We got an advance look at The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone, the sequel to the original comic now being made into a Bruce Willis-starring movie, and can happily say that it's Dollhouse done right.
Apologies to Dollhouse fans, but this 144 page graphic novel offers the kind of thinking sci-fi questions about identity, responsibility and the dehumanizing aspects of technology that Joss Whedon's latest Friday night show lingers on, and comes to less glamorous conclusions.
Robert Venditti's story reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode of The Wire; an involving police procedural that spreads out through multiple plot strands into business and religion - that just happens to center around synthetic human beings murdering "real" people.
What makes the book work so well is its downbeat, cynical tone. Even when the story hits a big revelation (The police figure out the true identity of the murderer, for example, or another shocking moment towards the end, which I won't reveal for fear of ruining the plot), it's done in a sober, almost documentary tone that allows you to focus on the bigger picture forming behind the scenes.
The writing is wonderfully sparse, giving the reader enough credit to figure things out for themselves (with the help, admittedly, of some Watchmen-esque background material between chapters) and managing to hold back from telegraphing the satisfying conclusion that nonetheless makes you wish for a(nother) sequel as soon as possible.
Holding it all together is Brett Weldele's art, recalling Ashley Wood or Ben Templesmith (or, for those with longer memories, Bill Sienkiewicz's Big Numbers work in places) but without their tendency to overpower the story with showy panels. It's understated, sketchy work made all the more successful with color choices that give it a depth and strength that you're not even sure you'd have missed otherwise.
Overall, this is the kind of science fiction comic you wish they'd make more of - a smart, compelling and adult work asking questions with no easy answers that'll stick with you for a long time after you finish it. Here's hoping that the movie version of the first book in the series is close to this level of quality. It's got its work cut out for it.
The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone is released by Top Shelf Productions in July.
The Surrogates (Vol. 2): Flesh and Bone [Top Shelf]