There are a lot of post-apocalyptic comics out there, but The Surgeon somehow manages to feel fresh. The newest project from Unlikely Heroes Studios has a sense of reality to it, like things could actually happen this way. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, though. The appealing mix of rich characters, low-key social commentary and fun, pseudo-Western action is what makes it really stand out.
The Surgeon is a fresh take on post-apocalyptic comics, with a salty protagonist whose sword is as quick as her scalpel. It’s written by John Pence with art by the talented Unlikely Heroes team (Zack Dolan, Laurie Foster, Eve Orozco, and Erek Foster). You may remember Zack from our feature on his awesome Captain America print last year. His art is just as engaging in The Surgeon. Kudos to Eve Orozco for creating a frontier feel without resorting to unrelieved neutrals or washed out colors. No one wants to read twenty pages of tan.
The story takes the rising class tensions of today to an extreme (yet still believable) conclusion. An unspecified disaster – maybe a series of different disasters – has brought about the collapse of civilization. The world is now plagued by random super storms, intense solar radiation, massive amounts of pollution, and a general scramble for what limited resources remain. A huge chunk of the population died. Some live on, struggling to eke a living from the ruins of society.
The rich were spared this fate. They went underground. Literally. There’s a huge sealed vault where anyone who could spare a million dollars is waiting out the chaos. It’s heavily implied that they could have used their resources to make things better on the surface, but instead they’re hiding. (Side note: I wonder who’s doing their manual labor down there? Did they bring servants, or do they have robots? It might be fun to see later on if The Surgeon goes that direction.)
The Surgeon‘s protagonist is Dr. Jenny Hanover, an extra-salty orthopedic surgeon who was too deep in student loan debt to make it into the vault. She wanders around trading her services for clothes, food, horseshoes, and whatever else the locals can spare. I love that the creators resisted the urge to make Doc Hanover traditionally pretty. Even without the scars and the missing tooth, she’s drawn as rather plain. Doc is rough-edged and clearly has some baggage. Still, her deep sense of honor and commitment to her profession show through even when she has to resort to violence.
This first issue has Doc Hanover following a series of flag messages to Turtle Island, a surprisingly functional walled village where there are neither turtles nor islands. Without spoilers, I’ll say that The Surgeon seems to be setting up a small-scale rebuilding story arc to go along with Doc’s redemption story line. I could be mistaken (how many times have the Walking Dead crew thought they found a place to stay) but honestly? I hope not. I’m a sucker for rebuilding arcs. It’s interesting to see how things could take shape, the ways people rise from the ashes of one society to create another.
Interesting characters are scattered throughout The Surgeon. Everyone has a little extra flavor. From the helpful would-be apprentice to the stoic polite child carrying tools to her own appendectomy, each minor character leaves the reader wanting to know more about them. There’s a lot to explore in future issues.
I could have done without the attempted assault at the beginning, though. Why do so many writers use rape threats to prove how tough their female characters are? It’s not graphic at all, but I feel like it’s one of the comic’s few missteps. There are other ways to display Doc’s skills without having her threatened by some guy in a flag tower.
That was one short scene, though, and while it was annoying I didn’t see other majorly gross issues in The Surgeon. There are background female characters serving as guards or doing heavy physical labor. Doc Hanover doesn’t seem to be condescended to or damseled. In fact, the Turtle Island guards sensibly treat her like a potential threat even after taking her rifle. I’m willing to chalk that early scene up to an awkward creative choice (providing it doesn’t suddenly become a regular theme).
I’m excited to see where The Surgeon goes next. Right now the first issue is funded on their Kickstarter with a second already halfway funded. Though it’s listed as being released in December, backers can get a digital copy as early as next month.
What do you think of The Surgeon? Have you read the teaser on the campaign page? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology being published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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