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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #331

Today: A Warren Ellis comic starring a real bastard and some tough-as-nails chicks.  What do you mean, that’s not specific enough?

27/11/07 

331. Transmetropolitan

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“Transmetropolitan” is the first track on the first Pogues album, Red Roses for Me.  Penned by a precocious Warren Ellis just after his 16th birthday, it’s a rollicking Irish tune about young punks roving all over London, and includes lyrics that reflect Ellis’s future worldview, such as: “And we’ll go where the spirits take us, to heaven or to hell, and kick up bloody murder in the town we love so well,” “And when we’ve done those bastards up we’ll storm the BBC,” and “This town has done us dirty, this town has bled us dry; We’ve been here for a long time and we’ll be here ’til we die.”  The song reflects the cynicism of much of Ellis’s later work, but he soon realized his future wasn’t in songwriting, but in …

Hang on.  A Mr. Bill Reed has just explained to me that Transmetropolitan actually refers to Mr. Ellis’s 1997-2002 comic book, and it is a Reason to Love Comics.  Whoops.  Please forgive me.  How could I have confused a comic about a sprawling city in which horrible things happen as a roving bastard navigates his way through it with a song of the same name about a sprawling city in which horrible things happen as roving bastards navigate their way through it?  Such a silly mistake!

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Anyway, Transmetropolitan (which was originally published under DC’s Helix imprint but switched to Vertigo when the former went belly-up; this is the only thing I ever read from Helix, but I was always interested in that Christopher Hinz/Tommy Lee Edwards mini-series, because Hinz’s Paratwa books are pretty darned cool) is probably Warren Ellis’s masterpiece, because in it he distills pretty much all his common themes into something that transcends those very same themes, keeping it from being just another jeremiad by a writer who acts like a grumpy old man in print quite a bit even though he’s younger than my wife (which I just found out; either he looks old or she looks young).  Too often Ellis allows his polemics to override the story, and in the early issues of Transmetropolitan, it seemed he might do that.  Then something happened.  The book became less of a bitch-fest and more of an exploration of the future, something Ellis is obsessed with but which he does here with far more heart than he does in other books.  By looking at the future as a strange yet wonderful place, Ellis made his protagonist/alter ego, Spider Jerusalem, less of a prick and more of a sympathetic figure, as he wound his way through a brave new world.  By having Spider drop out of society before the book begins and by making the comic about him coming back into that society, we see the weirdness with a less jaundiced eye.  Even though Spider is able to adapt easily to life in The City (which is the only place that matters in the comic), he does have to re-learn some things.  This enables us to experience things as he does, and it makes it more wondrous than if all the characters are already jaded about it.  Whether it’s people being revived from suspended animation, cultural reservations where the past is preserved to the extent that once you enter them, you’re not allowed to leave, or people converting themselves into “foglets” of nanomachines, Ellis makes them new.  They also tie into a theme of the book, that of people losing their humanity and, more importantly, the bonds between them.  Spider, ironically, becomes more attached to his humanity throughout the book, and it’s why, despite him being a fairly typical Warren Ellis creation, he remains a great creation.

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Going along with Spider are his two assistants, Yelena Rossini and Channon Yarrow, who are crucial to his journey to non-bastardness.  The few quiet moments he spends with one or both of them are what make the book beautiful and memorable, as when Channon’s boyfriend decides to transfer his soul into nanomachines, and the panels in which Spider attempts to comfort her are both wonderful, because it shows how much he cares for her, and painful, because he’s not very good at it, to watch.  In many of Ellis’s works, the ideas overwhelm us, and it’s not too much of a surprise that his best recent stuff (this, Fell, and Planetary) have more than just weird futuristic memes at their core.  When he wants to, Ellis fits the future into a grounded story, and without it, we simply wouldn’t care about Spider all that much.  Of course, the story is also a place where Ellis can spout off about various things that piss him off, and Spider is often very grumpy and vile, but this just allows him to go toe-to-toe with two presidents and come out on top.  Transmetropolitan earns the excellent payoffs to the story arcs because of the good work Ellis does with the characters.

