A prequel to their debut s-f graphic novel, The Surrogates, Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele's The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone (Top Shelf Publications) takes us back to July 29, 2039, as the robotic body shells known as surrogates are still being test marketed to consumers.
Set in the southern city of Central Georgia Metropolis, the story opens on the murder of a black street person by a trio of young men in suits who call their battered victim a "boner." Though they appear to be adult men, the threesome turn out to be young punk rich kids who've ventured into the streets for some rough fun. "I know what he needs," one of the trio says, "a beating, you know, like the maid does with the rugs."
The killing, "racially charged, pitting rich against poor," winds up violently dividing the city. Patrolman Harvey Greer, who has just taken his detective exam, is pulled into the case by Detective Vince McEvoy and charged with tracking down an informant named Chattie who witnessed the attack. Once he becomes involved in the case, Greer is given a quick lesson in the difficulty investigating a murder case where suspects can commit a crime while joyriding in their parents' artificial bodies: one of the boys' fathers initially tries to take the blame for the act, claiming self-defense.
When he arrives home that night from his first day in the "big leagues," he returns to see his wife has herself purchased a surrogate, a blond and shapely figure who keeps him up all night. Though still pricey ("Do I even want to know what the payments are?" Greer asks his wife), the artificial bodies are clearly becoming more a part of the mainstream culture.
If Flesh and Bone just focused on Greer's police investigation, it'd be entertaining enough, but Venditti is after a richer speculative fiction picture here, taking us into the boardroom of Virtual Self, the corporation responsible for surrogate; into the world of police and city politics; and into the Church of the Prophet, a street-level church run by an ex-con named Xavier. Each has their own stake in the outcome of the investigation, and Venditti has a keen ear for the kind of hard-edged dialog that goes with no-nonsense under-the-table deal making.