Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2000
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!
Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.
Review: The more I revisit “Transmetropolitan”, the more I see and deeply feel parallels to our current legal situation, and in turn the more I mourn the lack of a Spider Jerusalem to jump in and start speaking ten kinds of truth. This re-read is both cathartic and upsetting, but the good news is that at least I’m finding myself laughing hysterically at many points of these comics. Because Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all so perfect and filled with snark.
We pick up where Volume 3 left off. Spider (and the world, really) is mourning the assassination of Vita Severn. She’s become a martyr and a symbol for the Callahan campaign. Spider, however, isn’t convinced that Callahan (aka The Smiler) is actually in mourning for Vita. In fact, he has a pretty good hunch that murdering Vita was a political move on the Callahan’s part. And with the election coming up, Spider wants to get the truth out in the only way he knows how. The problem is, there’s no way to win. Because the choices are The Beast, or The Smiler. And either way, Spider, and the country, is screwed….
And along with that we get a Christmas story and a story about the joys of Winter!
Ellis continues his masterful and deft political satire that continues to feel just as relevant today as it felt back when it was first written. While this collection does have a few off shoots and off story vignettes (more on that in a bit), the meat of it is about The Campaign, and Spider’s not so slow realization that there is no good solution. You either get stuck with The Beast, who has driven the country into the ground with oppressive and totalitarian policies, or you end up with The Smiler… Who has managed to prove himself far, far deadlier and menacing than his opponent behind closed doors. There are two moments in this book where Spider confronts both candidates. We get a swift reminder that The Beast is still basically the worst (and he even kind of looks like a certain presidential advisor), but at the same time you see the portrait of a man who is less beastly, and more pathetic and complacent. It was a truly unsettling moment for me as a reader, because it shows that what’s coming is going to somehow be WORSE than the worst. It was a very interesting and kind of pathos ridden final confrontation between Spider and President Beast.
And then there’s The Smiler. It is here that we get full confirmation that he is a full blown psychopath who just kind of wants to watch the world burn. So while The Beast may look like that certain Presidential Advisor, The Smiler shares ethos with him. And it is in this volume that we see Spider, wily, truth pursuing and clever Spider, is bested. Spider had an enemy in The Beast, for sure. But The Smiler is full on intent of annihilating him and wiping him from the Earth. “The New Scum” kind of feels like an “Empire Strikes Back” moment, where almost all hope has been lost and the Empire has won (even more so than Vol. 3, which ended with Vita being assassinated on live TV, and THAT was pretty dismal). Finishing that arc before the next left me feeling drained and in need of chocolate cake.
But along with these painful and ‘oh no it’s far too true to life’ moments, there were small moments of pure hope and joy in this collection. In one of our offshoot stories, Spider finds himself meeting up with Mary, his friend who was frozen from the 20th Century and woke up in a scary and completely different future. As she talks about how different it all is, there are still the little joys that make her happy, even if the world is overwhelming and sometimes scares the crap out of her (and then Spider gives her a camera, as she was a photographer in her old life, and that just made my heart sing). In this same story Spider meets a little girl whose Mom had to pawn her favorite doll…. So Spider buys it back for her. Because he recognizes that “… all we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.” And the other story that really affected me is Spider’s rumination on Winter. Winter means change. Winter means a rebirth is coming. Winter means that we can always look forward to the next one, and maybe next Winter will be better. It was a poignant and stunning one off that, true, feels a little harder to swallow these days. I don’t feel like I’m better off this Winter than I was last Winter. But the point is that Ellis knows that even when there’s all this garbage and terribleness, you can always depend on a couple things: the small joys and kindnesses that you will encounter, and that hope for change and rebirth is always there. In these moments, I was able to feel at least a little calmer.
Thanks for the hope, Spider. And thanks for staying inspirational when it comes to truth and journalism.
Rating 9: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” is one of the most hopeless and hopeful collections of this series yet. Definitely hard to read, but impossible to put down.
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