The Surrogates (Top Shelf Productions)

As Detective Greer – the real cop, divested from his damaged surrogate – prowls a dark, rainy city in 2054, he begins to feel the forgotten pleasures of honest sensations. Through his eyes, we feel them, too.

(Top Shelf Productions; 208 pages FC; $19.95)

(W: Robert Venditti; A: Brett Weldele)

The same elegant conceit that blessed the first Matrix movie – that we may think we know ourselves and our place in the world, but truly, we have no idea – is at the heart of The Surrogates.

Imagine a world in which video games, emerging technology and virtual reality take us to the point when we literally never have to leave the house. Cyborg "surrogates" do everything for us – work, smoke, screw, wait in line at the DMV – and we observe it all via "data feed," feeling every emotion and physical sensation from afar. There is no violent crime, because if one surrogate punches another, the home operator may choose to turn off the data feed, and never feel the blow. There is no ugliness, because the surrogates are twiggy Barbies and handsome Kens, writ large.

Into this brave new world a shadowy figure arrives, electrocuting surrogates – "frying" them – and then disappearing into the night. Who is terminating the cyborgs and why? The five-issue comic The Surrogates, now a trade paperback, is a police procedural that imagines two cops – one surrogate, one flesh-and-bone – pursuing the answers.

Brett Weldele’s art is utilitarian – no splash pages here – and the palette of colors is muted, even drab. Remember, though, this is an unusual foray into action/adventure for indie imprint Top Shelf, so we get a marriage of thoughtful, indie pacing with cinematic ambitions—and any story in which a cop ruefully tosses his badge on a desk and says "I don’t think I’ll be needing this anymore" feels an awful lot like a movie.

As Detective Greer – the real cop, divested from his damaged surrogate – prowls a dark, rainy city in 2054, he begins to feel the forgotten pleasures of honest sensations. Through his eyes, we feel them, too. We’re not quite ready to live through robot doppelgangers in 2006, but some of us live and die by e-mail and X-Box, and have never actually met our neighbors. Technology drives a wedge between us and our lives. Author Robert Venditti gets it, and laboring under the shadow of Philip K. Dick, offers a cool noir extrapolation of our march to a numb future.

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