Τρίτη, 29 Μαΐου 2012

What I think About Stuff-Transmetropolitan

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Transmetropolitan or Comic Books that Must survive the Apocalypse, Part 2

Once upon a time, a man who was wise in the ways of science fiction (but little else) told me:

“Science fiction is, essentially, sociopolitical satire”.


I was way too young to realize what the hell that meant and thought that scifi was all about laser swords and tits-ships.

and heavily endowed ladies that hang out with white boob tigers in the funbag jungles of Breastosia IX

It was about a decade later that I realized the truth behind those very words. That science fiction is not always just fantasy in the vacuum of space. That it is (and can be), so much more. 

This is gonna be a tough one. Not because Transmetropolitan is weird or incomprehensible, but because so much PRAISE has been dumped onto it, that you can’t honestly write a proper internet review without seeming as if you just stole the text from pretty much everyone who’s bothered with it.

Done! Porn break!

Praising Transmetropolitan is like (to borrow and expression Warren Ellis would have used) pissing in an ocean of piss. And with good reason. This sci-fi political thriller is a perfect example on using narrative techniques and bringing across both the setting’s insanity and its very contemporary problems 

Huge goddamn rally signs. The root of all evil.

I.e. democracy is not working because people can’t be bothered to invest not even one fuck toward understanding their elected representatives. That the current (and future) political system is flawed because of the people’s indifference toward both realizing the truth and using their vote as a weapon.

This baby might only hold one goddamn bullet at a time and take 2-4 years to load, but it packs one hell of a wallop!

Transmetropolitan is both a guide to the insane, incomprehensible future of Unspecified Date, A.D. It is also funny as fuck and filled with a shitload of awesome ideas. It also happens to star one of the most interesting and intriguing misanthropes since Jean-Paul Sartre

Put a shirt on, you ape. Or at least pants. I hate every single one of you.

I’m talking of course, about Spider Jerusalem. Or, to use his full title, 




Alright then, nerding and intro’s done. Let’s get down to reviewing:

This series was created by Warren Ellis. If you haven’t heard of him, either you’re  goddamn lying or you have just stumbled upon the magical world comic books, my friends! 

Inside, you’ll find worlds full of wonder, exciting ideas and sexy, magical beards!

Warren Ellis is not only the creator of Transmetropolitan but also a huge hard science fiction nerd, who has repeatedly used his passion as a means to give his works a certain style and pizzaz you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. He is also angry as fuck at all of us for not having made him his anti-grav car and super-conductors and stellar colonies already.

Seriously, Earth Monkeys, what the fuck is taking you so long?

As a result, Warren Ellis has taken it upon himself to give us strange, insane and wondrous futures which we will inevitably reach. The futuristic insane asylum that is the Earth of Transmetropolitan is one such place.

“In the grim darkness of the future, there are lesbians in amazon outfits riding motorcycles made out of dogs.” 

Which is, unfortunately, the series’ most exalted selling point, but also its greatest weakness. Hear me out: 

The universe of Transmetropolitan is a well-fleshed out garden of unimaginable delights and incomprehensible horrors, a future so far past our current time (both technologically and socially) that we cannot perceive it as anything else but a horrible acid trip. 

And it should be so. After all, what would our present society look like to man from the 18th century? What would a person from the 50’s have to say about the internet, smartphones and our ridiculous accessibility to porn?

“For free? All of it?”

The City is strange and well-written. It’s a joy to read through and Warren Ellis knows it, so he devotes entire issues where Spider just struts around the city and it reservations or presents us some of his future’s backstory. And I must say, those issues are absolutely the best part of the whole series. I remember finding myself skipping ahead, only so I could peek into another strange vision brought about by the mad Englishman’s mind and giggle giddily.

Like a nerdy little girl.
And then the section would be over and I’d have to deal with politics. And trust me: the transition, though woven into the narrative, is not welcome. Not one bit. Warren Ellis is so good at presenting worlds, it hurts his work. 

After wading through the best and the worst of the future, I find myself not wanting to care about Spider and his epic struggle against a corrupt political system. After finding out about the Farsight reservation, I cannot honestly give a damn about the upcoming election or how the people of the future are just as dumb and shallow as we are.

Pfft. Half of this stuff isn’t even organic.

It’s blindingly apparent how much fun the mad Englishman had with this and it shows. He even devotes entire issues into giving you just that: his world. And you go down on your knees and slam your head against the wall, blaming your poor, feeble mind for not having thought of that first and fall into a blissful coma, blaming your peyote dealer for not giving you ‘the good shit’.

