Tripwire Contributing Writer OLLY MACNAMEE takes a look at the trade paperback collection of Image’s Surgeon X by Sara Kenney and John Watkiss…
Writer: Sara Kenney
Art: John Watkiss
Collecting the Surgeon X mini-series in one trade and standing as both a debut book from writer Sara Kenney as well as the last work from artist, John Watkiss (who managed to get all but 10 of this series’ pages inked; no mean feat, as he became ill during this run), this is a story that is set in the not-too-distant-future enabling it to comment quite easily on the state of play in a Britain plagued by rampant right-wingers, privateers and a growing immunity to antibiotics; all a dangerous cocktail that seems to be leading to the end-of-days as diseases we once thought under control, and all but extinct, come back stronger and more resilient creating a health crisis that depleted, privatised public services simply cannot cope with.
It wasn’t too surprising, then, to learn that Kenney’s early career was in the sciences. And, in writing Surgeon X, she has a platform from which to create a believable future, should we continue down our current political path. And, judging by the right-leaning press in this country, this could well be the case come 9 June sadly. On 8 June we will have one of the starkest choices I have even been politically involved with. Follow down the road of a Tory government and the future of Surgeon X cannot be too far from coming to pass.
But, once again, I am in fear of digressing too much.
You write about what you know, and Kenney knows about science and the warning – harking as far back as 1945 – from Nobel Prize winner, Alexander Fleming, even then that resistance to antibiotics was inevitable. Given there has been so little recent development in this field (not enough profit to be had, according to Surgeon X) this comic reads as much as a warning for a future that could well be just around the corner, as it does a gripping sci-fi thriller and murder mystery too! Phew, that’s a lot of subplots to dangle and coordinate for one’s debut comic book gig. We have a political assassination to kick off proceedings and the rise of the right (it’s always on the rise, unfortunately, and numbskulls still seem to fall for their anti-immigration, pro-big business claptrap) as well as some good old fashion family politics as Surgeon X, a social-reforming doctor, Rosa Scott, sacrifices a career in medicine to set up an illegal, underground surgery for the growing number of patients who can’t afford treatment, or simply do not have a high enough rating! Not too far removed, then, from the state of play in today’s NHS. Along the way we also get to meet, and know, all of Rosa’s family: the schizophrenic half-brother, Lewis, her sister, Martha, And her father too, a wealthy doctor who runs his own private clinic. A Richard Branson of a future age, if you like, happy to associate with the elite, including an 87 year old King Charles, and profit from these links as well as the corrupt, capitalist free-market economy that is disabling society today, let alone in 2036.
As such, a story of rampant right-wingers and equally rampant disease and growing resistance in society cannot help but remind readers of a similar not-too-distant-future of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s seminal classic, V for Vendetta. And, just as with V For Vendetta, this is the story with a female protagonist at its centre. With strong female characters surrounding her too. Especially her mum, whose death smells fishier than a North Sea trawler. What was she exploring in Burma when the family were told she was returning from India? And, why the large scale police denial? Curiouser and curiouser.
As a debut comic book, this is a well researched, meaningful story; it gets better with each chapter of this trade, as Kenney’s multiple layered narrative slowly come together to begin to form a story of conspiracies and possible government – if not big business – cover-ups to suit their own agenda. Watkiss, on art, has a comic he can be proud of as a legacy. Hos artwork reminded me of Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead) with shades of Jim Baikie (Skizz) too, and hs attention to detail as he illustrates a very recognizable London throughout this freshman series only adds to a suspension of disbelief in the reader that is sustained because of the links to a world we already recognise as our own.
The ending is far from conclusive, but over the 6 collected issues here (and several pages of amazing, textured sketches that really showcase the talents of Watkiss, making me wish we could have had a version created directly from these sketches, while also giving the reader a taste of a talent sadly now lost to us with his recent passing) we have a solid story, with some very interesting, and scientifically based, developments that, unfortunately, only seem to complicate matters even further. And, with a digitally produced Surgeon X only just released, plans for a more substantial follow up cannot be too far behind.
If you like comics with a bit of political commentary and bite, then pick up Surgeon X trade, available now.
Surgeon X is out now from Image Comics