Written by: Ales Kot
Art by: Langdon Foss
Where to begin with Surface. When I read about this series it was described as “Mobius meets District 9” which was more than enough to get me to check it out. When I got my hands on it though and saw that it was by Alex Kot my excitement trebled. I’ve been loving his uniquely weird run on Secret Avengers and have been eager to try some of his creator owned work. The cover looked to promise the distinct weirdness I was looking for. However, as I began to read the book my mind, strengthened by years of Grant Morrison and John Hickman, began to be crushed under the weight of the mind of Ales Kot. That’s not to say this is a bad book however, quite the opposite, Surface #1 is one of the most uniquely fascinating comics I’ve read in a long time, there’s just quite a lot to unpack, so forgive me if this review seems a bit all over the place.
Upon starting the book I was drawn in by the unique visual style of Langdon Foss, who provides some great weird imagery. Accompanying this was the sort of text I expected to see in Doom Patrol such as “Do you see me? Do you know who I am?” everything was going swimmingly, especially with some fantastic designs from Tom Muller that packed the opening with insane amount of details including fake news stories for the world we were entering as well as walls of text on theories of a holographic universe. It’s a lot to take in in such a short space of time and can feel a little overwhelming, but I personally found myself fascinated, and patient readers will surely find lots to mull over in this intro.
As the main story began things started to feel a bit more accessible and easier to follow. Kot presents a world that has taken information sharing to a new level so that entire lives are shared and are a matter of public record, with new governmental acts allowing this information to be readily accessed when required by law, with hackers having become terrorists because of this. We’re introduced at this point to three hackers who are searching for something called “the surface” which is explained later in the comic. The satire is very easy to spot in this section, but thankfully Kot doesn’t just rely on the “information sharing and the NSA are EVIL!” trope and instead presents this world on a rather neutral level. There are of course villains in this world who will exploit the openness of data, but the story doesn’t strike me as an old man bitterly expressing hatred at the technology of today, but instead as someone who understands this is the way the world is largely going. As one of the characters states “it’s not good or bad, just different.” This leads to a very refreshing angle on technological development that doesn’t feel soul crushingly dystopian.
After this however just as I felt I was grasping the story, Kot bursts in and twists the stories in ways that are impossible to predict. While I don’t want to spoil what exactly “the surface” is, it leads to some very existentialist thoughts about the nature of the universe. It can be pretty hard to follow and comprehend, and this is something Kot seems to be fully aware of. Throughout the book are interviews from an elusive writer who seems to be Kot himself, who addresses concerns that his style is deliberately cryptic or that it just doesn’t make sense. This lends a deeply personal element to the comic and it truly feels like we are staring directly into Kot’s mind as he writes the book. Yes, it may be hard to follow, but Kot understands this and understands that being complicated doesn’t matter, as long as he can hook you into the story and make you want to read more. In my opinion, he deftly achieves this, as I certainly know I’ll be sticking around for the rest of the series to see the layers unfold.
While I have focused largely on the writing so far, as really it is the main draw here, the role of Foss as artist should not be understated. He is giving some really difficult challenges during the book with some really weird ideas that he has to visualise and he does an incredible job of it. The last page in particular is worth the price of entry alone, looking like a surreal masterpiece of art which seems to pop with new details and oddities the more you look at it. Designer Tom Muller has to be commended once again, for his unique minimalist style furthering the unique look of the book and presenting a comic unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.
This is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever written, there is so much to unpack and look at here that I’ve surely missed something, as this is really something you could discuss and pore over for hours. Subsequent rereads are also sure to reveal more information and detail missed out on a surface reading, and when the whole story is presented in front of us things are sure to be worth talking about. While the highly dense storytelling will most likely be a turn off for many readers, people such as myself who enjoy being challenged and reading something new and interesting are sure to love this book and find many things worthy of discussing. The highly improvised feel of this comic is hugely unique and definitely worth a look for those willing to work at it.