Originally published on Bloody Disgusting
Reviewed By Katy Rex. “The Surface” #1 is an ode to the Beat generation as much as it is a criticism of that merry group of pranksters. Set in a dystopic future, it both adopts and satirizes facets of that generation’s espoused values. In a material world, it both rejects materialism and mocks that rejection.
WRITTEN BY: Ales Kot
ART BY: Langdon Foss, Jordie Bellaire
LETTERS BY: Clayton Cowles
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
RELEASE: March 11, 2015
The story, told in Ales Kot’s distinctive direct and yet psychedelic style, follows Mark, the president’s son, his boyfriend Gomez, and their girlfriend Nasia, as told by a bizarre and unreliable narrator who gives clues as to his or her identity with lines like “Sorry, I needed to scratch my butt*,” annotating to the helpful note “*Believe it or not, this is a clue.” Like any good speculative future, it has taken perceived strengths and flaws in the world today and amplified them, so sharing your life online is now default, privacy is opt-in, and people who don’t participate in the common culture are viewed with suspicion– after all, why wouldn’t you share your lifelog if you didn’t have something to hide? It embraces alternative sexualities, like that of Mark and his 3-way romantic partnership, and while it implies that Mark’s father doesn’t approve, it’s not clear if that has anything to do with the genders or quantity of Mark’s choices, or some other issue. The Surface, the concept after which this book was named, is as elusive and undefined as the narrator who describes it, but it’s also the goal that Mark, Gomez, and Nasia are working toward.
The book directly references several other works, including the author William S. Burroughs and the Transmetropolitan character Spider Jerusalem, in ways that are passing and not pointed but still manage to make their point; this book is about the generations that rebel, the generations that dream of revolution and the generations that are foolish enough to believe they will succeed without any particular plan in mind, and the generations that we look back at with nostalgia as though they in their cleverness and privilege really changed the world. It critiques the effectiveness of works that espouse ideals that are so quickly misinterpreted and castrated and boycotted, while at the same time being a work that espouses ideals open to misinterpretation, castration, and boycotts.
Kot and Foss are doing some unique work in the world of comics with this book. Many comics rely on cinematic strategies, using their panel layouts as enhanced storyboards, but The Surface contains propaganda and essays that are both on point with a modern world (“swipe right to keep reading,” one page says) and vaguely reminiscent of Brian Wood’s Channel Zero in the ways it incorporates words as images, prose as art. The cityscapes are exactly familiar enough to point out to the reader the way the flaws of this world echo the flaws of our own, the technology just a step more evolved than ours in a way that examines the ways technology can be both useful and harmful. The colors, especially when they focus on Mark & co, are lighthearted and a little artificial, but primarily reflective of their location, be it the busy palette of a city or the shades of beautiful monotone in a desert. Clayton Cowles’ letters are planned and effective, and all of these elements are seamlessly woven together from the different modes of storytelling, the advertisements and the propaganda and the q&a sessions with the author, by designer Tom Muller. The creative team is working together, collaboratively, to create a fresh product that wouldn’t work with anything less than each of their best efforts. This is an extremely solid first issue, and with so much more to learn about this world, it’s hard to have to wait another month for the next one.