Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1998
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: After years of self-imposed exile from a civilization rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job that he hates and a city that he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd Century surroundings. Combining black humor, life-threatening situations, and moral ambiguity, this book is the first look into the mind of an outlaw journalist and the world he seeks to destroy.
Review: I’m going to be honest, readers. I was utterly dismayed and ashamed of the way that our Presidential Election ended up. And angry. And as I woke up the next morning and confirmed the news, on friend Kevin had a post on his Facebook wall involving “The Smiler” from the comic series “Transmetropolitan”. More on him as the series goes on. And in that moment, I knew that I needed to re-read that series. Be it inspiration, perfect timing, or personal therapy, I went to my book shelf and grabbed “Back on the Street”. I needed Spider Jerusalem in that moment. And re-discovering him and his strange, obscene, and digitized future that’s drenched in filth, insanity, greed, and cynicism, was a small comfort. Because God, did I miss Spider.
“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” throws us into a future scape where humans have evolved technologically, but have fallen into absolute indifference, moral squalor, and a very divided society. Spider Jerusalem is a journalist who is in self-imposed exile up in the mountains. And he doesn’t even come back because he wants to make the world a better place, or to bring the ethics and integrity of journalism back to the forefront in a corrupt society. Oh no. He comes back because he owes his publisher some books he hasn’t written and he doesn’t want to get sued. Boy is he resentful of this fact. And that is the heart of Spider Jerusalem. He hates the society that he has been forcefully thrown back into, and even though he is at his heart a good person, he is so cynical and bitter and pissed that he doesn’t even like the fact that he’s a good person. He has a drinking problem, he has a drug problem, and he has a foul mouth and a sour attitude. But he is by far one of the most endearing comic book characters I have ever encountered in all the years I’ve read comics. Though in Volume 1 we haven’t quite gotten into the heart of the series, it is already giving hints as to what to expect while still speaking for itself. “Back on the Street” is an arc that could easily stand on its own two feet, and give us a story and a moral that we could get behind and be comfortable with. I love Spider and I love how snarky and Hunter S. Thompson-y he is (I mean, it’s pretty common knowledge that he’s an homage to that amazing Gonzo journalist), and he makes me smile and laugh just as much as he makes me think. He is a hero that this world needs, a madman who is just mad enough to take on the madness of the world that he lives in. His shining moment is when he exposes the police violence towards a group of disenfranchised people called Transients, people who have taken on mutated Alien qualities who are trying to live their lives in peace in one small part of the city. As the police rain down violence upon them, Spider jumps in and broadcasts it to the world, speaking up and fighting for their right to exist, in his own brash and evocative Spider way. You cannot help but stand up and cheer as you read his musings against politics corruption, and the media. He is so well written and so well rounded, a flawed but inspirational character with a lot to say about the world he lives in and the world we live in too.
Spider aside, the setting that Ellis has created is so damn perfect and layered. The City (no further name given so that it can be any city) is filled with so many different and strange people, all of whom are frantic and overbearing. It’s dirty and anxious and you get a sense of unease being in it. Ellis’s City is really a character in and of itself, a personality that is basically unbearable within a place that I would never, ever want to live. Ellis has also made a number of really great supporting characters that manage to shine through past Spider and his grandiosity. You have his greedy and opportunistic boss, Royce, who takes Spider onto his team, albeit nervously. There’s Spider’s Cat, a two faced mutant feline with just as bad an attitude as Spider. But my very favorite this far is Channon, Spider’s assistant whom he met when he took shelter in a strip club while covering a volatile story. Channon could have easily been the butt of jokes at her expense, being a former sex worker and the straight man to Spider’s antics, but she is a force to be reckoned with who provides an anchor to him and a voice of reason he must listen to. Channon is the best and I love the balance she brings to the story. If it was just Spider being crazy, yeah, it would probably get a bit old. Channon humanizes him, but doesn’t neuter him. It’s a great dichotomy.
And finally I need to talk about the art. I LOVE the style that Darick Robertson brings to this story. His pictures of The City are so fraught with confusion and insane details, you can see so many different stories nad messages in just one frame.
I mean, holy crap. Just look at this. There is so much to see, and there is so much going on, but it never really crosses the line into too much. I love the style because it feels like it matches the content. Over the top and edgy, but filled with a lot of heart.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the introduction of our first main antagonist: The Beast, aka the President of the United States. Just one question for Warren Ellis: are you a soothsayer, sir?
So I bet you can understand why I felt a need to go back and re-read this book.
“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is the beginning to an amazing series, and I had totally forgotten just how fun it right from the very start. It’s just what I needed. It’s vulgar and it’s brash and over the top, but it’s so darn therapeutic. And it’s a classic. Welcome back into my life, Spider Jerusalem.
Rating 10: A biting and hilarious satire of politics and journalism, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is a wonderful start to a classic and tremendous series. Spider Jerusalem endures.
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