Book Title: Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street (Vol. 1)
Author: Warren Ellis (author), Darick Robertson (Illustrator)
Style: Graphic Novel
Target Audience: Adult
Genres: Fiction, Dystopian
Page Count: 144
Format: Paperback (library)
Reading time: 1.5 hours
Date Finished: 1/17/17
Click here to find it on Amazon (New window)
My impressions: It’s hard for me to say what I expected Transmetropolitan to be, but one thing’s for sure – it surprised me with its crazy energy, manic storytelling and memorable characters. The protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, is a bizarre gonzo journalist brought out of retirement in the mountains to a distant future dystopian city where he’s supposed to be working on a couple of books his publisher’s still waiting for… and where he plies his trade to make a living while he does it. But unlike conventional journalists, who hit the streets and walk their beats, Jerusalem picks up his stories by watching lots of television and reading online news feeds before venturing out into the world to embed himself in the madness.
The story in this graphic novel begins with an introductory story (which spanned three issues of the comic) and then three single-issue stories that shed more light on Spider Jerusalem and his assistant, Channon. Each of these four stories are quite different and really up the ante on the madness; in one tale, Jerusalem intends to cover a Presidential press conference and instead finds a way to confront the President directly in the men’s room, while in another tale, Jerusalem dresses up as the Sistine Chapel depiction of God and goes out in search of religion, skewering the faithful with his sharp wit and keen intelligence. There’s also a story about people who are cosmetically changing themselves to look like aliens and another about how Spider accidentally becomes the TV shows he’s been monitoring.
While this story is sometimes classified as cyberpunk, it doesn’t fit many of those tropes. If I had to describe the tone, I’d say it’s Bridge Trilogy era William Gibson meets Hunter S. Thompson meets Idiocracy with more than a little obvious visual inspiration from the French artist Mœbius. (Fittingly, the covers are by Mœbius disciple Geof Darrow, who suits that combination of styles perfectly!) Here is a world where a two-faced cat is just “ugly” and not frightening; where an AI home system can be run by the Mafia and have a drug problem; where energy enhancers result in constant constipation; where the main character is frequently in some state of nudity and no one else blinks because it’s normal behavior.
The artwork by co-creator Darick Robertson is richly detailed without losing its superficial pop culture qualities, and the story by Warren Ellis (still one of the best modern writers of comics) anticipates the superficial future of social media, online newsfeeds, always-on TV reality shows, smart glasses, persistent wireless networks, rapid online ordering of products and personified in-home AI, albeit through the lens of the late 1990s when these things all still seemed like they were destined for the distant future.
I’d also add, the story, characters and settings are just interesting, and far different from many of the dark, dystopian stories being told in comics at the time. Transmetropolitan‘s take on dystopia is cheerful and crazy; it feels like a drug trip, but insists that it should be taken seriously because it has something to say, however profane and ill-conceived the sputterings surrounding those insights out may be.