This, I believe, is one of those cases where two great ideas are brought together and instead of getting along, they rip at each other’s necks and claw at each other’s eyes, until the writer is forced to take them behind the chemical sheds and put them down, tears streaming down his bearded cheeks.

Then proceeding to cut out their still-beating hearts and eat them so they can be part of him forever.

Bottom line is this: the City could have been its own series. No plot, no driving force required. Warren Ellis could just as well have given us a tour guide whose sole purpose would be to lead us past monkeys through this nightmare landscape and we’d have gobbled it up, because it’s JUST THAT GOOD. He’s done it once before, of course, in the glorious anthology called Apparat, which you should buy RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

But thet’s not the series’ only weak point, of course. Now I understand that some of you might disagree or think I’m nitpicking with the sole intent of bashing it. Of course you’d be wrong. There is no way I’d have gone into that much detail if I hadn’t read the series raw already.
Here we go:

·         Spider Jerusalem lacks a proper background: During the course of this series, we get to both know and love hating (or hate loving) Spider Jerusalem, the world-weary journalist and sole champion of truth during those troubled times.

And who in no way appears to be facing any superiority issues whatsoever.

Spider is the perfect example of the glorious bastard and the badass. He’s got a shady past, he talks to people like they’re shit and no one dares talk back and he’s killed a few people in his past. He’s also been around the world and done some horribly funny shit while he was at it. Now here’s my question:


Where the hell are all his international journalistic misadventures? Where’s his childhood? Where’s the horrible, dystopian, bleak past that he originated from? The only things we get are short glimpses mostly presented by Spider’s point of view, but that’s not even cutting it close! A character (especially a complex one like him) isn’t only the awesome stuff we’re given. It’s also his origins, humble or crappy as they might have been.

What we get instead, is a character who simply dominates every panel he’s in, one way or the other, but little else besides that, which brings me to my next argument:

·         Spider Jerusalem is a Mary Sue character: 

This kind of talk should be mandatory in every press conference.

He’s a Patrick Stewart look-alike, with lots of tattoos. He’s worked hard in order to climb up the social ladder and become the best at what he is. He’s crazier than a flock of fruit bats with rabies and he can say any damn thing he likes and beat the living fuck out of everybody he dislikes without repercussions. He’s got two beautiful lovely female assistants. He’s an asshole with a cause and goes on to long rants, where he bashes the inherent stupidity of man.

In short, he’s Warren Ellis. Or, to be more precise, he’s the idealized version of Warren Ellis, spliced with Hunter S. Thompson in an ultra-secret government project.  Is that a bad thing? No, no it’s not.

And you can bet your intestinal integrity on it.

But it hurts the character. In what way, you’ll ask? I’ll tell you: because it creates a perplexing juxtaposition. On the one hand, Spider is a cynical romantic who fights for the truth and exhibits the virtues and responsibilities of journalism in general. He’s a role model for the anonymous angry politically concerned internet commenter, only he promotes being like that in your real life. In short, Spider Jerusalem tells you to give a shit about politics, because if you don’t who the hell will.

And then, he does something like this:

Trust me, him bashing this guy’s face in is completely justifiable in context.

And you can’t do that. I know it’s a comic book and I know that this is what we all want to do to every son of a bitch who’s ever pissed us off or who we know is an otherwise malignant growth on the face of the Earth, but that’s not Spider’s job. That’s the kind of job you leave to guys like the Punisher, or Judge Dredd.


By being the angry violent motherfucker, Spider ends up stooping to the level of his enemies. He loses his romantic, chaotic good character and ends up being another violent bastard, the kind we meet way too often in comics. The kind that is always surrounded by women, who want him and hate him in the same breath, thus creating a convenient segway to my next argument:

·         The cocktease romance: Meet Spider’s trusty assistants, Channon and Yelena

Jjjeeaaoooow! Dun-dududunn-dadadadaaaaa! Jjjeeaaoooow!

They’re tough, badass and interesting characters who both compliment and contrast Spider’s characters throughout the series. They are also love interests.

Or maybe they aren’t.

Wait, no! Now they wanna fuck him! Or do they?

False alarm, guys. Turns out only one of them actually does wanna do him. The other just keeps fantasizing about him.

I am oversimplifying, but this is the essence of the whole romantic subplot in Transmetropolitan. It starts off as some red herring for the reader to follow, then falls apart the minute you realize that Warren Ellis wants his heroines to be proper characters by their own right, then gives us a glimpse into a possible romantic outcome and then…

You do not possess the proper clearance to view this content, citizen.

