Transmetropolitan: GO

Feb 26 2010

I just (literally, just) finished reading Transmetropolitan volume 1.  And to understand it, I must explain its context.

Unfortunately, I hardly know its context myself; I wasn’t into comics when Transmetropolitan debuted in 1997. I did (and do) have enough hazy awareness of the American comic scene to know that it was absolutely dominated by spandex-clad superheroes.

Along came Warren Ellis, telling the story of an insane reporter (Spider Jerusalem; what a great name) in an insane city of hyper-violence and daily sex. Moreover, this reporter is Tyler Durden. He’s a swift, hard kick in the hindquarters of business-as-usual society. A Messiah for Manhattan (if that weren’t clear, the scene where he literally overturns the tables of the various religious leaders demonstrates it to an almost painfully didactic clarity).

So you get the over-the-top action of a modern American comic book, but the guy getting his teeth knocked in isn’t Doctor Octopus or the Riddler; it’s a rag-clothed vagrant or a street cop. There are no superheroes here. Heck, there are no heroes.

The artwork is Watchmen crossed with Sam & Max; sharp, simple, recognizable, and filled with parody. Darick Robertson’s art shows an appreciation of the comics medium rarely surpassed; this is one of the few truly cinematic comics out there.  Just one of the dizzying situations in volume one: Spider sitting on the edge of a building, laptop in hand, surrounded by half a dozen strippers he’s “rescued” from a mob below, bathed in neon as he live-blogsfull-scale riot occurring on the streets below.

Which demonstrates both the primary strength and the primary weakness of this volume.  For 1997, Ellis writes an impressively accurate rendition of the near future.  Obviously, we’re not there yet, not will we be (I hope), but the trends he demonstrates feel eerily prescient.

On the other hand, much of this volume feels like wish fulfillment.  I mean, seriously, a writer surrounded by sexy, half-naked strippers, writing feverishly–and gaining massive success because of it? A reporter who literally kicks down the doors of the establishment and eloquently tells everyone that annoys him to f*** off?  The world and style of Transmetropolitan are so outlandish that Ellis mostly gets away with this; you get the feeling that crazy stuff like this is happening everywhere in the city to various extents. But Spider still struck me as a massive Mary Sue, albeit an extremely well-written one.

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