Random Thoughts: Transmetropolitan Edition!
As you may or may not know (and you really should know), our own Chad Nevett recently edited a fine collection of essays about Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan called Shot in the Face:
A Savage Journey to the Heart of Transmetropolitan. You can read more about it here. Our own Greg Burgas also has an essay in the book (as does Chad, on top of editing the whole thing).
Chad has a free copy to give away and we figured we’d do it as a contest. So we asked readers to send in their own Random Thoughts about Transmetropolitan and Chad would pick his favorite and that person would win the free copy (complete with an original edition of Random Thoughts written on the inside front cover).
Here are the entries (I sent them to Chad without names attached, so I just kept them as such here. Feel free to take credit for your Thought in the comments!). Some really good stuff here, folks!
My thoughts on Transmetropolitan begin and end with one small sentence. Hell, not even a sentence…a figure.
That simple sentence, uttered at the very end of the series, sums up Spider Jerusalem perfectly.
This was a man who, when we first meet him, is completely done. He’s had it. He’s seen everything the City has given, and he just wants to be alone. But because of obligations that he owes (not to mention all the money and “other things” granted him), he comes back. But we, as the readers learn (as his publisher already knows) that the City is where he truly “lives.” He can’t do the things he does with the written word anywhere else. And through his observations (and there have been plenty), we see a future that could possibly be in the next few minutes.
-People digitizing themselves into clouds of data.
-Whole civilizations set apart in reservations to preserve the past.
-Alien DNA splicing as a fashion accessory
-Jesus-branded “Water Walking Shoes” (very nice)
-“Sex Puppets.” ‘Nuff said.
But throughout the run, whether he’s looking to find love (nope, even being a famous writer won’t get you laid), ruminate on the state of the world (I love how he kept tabs on the Transient woman from the past), and basically alert people to the Truth: this City is out to kill you if you don’t watch out. And he did it with his “filthy assistants” at his side, a trusty 2-headed cat as a pet, and his ever-so-useful “Bowel Disruptor” gun (“Prolapse” has never been a scarier word…).
And eventually, he did make something of a difference. He beat back the Beast. He exposed the Smiler. He got his ass handed to him. He even caught a death sentence from exposure to the City’s toxins. But he told the Truth. Raw. Unfiltered. Real. And as hard as it got, people responded to him. He was a true hero of the journalistic trenches. A man of the people. A soothsayer in a world of the chaotic.
And even at his end, back up on the mountain, where he would live out the rest of his “life”, he knew he did it right.
With a smile. A flick of his gun. A slow drag of his igarette. And a simple proclamation:
He beat the odds. He came out smelling like a rose. And he laughed like the madman he was.
It was the happy ending only he could expect to happen.
What a great series about the adventures of an angry, loud, messy, bald coot, moving from the calm of the mountains back into the city, because he has to.
I read it as Ellis imagining Hunter S. Thompson reimagined for a future age. His ability to prognosticate the G.W. Bush election and Presidency alone, should make this series one of the most important of the later 20th century. Where is my Absolute edition?
Why was the variant of the Spider Jerusalem action figure the one with the extended middle finger and not the regular one?
I like that Spider starts off on the mountain as Alan Moore, all isolated and hairy, and then transforms into Grant Morrison, bald and hooked into the pulses & rhythms of The City. Not sure if that was intentional, but I’m going
to pretend it was.
If I had just a small space to talk about *Transmetropolitan*, I’d say “Of course there’s the Hunter S. Thompson comparison to make, but there’s also the the comparison to *Thus Spoke Zarathustra* to make. Spyder and
Zarathustra both come down from seclusion on a mountain to speak to the masses, criticize mass movements, encourages people to struggle and improve, and goes back to his mountain with like-minded people. And quit fucking harping on the gun that makes people crap their pants. No one thinks it’s ‘edge-y.’ YOU grow up.
Transmetropolitan is the best thing Vertigo ever published. Sure, Sandman gets used as a textbook and Hellblazer had that one story and Y The Last Man has probably won a bunch of awards or something, but do they have the elegant narrative symmetry of a tollbooth operator getting beaten with bricks four years after the threat is made in #1? Do they have an explanation of Von Neumann nano-replicators in terms of a rectal tick infection? Do they have the insane President getting punched in the face for resisting arrest? I didn’t think so. (I once started an argument between the Gaiman worshipers in the English department and the Transmet fans in the Journalism school of our local university. By the end, the clear winner was our comic shop; I brought TPBs to sell at the discussions.) Spider Jerusalem is a hero for the 21st century.
A driven, uncompromising believer driven by his desire for truth and transparency. And drugs. Maybe mostly drugs. To paraphrase another well-known comic book activist, Spider doesn’t think the press should be afraid of armed government response, governments should be afraid of armed reporters. He’s also done his fair share of good in the real world; Spider is something of an inspiration to people with degenerative neurological conditions. Don’t worry, I said an inspiration, not a role model. Even in a comic book about bowel disruptor guns, you can find reassurance that an incurable diagnosis doesn’t mean it’s time to give up, and that sometimes a 1% chance is all you need.
Being the editor of a book of essays about a comic in which the lead characters first interaction with an editor is to call him the Whorehopper.
I can see the appeal.
Though I bet reading this book makes me reread all ten volumes and the 2 stories from Filth of the City. Then wistfully think of the Patrick Stewart voiced Spider Jerusalem that could have been.
This may seem obvious to a lot of people, but it was a big deal to me:
When I first read Transmetropolitan, I tho ught what most people do. “It’s Hunter S. Thompson in the future.” Not that that isn’t true to an extent, but there’s more.
The biggest change in my assessment of it came when I read the collected Lazarus Churchyard. Spider Jerusalem, and to a larger extent, Transmet itself, is what Lazarus Churchyard wanted to be. Lazarus is beautiful in its rawness, but it’s certainly that. It’s Ellis as a young, inexperienced writer (with a talented, but unpolished, artist) tackling feelings of alienation, stretching his legs into surreality, and exploring both his fascination with, and fear of, drug culture. Transmet is that same author coming back to those topics with a trained hand.
Both are glimpses into a cynical, dirty, dangerous future (and both have the frightening potential to be prophetic), but Transmet has a bit more humor to it. If Lazarus can be a bit tiring (though compelling) in its relentlessly dark and bitter
tone, Transmet is somehow both despondent and gleeful. If I had to recommend to someone the way to read Transmetropolitan for the first time, it would be the way in which I did it myself, though I did it completely by accident. I would tell them to read the first arc or two, then read Lazarus Churchyard, then go back and read Transmet from beginning to end.
And the winning Random Thought!
When Warren Ellis’ John Constantine pastiche walks away at the end of Planetary #7, deciding to be someone else for a while, the telltale tattoos suggest a link between Alan Moore’s creation and Spider Jerusalem. There is, but probably not the one most people think.
Because the genius of Moore’s 80’s work that Ellis takes some cues from isn’t the oft-discussed darkness — I’d argue that Transmet is actually pretty upbeat at its core — or the deconstructionist take on superheroes or any other complex abstraction that can be fun to kick around with other literary types. The most important lesson from that work, one that got lost in all the imitations and cash-ins that we are still dealing with today, is a simple one: Don’t settle for reheated versions of the same old shit. Do something new. Be better.
That’s what ties together Moore’s weird anti-heroes and Spider Jerusalem — that sense of pushing the medium to do something more than what it had done before. “Jack” and Spider both look toward the future.
Great stuff, everyone!