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As for what Ellis is trying to achieve with this, a while back I wrote this about the series:  “When we sit and read all sixty issues in a relatively short time, the minor setbacks become simply inconveniences, and we are allowed to watch The City sprawl before us and really take it all in, which almost overwhelms us.  That’s the point – The City should overwhelm us, because it overwhelms everyone, Spider included.  He is there to guide us home, just like Ellis wants to guide us home.  The metaphor is never forced, but The City is our world, and the implication is that we need a guide who will show us the path and then kick us in the ass.  The fact that we keep returning to that guide – whether it’s our parents, government, or God – is what Ellis is trying to wean us from.  But he’s as culpable as we are, because whenever Spider wants to quit, he is drawn back in – through his own sense of righteousness.  He continually needs to save the citizens of the City from themselves.  It’s a complicated idea to put forward, and Ellis might reject it, but Spider can only gain freedom when he realizes that he can’t force others to follow him.  He claims he wants the citizens to think for themselves, but whenever they do, he gets angry because they’re not making the “right” decisions.  Do we sense Ellis behind all of this, telling us to make our own decisions but then ranting when we don’t do what he thinks is right?”  I have no idea if that’s what Ellis was thinking, but it seems that from a lot of his other printed work, he does feel this way, and that’s what makes Transmetropolitan such a challenging work.  Spider is a very complex character, and it’s fascinating to watch his transformation.

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You know, I should mention Darick Robertson’s excellent art.  He pencilled all 60 issues, with occasional pin-ups and short sections by other famous and/or great artists.  But I’ve probably gone on too long, so you’ll just have to check a trade out of the liberry to gaze at the nice art.

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The entire series has been collected in trade, and should be easy to find.  Someday way in the future I’ll have to delve into this even more as a Comic You Should Own, but for now, it’s just a Reason to Love Them.  (The covers, of course, are courtesy of the Grand Comics Database.  All hail them!)

(Mr. Bill Reed asked me to pinch-hit for him tonight.  He’ll be back manaña with some other Ellis goodness, I imagine.) 

28 Comments

More Ellis goodness. Great.
Desolation Jones?

I was always interested in that Christopher Hinz/Tommy Lee Edwards mini-series…

Actually, it was an ongoing- as ongoing as anything from Helix. It lasted 9 issues, was titled Gemini Blood, and was excellent. I thought it was better than Transmet

I wuv you, Greg.

Favorite. Comic. Ever.

I bought the first trade on a lark, mainly because it was cheap. I took it home and read it in one sitting, and thought it was so good that the next day I bought the next trade. I read both trades through twice. By the end of the week, I had all nine that had thus far been released, and had read them all multiple times. I had to go scavenging all over town to pick up the last six singles because there was no way in hell that I could wait to finish the story. I was blown away. A happy ending that doesn’t feel like a cheat. I’ve loaned out the complete set to at least four different people to spread the gospel. Christ in heaven, I love Transmet. I wish they’d release an Absolute series.

Will

I got the second Transmet trade on a whim a few years back and was hooked enough to get the whole collection. I think I still like vol.2 the best because of the short story aspect (although the long-term series arc against the president is very compelling). I was hooked by Ellis’s cool sci-fi ideas and Robertson’s hyper-detailed art, but ultimately stayed to see the outcome of Spider’s “fighting the power”.

Spider’s not easy to like (especially if you’re a dog-owner) but in the end you’ve got to root for the idealistic spark buried beneath all that rage.

As for bowel-disruptors, they’d make an excellent Reason all on their own.

Oh geez, I did a double-take at that “wife” comment, I was thinking “Bill’s married?” Then I re-read the tagline.

Good column about an excellent comic. There’s so much depth in the concepts and stories in Transmet that doesn’t seem to get much credit.

I swear, I’m like the only person who never really connected with Transmet. Bought the first issue, read a bunch more of my friend’s copies, and never really liked it.

Wait wait wait wait wait. Hold up. Is that for real? Did Warren Ellis really write the Pogues’ “Transmetropolitan” or are you fucking with this overly credulous comics fan and Pogues fanatic? That can’t be true, can it?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 27, 2007 at 11:00 pm

Wait wait wait wait wait. Hold up. Is that for real? Did Warren Ellis really write the Pogues’ “Transmetropolitan” or are you fucking with this overly credulous comics fan and Pogues fanatic? That can’t be true, can it?

At least you didn’t spend a few months thinking Warren Ellis the comics writer was the same as the musician Warren Ellis of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and also The Dirty Three.
Apparently it’s a common mistake though.
Similar sensibilities.

Jennifer Coqring

November 28, 2007 at 3:20 am

I don’t like this book. Leaving aside my distaste for ANYTHING Ellis has written, Transmet is afflicted with some of the most awful Sci-Fi artwork ever rendered by human hands. Darrick Robertson can just-JUST-scrape by as a superhero artist (and even then I’m not a fan) but asking him to illustrate a Sci-Fi book, which by definition requires some measure of talent and imagination, is like asking a blind man for tips on interior decoration. Pointless AND insulting. Seriously, I felt like pulling my eyes out and cleaning them in bleach after exposing them to this sub-2000ad crap.

