Review: The Surface #3

Animal Man #26 is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had while reading comics. It was, of course, the issue where {SPOILER} the then-writer of the series, Grant Morrison, appears to Buddy Baker as a divine deus ex machina while waxing philosophical about the nature of reality, authorial intrusion, his political leanings and his cat, while breaking the fourth wall and addressing both his characters and readers alike. It was an incredible, and for me at least, formative use of the medium, having since been often imitated, but only rarely duplicated. It’s probably safe to say that it was a big deal to Ales Kot, too. At least, that’s what the ending of The Surface #3 would suggest. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. This issue revolves around our main protagonist, Nasia, escaping the fiction that she calls life; not just in the fact that the coldblooded murder of her polyamorous partners was a well-constructed figment of her imagination (for “reasons”), but because she is a character in a comic book, who is in the process of being awoken through many layers of fiction and becoming self-aware, thanks to the reveal of her author via his now-exposed avatar. Along the way, we get pseudo-philosophical and thinly-veiled political finger-wagging set to a story written by a guy who is more interested in basking beneath his own narrative voice than threading a constructive plot, grounding his higher conceits or making any of his characters unique or endearing... well, apart from a pack of world-building monkeys; and they don’t even talk this issue.

Surface-#3-1The story behind The Surface #3 is actually pretty basic sci-fi, and effectively boils down to a Matrix-esque “fight the power” message, which is (relatively) prosaic for one of Kot’s reputation. In all honesty, that approach would be fine, but there are so many unnecessary feints and pretentious vagaries that its complexity feels forced, at best, and at worst, lazy. In that way, The Surface is appropriately named, with a depth that goes little further than a painstakingly constructed facade.

Perhaps the most glaring evidence of this is when Kot injects large blocks of text, explaining dully to the reader what his stories (both past and present, referencing Change by name) mean. In so doing, he doesn’t achieve clarity or give his world a more realized feel, nor does he inspire either appreciation for his genius or sympathy as a bruised artist. Rather, he comes across as the worst possible kind of joke teller: the one who explains the gag at the same time it’s being told, effectively undercutting any resonance it may have had in its telling, and undermining the story as a whole.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just time to accept the fact that I’m not an Ales Kot guy anymore... which kind of sucks. I loved Wild Children, Change and the first arc of Zero; hell, even some of his Marvel work. His stuff back then felt transcendent, original, not just regurgitated pretense; and it felt at least somewhat lucid. Things like The Surface #3 still remind me of Grant Morrison’s work, but only at his most impenetrable and unwieldy, before he realized he was writing to type.

Foss’ art has, for me, become the only reason to check out The Surface. Interestingly, as opposed to Kot, who desperately needs to rein himself in, Foss works best when his art exceeds the mundanity of the issue’s quieter moments and is allowed to fully embrace its capacity to get weird. There are some layouts this issue -- particularly when ensconced in the ever-impressive and always deft colors of Bellaire -- that give it true hope; Nasia’s awakening and escape from the Verhoeven-Delany Complex, for example, was exceptional. However, while he excels at lush backgrounds and impressively contrastive “alien” abductions, regular scenes of folks chatting at a bar unravel into rushed afterthoughts, such that his art’s electricity feels ungrounded.

Still, Foss -- most likely in a plot with Kot, to give the writer his due -- makes the most of what depth there is in The Surface #3, peppering in quiet visual nods to series-wide symbolism. It was only when I caught these that I became divested into wanting to learn more about what might be going on, or where this is all leading. I just wish that the written narrative could inspire as much interest.

I can’t remember how many issues The Surface is planned out for at Image, but unless it takes a massive turn next issue, this will most likely be my last gasp with the series. Given what this team is capable of, I came into the project expecting much more than is being given, and still live in hope that it will morph into something truly great. But for now, I’ve only found a thing reliant on a rehash of what passed for interesting 20 years ago.

Score: 2/5

The Surface #3 Writer: Ales Kot Artist: Langdon Foss Colorist: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 6/17/15 Format: Miniseries; Print/Digital