Josh Finney and Kat Rocha’s Utopiates by title alone tells you what this comic is about. One of the reasons that opiates are so addicting is that they instill a feeling of well-being in the user, so combining the word opiates with utopia seems to be a good fit. As any cyberpunk can tell you, however, utopias don’t exist – there is always a price for peace and happiness. This is not glossed over in Utopiates. The story delves into the dark places of our souls. This analogy works perfectly in the context of Utopiates because the titular drug is one which has been imprinted with the personality of another person, or their soul as it is frequently called in the comic. When you inject yourself with a Utopiate or Imprint, you become someone else. A feeling many of us have longed for; a feeling that some might call utopia. The comic was originally published in August 2006 by Bloodfire Studios but is now available from 01 Publishing. Now in 2016, Utopiates has been injecting the minds of its readers with dark, complex ideas for a decade.
If you have ever been depressed, hated who you are, wished you could be someone else, or simply been jealous of the life of another then you can relate to the motivations of the drug users in Utopiates. And for that matter, you should be able to understand why any person in the real world turns to drugs for solace. The execution in Utopiates of introducing us to the downtrodden drug users of this cyberpunk world is brilliant and compelling. You can see yourself making the same decisions; these are not cardboard characters.
The visual style of Utopiates is a mix between the dirty, neon streets of Blade Runner and the leather clad, sunglasses aesthetics of the Matrix. The shadows are stark, and silhouettes abound conjuring the feeling of a hard-boiled noir film. All of these features combined with cyberpunk trappings creates a dark, gritty future that feels almost palpable. The character art itself is also striking. It feels almost like digitally altered photography leading to an even greater feeling of realism.
There are details in Utopiates that make the world feel more alive. An AI doctor that acts as PTSD counselor for an ex-private military contractor. The industrial and concrete feeling of the backgrounds drops you into a cityscape immediately. When one of the drug users injects himself, we see a physical change in how he perceives himself challenging our perception of reality through his eyes. Military-esque police rove the streets. The world of Utopiates has been enveloped by the military industrial complex.
From a storytelling perspective, Utopiates is fragmented and tells it’s story through the eyes of a number of different viewpoint characters. This doesn’t make the story less compelling, but it does allow the authors to withhold information from the readers that I would have liked to have. I wanted to know more about the Prophet and her motivations. Art? Ultimately, the Prophet is a mysterious character who drives the plot and peeling back this mystery might weaken the story, but it did leave me wanting more. The trade paperback for Utopiates is entitled Vol. 1. Perhaps Finney and Rocha will return to the world of Utopiates to sate my desire.
Utopiates is well worth a read. It explores deep themes about who we are and who we want to be. To some extent a portion of the story even predicted the ongoing crisis in Syria. There are some fun references to other cyberpunk properties such as Neuromancer and Max Headroom if you look for them. When you pick up Utopiates be prepared to face humanity’s darker side.
Utopiates – 9/10
You can read a preview of Utopiates here.