Apparently he hooks up with one of them. Was this supposed to be a romantic subplot? Was this supposed to go somewhere? Well, apparently not, because Spider never quite exhibits anything other than professional concern toward both of them

Besides, he’d never make a proper boyfriend, what with him being madder than Ahab and all that.

So what the hell was that? It seems completely out of place and falls flat on its face, which brings me to my final argument…

·         The ending: There’s one thing you realize, after only a few issues into the series and it’s this:

Spider is doomed.

I’m not spoiling or anything here, really. There are a number of indicators that point out (some subtly, others not so), that Spider is going to die (or worse).

Honestly, he might as well have said “Ayup. Just a couple days before retirement.”

Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Warren Ellis is great at handling doomed motherfuckers and is not known to shirk from bad, depressing endings.

And if you think he is, then you haven’t read this one yet.

So what the fuck is up with that one? I’ll admit I loved it but what the hell, man? What happened behind the scenes? Did someone twist his arm or did he somehow get pressured into a happy ending by the fans? Or did he pussy out and opt to save him at the last minute?

I can’t really go on much longer without spoiling the shit out of this series for the lot of you poor monkeys that haven’t yet gotten your paws on it, so here’s why you should read it in a few, simple words that you’ll understand:

If this series was a dish, it would be made out of a whole dolphin, its innards ripped out of its living carcass by expert Japanese sadist chefs, who would then proceed to stuff it with plucked, living dodos that would be sewed inside it, before steaming it.

I can feel them moving inside me

You would then be forced to eat it with your bare hands, washing the dolphin meat with the blood of the dodos inside it. Should you dare question the sadistic nature of the dish or even order a beverage, the waiter will punch you in the face and pour the drink over your wounds, then walk away while giving you the finger.

Was that gruesome? Yes. Did it sound horrible? Yes, it did. But the dish is tasty and the dodos don’t put up that much of a fight and by the time you wash the blood and the tears from your face, you will be a much better, stronger, tougher person.

The fortune cookie also contains an ambiguous, albeit depressing, message.


Transmetropolitan resonates much stronger with me these days, especially considering the current political climate in Greece. I recently re-read the entire series and found out that a lot of its points and themes are concurrent with my country’s current situation.

This of course doesn’t mean that Greece is turning into a third-world dystopia; far from it. But what it means is that us, Greeks in general, are turning into the series’ voters. Hell, we’ve turned into that 40 years ago.

We’ve become scared, angry and confused, mostly due to the effects of a political cul-de-sac we voted ourselves into, led on by short-sighted and idiotic goals that did more harm than good.

We’ve allowed ourselves to put idiots into power. And not kind-hearted idiots at that either. The fact that my country blames its politicians for its current predicament is only half the truth. The cold, hard truth is this:

We deserve this.

For many years we’ve allowed ourselves to drive our economy to the ground and we’ve broken our population into factions. We’ve allowed fringe political groups to exist solely for the purpose of siphoning money off the taxpayer and we have turned our elections into a huge joke. I’d say that in times like these we’d need Spider Jerusalem, but that wouldn’t be the case.

Because in our case, it’s not just about the corruption in the higher echelons of government.  It’s not just about the EU’s inability to react or its inherent inability to move with the times.

It’s about us, the Greek public. We need to stop pointing fingers at each other and get down to working out our differences.

It’s about us shutting up and helping our country.

Post a Comment

3 σχόλια:

  1. Confession time (at the risk of losing my nerd cred): I've never really been into comic books. That's not to say that I hate them or anything; it's just that I've never been able to jump into them, and my focus is mostly on video games.

    That said, I think I need to start reading Transmetropolitan. I've heard about it before, but as per your review it's obvious that it's something that I need to experience.

    While we're on the subject of comics, any other recommendations? I reckon I need to broaden my horizons.

  2. If you're just now starting then you need to ease up into them. I'd propose starting with Transmetropolitan and Scud the Disposable Assassin, then moving on to the heavier stuff, like Supreme Power and Black Summer.

    All these comics have both great morals and political undertones and they're made and presented by the best guys in the business. They're a great start for any comic book fan (hell, they were a great start for me when I was done reading th shit I used to buy).

    P.S: Also check out Garth Ennis' Wormwood (the first one) for some clean, blasphemous fun.

  3. Whoa. I'm looking at the Wikipedia page for Wormwood, and man, it sounds INSANE...ly cool. I'll have to remember that one for later.