52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Warren Ellis has written for seemingly every major publisher at one point or another. His work is often laced with sociopolitical tinges as well as dashes of technological talk. There is no finer example of this sort of work from Ellis than his series from the early 1990’s called Transmetropolitan. Althought it was intially an unsuccessful series, publishing the first year of stories under the Helix imprint, Transmetropolitan remained a critical darling and gained a cult following as it switched over to Vertigo.
Transmetropolitan Volume 1: Back To The City
After five years of exile in the Mountains, Spider Jerusalem gets a rude awakening from his serene life of seclusion. A former journalist, Spider gets an unexpected phone call from his former editor informing him that, as per his contract, he still needs to produce two more books or get sued for everything he’s worth and then some. Spider begrudgingly leaves the Mountain and returns to the thriving technological hub known as the City, a place he loathes more than anything in the entire world. Spider knows it’s necessary for him to live and survive in the City if he’s ever to succeed as a writer again since it’s the only place he’s actually capable of writing in. After quickly gaining a job and means to survive in the City again, Spider sets out to shine a whole new wicked type of light on to all types of topic throughout the City, highlighting religion, politics, mass media, and “gender issues”.
Transmetropolitan is that series you never really knew you needed to read until after you read it. It’s an unconventional comic in a way of which is hard to explain. To be frank, it reads as a comic for which Warren Ellis uses to voice his opinions on the state of the world and the human race circa 1990 and it is brilliant because of that. Ellis tackles a multitude of topics that are easily deemed as controversial, taking them on in a way that is sometime so wacky and obscene that it could only take place in a comic. But beneath the vulgarity, the obscenity, and the general levels of debauchery, Ellis clearly gets his opinions across through the voice of Spider Jerusalem.
Confession time: I didn’t like Transmetropolitan much at all upon my first reading of the first volume. With this challenge I’m doing, I have to stay lock stepped and move along quickly through some of these books so that I can maintain a balance between my professional and personal life. As a result, sometimes I miss things when I read them because I’ll read them for the sake of reading them instead of for the sake of necessarily enjoying them or absorbing their message. With Transmetropolitan, the meaning behind this body of work wasn’t something that is just readily available as a reader. You have to engage your mind. You have to have opinions of racism and prejudice, religion, love, politics and the whole nine yards for the comic to really resonate with you. If you have no stances on these sorts of topics than you’re likely to not take anything away from the narrative. It helped so much to just take the time to think about this book from a critical standpoint before writing the article as it helped to stimulate my mind about the topics at hand. That may be why I love Transmetropolitan now after reading it, because even with the book sitting safely on a Big B Comics shelf about a mile away from me right now, it’s still engaging my mind.
As I said above, beneath all the craziness that Ellis brings to the table, he hits serious topics hard with his narrative here. It’s all rather revealing of his stance of the way of life back when Transmetropolitan was released well over a decade ago now and only begs for me to wonder how the comic would read if it was written now as opposed to back in the late 1990’s. There’s an entire issue in this volume where Spider Jerusalem spends a full day watching television to help him understand the habits of people and as the issue unfolds you watch this course of action quickly corrupt Spider. As Spider begins to dissolve from a state of humanity, you get an eerie feeling of how easily and readily applicable this all is to our current generation that is dependant on things like computers and cell phones.
What’s interesting about Transmetropolitan is that it does and does not have a clear plot at the same time. On one hand the focus of the comic is Spider Jerusalem and his attempts to finish two books for his editor but that quickly becomes a secondary focus as this first volume spends little time establishing that plot point. Instead the primary focus falls on that of Spider Jerusalem himself, establishing his ethics and beliefs as a human being. Ellis makes a loveable jerk who hates the world but is amazing at his job, even going as far as having penciller Darrick Robertson do a bit of tongue in cheek humour with the way Spider Jerusalem looks during much of the first issue. Needless to say, he greatly resembles an incredibly talented comic writer who probably will spend millions of dollars one day on fortifying a Mountain just so he can live in peace. With Spider, you’re just as likely to fall in love with the characters message as you are to loathe him. He often leaps before he thinks, lashing out verbally without ever really stopping or regarding how his words will effect other people, creating more than a few interesting situations for the character. With all the different sensitive topics he tackles through this first volume, you can only imagine the types of trouble he encounters as a result.
Collects: Transmetropolitan #1-6
Best Character: Spider Jerusalem
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Point of journalism is not about plans and spreadsheets, it’s about human reaction and criminal enterprise. Here the lesson begins.” – Spider Jerusalem
Best Scene/Moment: Spider Jerusalem ends up like the rest of the world – Issue 5
Best Issue: Issue 4. Hands down this is the most entertaining installment in this collection and it involves a rather small amount of action. A one-and-done story, Spider watches television all day and you get to watch how it rots his mind and makes him an even more despicable person than he already is. This issue has a strong message that is just as comedic as it is dark.
Why You Should Read It: The commentary Ellis provides on the world as a whole through Transmetropolitan can warrant the pricetag on this book alone. Then you’ll find yourself sticking around because of the hilarious, dark, and disturbing Spider Jerusalem. With Spider, Ellis has something to say and he says it in the most outrageous and brash way. Transmetropolitan tackles those hard hitting topics and doesn’t apologize for doing it. You know at some point during this generation there will be a comic that addresses our many complex social insecurities and problems but you’d do well to remember that Ellis’ Transmetropolitan already hit all those marks nearly two decades ago and still remains eerily relevant.