Ales Kot is two-faced. There’s his first face: the face that created Zero and Secret Avengers. It’s a face that understands deeply how to make a reader feel something. It’s a face that produces challenging, but still understandable comics. Then there’s his second face: the face that is responsible for Change. I much prefer the first face. With the first face he has created stories that have changed my life, he’s given me deep emotional shock and warmed my heart with tender character moments. With the second face he’s made me feel cheated; Change was poor work. It was incredibly convoluted and gave readers nothing to hold onto. So which face did Ales Kot put on as he sat down to write The Surface? Is it good?
The Surface #1 (Image Comics)
The Surface is set in a fictional future, easily comparable to the setting of Transmetropolitan; the book even alludes to the legendary comic book series within a few pages. Technology is everywhere and it is limiting people’s privacy, people are now modified with injections and prosthetics and what not, screens are everywhere and the whole book is filled with cool gadgets. The futuristic elements are handled very well—as far as technologies and concepts go I was never lost, all of it seemed pretty straight-forward, and it was all really fun to read about. The thing I thought Kot really struggled with in terms of writing about the future was not quite knowing how to seamlessly introduce things without making it heavy-handed. The most prominent example of this was the incredibly forced line about how “hackers are the new terrrorists.” It just seemed so artificial, like Ales Kot was trying to half-assedly make up some conflict in his new world that we could sort of relate to. That line stuck out to me as sloppy writing as well as the fact that the first half of the comic book is pretty much just straight exposition.
Character-wise, The Surface #1 is a total score. We are introduced to some kick-ass seeming kids who I’m sure are going to develop. What I especially love about these characters, and more broadly all of Ales Kot’s characters, is that they never seem like they fit into previously established archetypes. For instance, the main character of this book isn’t just the rebellious teenage son, he’s bigger than that. He’s got his own troubles and motives and won’t fall into the same storyline as other similar characters. The characters are all so unique and as a result, the story becomes satisfyingly unpredictable. Because you’ve never seen a character like this before, you have no idea where the story is going to go. That’s the kind of stuff that will keep a reader hooked and wanting more.
Art can really help a comic book out, and Langdon Foss elevates The Surface with his awesome artwork. The Surface is a comic book that introduces us to some really cool futuristic devices and landscapes and Foss renders all these creations masterfully but also adds an attitude of technology to the comic. Foss has made me feel like this comic is set in the future, not that it is a comic about the present with futuristic elements to it.
I bet you’re wondering what The Surface actually is. Well, so am I. This is where The Surface #1 kind of borders onto some Change-like territory. After reading almost 30 pages about it I still don’t have much an idea of what the Surface is, and that frustrates me. I was fed a ton of allusions and vague “clues,” which I guess appeals to some, but not so much to me. The one redeeming part of having a totally confusing concept at play is the fact that I have strong characters to hold onto while I wait for the concept to develop. I would be happy buying the next few issues to see where Kot takes these characters, if nothing else.
Is It Good?
There are parts to The Surface #1 that I really liked, but due to a lack of clarity and some off-putting expositional bits placed throughout, I can’t say it’s great yet. For me right now it appears that this is going the way of Change, but I’ll still be around next issue just because I trust the author.