Jennifer, what are you talking about? Transmet represents the best of Ellis’ writing, and is a thoroughly entertaining read.

The artwork is rancid shite, though. You’re right about that.

Jennifer you suck!! Warren is the gratest writer ever!! you dont read enoug comic to know what your talking about!!!!!

Whilst Ellis Fan is hardly the most eloquent of posters, he does have a point. I’ve never seen ‘Jennifer Coqring’ on here before and I suspect you posted just to bash Ellis, currently one of my fave writers. I bet that isn’t even your real name.

To be fair, Jeff Timpson, I’ve never seen you post here before either. It doesn’t make your comment any less valid.

And on the subject of fake names, ‘Jeff Timpson’ sounds like the kind of name assigned to someone in the Witness Protection Program.

On the run from the mob are we ‘Jeff’? Or should I call you Salvatore?!

Each to their own.
I think Transmet is one of the greatest comics ever. Even if Ellis did nothing else, I would consider him as up there with the greats because of this.
It’s Hunter S Thompson kicking ass in the future, and what a creative yet relevant future it is. He’s a clever bloke that Ellis.

Warren is da greatest!!! Go nextwave!!!1Kick da fuckin’ ASS!!!!!

Jennifer Coqring

November 28, 2007 at 4:29 am

Well thanks for allowing me to express an opinion, Ellis Fan!! You’re obviously a complete prick who deserves to be punched to death.

Oh, and ‘Jeff Timpson’, JokersBoner is right. If anyone has a fake name here, it’s YOU. I’ll have you know my unique and beautiful surname has Gallic origins, ‘Jeff’, or whatever your REAL name is.

You dont hafta cry about it jenny COCKRING!!!!! LOL!!!! This is why girls shold stay off COMICS boards!! LOL!!! GO NEXTWAVE!!!!!!!!!!! KICKASS!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t mind folks having arguments in the comments, but I will NOT allow people pretending to have arguments with people just to amuse themselves. So cut it out, or I’ll just delete all your comments.

(For reference’s sake: Ellis Fan!!, Jennifer Coqring, JokersBoner and Jeff Timpson are all the same poster – pay them no mind)

Wow. What losers.
I also loved a lot of the pin-ups and covers in the series, with art by the likes of Moebius and Jae Lee. I can’t remember what other greats contributed, I’d have to dig ‘em out and check.

The death of a major character early in the series (trying to avoid spoilers) remains one of the most heartbreaking moments from any comic. The last issue may be my favorite last issue of any comic. Underneath the shock, violence, and black humor, Ellis brought a lot of heart to Transmet.

Pogues fans: Spider Stacy shows up to sing a few lines on the best song on the Dropkick Murphys latest album. It’s called “(F)lannigan’s Ball,” and it also features Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners.

I’m with Da Fug (assuming he’s not the same person as the others). I don’t hate the book, but it never really struck me that much. I like volume 2, the short stories, somewhat, but the whole thing struck me as a wannabe Hunter Thompson writing about a future which is very one-dimensional. it’s entertaining, and it could only be a comic book (so I actually agree with it as a “reason to love comics”), but it seems to be going over some awfully well-trodden ground. The only thing it adds to the genre is the bowel disruption ray and… well, that’s just stupid.

Wait. Transmetropolitan was Science Fiction?

I come from the internet and I say Transmet looks pretty much like the hear and now.

and the here and now…

I read most of Transmet at a friend’s house – it was interesting, and it held my attention, but I haven’t gone back to it since, although I might. Sean’s got a point that S*J seems awfully familiar as a protagonist – he’s got the Hunter S. Thompson thing going on, through Trudeau’s “Duke” filter, and taken into a future which looks like it came from Heavy Metal magazine.

One thing which S*J has, which the other two didn’t, is a lower failure rate – Thompson and Duke’s pursuits often go quite wrong.

It might be worth going back and seeing if a second read pulls me in.

Interesting comments about Darrick Robertson. Personally I’m not a fan of the guys art for the most part, but I think he was good on Transmetropolitan.

[…] Greg Burgas on Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan. To this day, whenever a regular, everyday guy finds out what I do for a living and asks me to name a comic that he might like, I offer up two: Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher, and this one. […]

[…] 331. Transmetropolitan (guest-written by Greg Burgas) […]

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