The everyday insanity of our society–both as it stands and in its foreseeable trajectory–is a veritable goldmine of subject matter for modern-day science fiction; hell, reality is practically its own fiction in and of itself. It’s gotten to the point where I pick up a frighteningly dystopian sci-fi comic and am automatically convinced by the end of it that whatever I just read is us five years from now (see Tokyo Ghost). Image seems to have cornered the market of late on these types of tales, and their latest offering of this caliber, Surgeon X, is perhaps one of the most fascinating and disarming entries of the genre to date.
In 2036 London, after years of doctors “overprescribing,” a restrictive code has been implemented by the government rationing the amount of remaining antibiotics doctors are allowed to prescribe to the public. (Guess this is one scenario where those three-year-old antibiotics still in your medicine cabinet would finally serve a purpose.) As a result, resistant disease is on the rise; a minor infected cut can lead to loss of limbs, even death. Society faces imminent collapse as the pharmaceutical industry falls under political control. One renegade doctor, Rosa Scott, decides to take matters into her own hands, crafting a mobile surgical unit in the back of a gypsy ambulance piloted by her devoted but unstable brother Lewis. Motivated by her outrage at the unethical new law and by the political establishment’s desire to control the use of what are, at this point, life-saving drugs as they see fit (thereby not placing equal value on every human life), Rosa finds herself facing a personal ethical dilemma when faced with the opportunity to save the life of a pro-rationing politician who defies everything she stands for.
Writer Sara Kenney’s story is a potent blend of medical drama, good ol’ dystopian sci-fi and freshly minted superhero story. Its efficacy lies in part in the fact that its events are entirely possible (probable? Perish that thought), but also in its realistic, three-dimensional characterizations. Rosa is a badass, a relatable character with real heart and determination, with that righteous indignation and internal conflict that we all love in a classic superhero. The end of the issue springs a “shocking reveal” that seems a bit out of left field, but hopefully the issues to come will justify it, even though the other storylines in the series hold far more fascination (for this reader, anyway). Artist John Watkiss’ evocative, impressionistic set pieces alternate between a dark, apocalyptic feel and (appropriately) a more clinical aesthetic; I especially love the throwback wartime-y public health posters that appear throughout, with glaringly ominous slogans like “WASH YOUR HANDS…OR RISK LOSING YOUR LIMBS” and “RATIONING IS RATIONAL.”
Thumbs up for Surgeon X, an extremely well-executed cautionary/medical/superhero/sci-fi nightmare. Robin Cook would approve, and would likely have written it himself if he wrote comics. Intelligent, thought-provoking and paranoia-inducing.