I’m a fairly avid graphic novel reader, and now that the sun is coming out more and more often, there’s nothing better than finding a dry patch of grass underneath a shady tree and cracking open a stunning piece of visual and literary art.
I picked up one of my old favorites over Memorial Day weekend — The Surrogates.
You’ve probably heard of it even if you didn’t know it was a graphic novel since Bruce Willis played the main character in a 2009 film adaptation.
While the film and the movie cover the same basic points of a not-too-distant dystopian future, the graphic novel has more to offer intellectually and emotionally. The movie serves primarily as an action/thriller and secondarily as an examination of society that is both thriving and wasting away.
The premise of Robert Venditti’s world is that the majority of people now live their daily lives through surrogates.
“Life… only better,” is the slogan of Virtual Self Industries, the company behind the new craze that has swept the nation.
The appeal is obvious and, for many, irresistible.
Imagine being able to live your life in your perfect body. Gone are the days where you never don’t look your best.
Heck, you don’t even need to look like yourself — in world of The Surrogates, you can choose to be young or old, black or white, male or female. Ageism, racism and sexism are a thing of the past for 92 percent of the world’s adult population, and, if VSI has anything to say about it, your children as well.
One of the graphic novels strengths in general (and why it’s far superior to the movie) is how it immerses you in this world.
At the end of every chapter of the graphic novel are scientific journal articles, newspaper clipping, police files, even advertisements that immerse you further into the world of The Surrogates.
One is a lengthy article about the social benefits of high surrogate use, including how race and gender relations have changed and how law enforcement and crime have evolved now that surrogates are available to nearly everyone.
Another is a news article about the Dread Riots of 2038, which started when three kids pirating their parents’ surrogates beat a homeless black man to death and ended with the creation of the Dread Reservation, a piece of land governed by the anti-surrogate Dread leader Ziare Powell, who is featured prominently in the main story line.
These tidbits of information are key to understanding what drives the characters in The Surrogates, from our protagonist Lt. Harvey Greer’s evolution from surrogate user to doing his police work “live,” to the Dread hatred of the surrogate and how the machines changed the world.
What really pulls me into The Surrogates is the questions the graphic novel asks, the first and foremost being, what makes us human?
This fictional world has become so reliant on the surrogate that there is almost no room for a live person. Who could compete with a worker who doesn’t physically tire, or a lover who doesn’t age?
The surrogate, in a sense, is a perfect human. A perfect you.
But can a human be perfect? To be human is to err, or so they say.
And on that line of questioning, what would you do to be the perfect you? What sort of price would you pay?
In return, you know you’ll never be injured on the job. You’ll never be the victim of a violent crime.
You’ll always be comfortable. You’ll always be in shape.
And, maybe most importantly, you can look like the person you’ve always wanted to be.
All you have to do is link up while sitting in a chair, and forego most, if not all, human contact.
Because, let’s be honest here, why would you ever go out without your surrogate again? All your friends do. Your family does. You’re not going to be the only one who decides to go out live among all those other perfect humans.
Is the security and comfort worth it?
I believe many of us would think so.
But is living through a surrogate still living?
Is living through a surrogate still human?
These questions keep me up at night, long after the sun has set and the grass becomes wet, because if I’m honest, the pull of the surrogate is a strong one. I’m not convinced I wouldn’t jump on the chance if it was presented to me.
But what exactly would I be giving up?
And, if it turns out it’s too much a burden for me to bear, would I be able to get it back?