The Surrogates is set in the not too distant future in a society where artificial bodies are a way of life. Many people no longer leave their homes, but live their lives virtually as experienced by the android body they control. It’s a smart extrapolation of the virtual technology that existed in the early 21st century, but is used by Robert Venditti as the background to a downbeat police procedural mystery. Or two in this hardcover combining the original story and the prequel Flesh and Bone.

Central to both stories is police officer Harvey Greer. In 2054 he’s an experienced police detective respected by his colleagues, yet his home life is depressing, his wife addicted to Surrogate technology. The relationship still having plenty of spark in 2039 is well contrasted in the prequel.

Despite the possibilities of their world, few are happy, and Brett Weldele’s art reflects that. His people are well defined, but scratchily drawn in black ink with colour wash filling in the depth. This is primarily restricted to shades of brown, cementing the gloomy mood, which is further underlined, by continually poor weather. In that respect it brings Blade Runner to mind, but that’s just homage, as the Surrogates have no minds of their own.

While to us Surrogates seem a massive step forward, to the people living with them they’re just another piece of technology, although a religious leader calling himself Prophet has an aggressively negative attitude toward them. Then again, he’s a dangerous opportunist, and the contrast between his stature in 2054 and his rise to influence in 2039 provides insight into how the past can be overcome.

Venditti uses the Surrogates to make a few points about our own lives. At the trivial end of the scale it concerns people whose existence as online avatars is more fulfilling than reality, and a slight detour into corporate responsibility. The prequel, however, very much shows how the effects of tragic killings in the real world can ripple outward beyond those believing they’re under control, and considers those who benefit from manipulating public perception. That’s just window dressing, though, to what are two well plotted noir mysteries.

In dropping back fifteen years, the prequel doesn’t just move cast and attitudes into place for events of 2054, it also provides a satisfying separate investigation of someone who looks to be rich and influential enough to ensure they’re beyond prosecution.

The Surrogates was adapted for cinema, but as a vehicle for Bruce Willis it exaggerated and built on the action elements, and downplayed the mysteries, and in doing so become ordinary. The need for bombast also required changing the satisfyingly understated ending. Forget that and come to the graphic novels with an open mind because they’re far better.