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Duplicant #3 (review)

Writer: Karla Nappi

Artist: Marianna Strychowska

Self-published, 2021

This is the third issue of writer Karla Nappi’s medical dystopia, Duplicant. We have previously reviewed issues one and two:

Readers of our first review will recall that the series deals with the opportunistic response of biotechnology corporation Regenerist Tech to the effects of a sudden plague will caused organ failure in hundreds of millions of people. Regenerist Tech provided replacements at enormous cost. Anyone who picks up the tab essentially owns the person who has benefited from the life-saving surgery. 

The issue is seemingly designed to press as many emotional triggers as possible. The protagonist, Matt Travers, awakens twice during surgery, and the second time endeavours to escape his captured, clutching at a gaping wound in a series of panels that reminded us of the gory grit – the horror of the open wound – in movies such as Prometheus or The Martian.  He escapes only be stapling his guts into his abdominal cavity. It is icky horror.

While under general anaesthetic, Travers relives his children’s early years and emotionally charged memories. These are stacked up by Ms Nappi: the happy positive moments are layered first, leading to a scene on a beach where Travers’ daughter is abruptly caught in the outbreak of the plague. This is more nuanced than horror – it is heart-wrenching.

The art on this sequence, rendered with expertise by artist Marianna Strychoska, is cleverly distinguished from the action by the unconventional use of dreamy waves, rendered in thick black lines, dividing each of the panels.

But the memory flashbacks are no brake to the acceleration otherwise occurring within the title. Travers is the inventor of the organ regeneration process. He is therefore an inherently valuable person, and a heavily armed security team is lead on a wild goose chase by his abductors. Word of his kidnapping makes the news. Travers is in fact lying in a steel slab, with his own organs about to be harvested. 

In addition, Ava, Travers’ lab assistant, is interrogated as to her involvement in Travers’ kidnapping and learns that she was given away by her father: but her pupil dilation, measured by a green laser, does not shift during the interrogation in a set of panels reminiscent of Rachel’s interview in the classic motion picture Blade Runner. The front cover suggests something is afoot in that regard. 

An insight into the world of Duplicant filters through by way of a little vignette. Those who have received the transplants are regarded with disdain and contempt, in one instance leading to a bar fight. There are the nasty exchanges of words which we tend ordinarily to associate with ethnic or class slurs. The story is, after all, a dystopia.

Duplicant is a futuristic biopunk story with a solidly scientific backstory. But the medicine underpinning the title does not seem too far away. On 20 October 2021, The Economist noted :

ON OCTOBER 19th, USA Today, an American newspaper, reported that surgeons in New York had successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human subject. The organ was successfully attached for three days in an experimental procedure on a brain-dead patient. It was the culmination of years of work; scientists have dreamed of xenotransplantation, in which organs from animals are put into humans, for decades. The successful transplant shows both how far science has come in this process, and how far it still has to go.

In 2014, a firm called Synthetic Genomics in La Jolla, California, began work on a unique and radical project. The idea was to make a raft of genetic changes to pigs so that their organs would be more suitable for transplantation into humans without rejection. The purpose was to address the growing shortage of organs for transplantation. Synthetic Genomics partnered with another biotech firm, United Therapeutics Corporation, based in Silver Spring, Maryland. United Therapeutics reckons that in America alone, 1m people each year have end-stage organ disease and may need a heart, kidney, or lung transplant.

Mass-produced artificial organs, then, are not so far-fetched. But in any event, this third issue consists of much less sci-fi world-building than the previous two. The title has moved up a gear and is plainly an action/adventure title. The sense of mystery is now palpable, fast-paced and extremely well-executed. The motivations of some of the characters are not clear, and we have the sense of many moving parts beginning to engage. While the biopunk content of the title is entirely novel, we get the sense that the title is a love letter to Sir Ridley Scott. It is, perhaps, made for cinema.

issue #4 has just been released by way of a new Kickstarter campaign and we look forward to reading it.