about what will be done with the source material, but then like any other geek I've come to live with the interference of Hollywood.

This is a definite must-read to all you science fiction loving comic book geeks out there! You're missing part of your life by not reading this book. Seriously.

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