Journalism is just a gun. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.
December 17, 2011 1:48 PM   Subscribe

In this time of corrupt politics, police brutality, media dereliction, and increasingly vicious culture wars, there's perhaps no graphic novel more relevant today than the brilliant and blackly funny Transmetropolitan. Created by Warren Ellis back in 1997 and inspired by prescient sci fi novel Bug Jack Barron, the series covers the work of gonzo journalist, vulgar misanthrope, and all-around magnificent bastard Spider Jerusalem in a sprawling futuristic vision of New York so chaotically advanced that humans splice genes with alien refugees, matter decompilers are as common as microwaves, and a new religion is invented every hour. As a callous Nixonian thug nicknamed The Beast prepares for his re-election to the presidency, a primary battle heats up between a virulent racist and a charismatic senator whose rictus grin masks some disturbing realities. When Jerusalem delves into the machinations of the race, he breaks into a web of conspiracies that threaten the future of the country -- a problem only he, his "filthy assistants," and the power of intrepid journalism can defeat. More: Read the first issue (or three) - browse images from the new artbook - Tor's read-along blog (another) - Jerusalem's touching report on cryogenic "Revivals" - dozens of original sketches and sample pages - timeline - quotes
posted by Rhaomi (55 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
Transmetropolitan - Warren Ellis at his finest. And Revivals is a stand-out comic in and of itself.

And for those who think it's basically just Hunter S. Thompson in the future... well, kinda, but it takes a lot more of it's cultural DNA from Bug Jack Barron.
posted by Artw at 1:55 PM on December 17, 2011


...as mentioned in the FPP. Duh!
posted by Artw at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2011


It's a great book.

Ellis also lifted almost verbatim from some classic internet crazy-people rants for the rantings of crazy people in the streets.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:59 PM on December 17, 2011


er, also... READ-ALONG BLOG! WONDERFUL!

I occasionally use the phrase "beating with the chair leg of truth", which was from a Transmet issue.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:06 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The series was drawn by Darick Robertson, a damn fine artist.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2011


Yes indeed. Every last bit of it bar a few pinups, IIRC, which is quite an achievement - other than Steve Dillon on Preacher I can't think of another long running monthly series that would always coe out on time that did that.
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on December 17, 2011


John McCrea would be another, I guess, for his run on Hitman. Another Ennis title, and Darick Robertson is on The Boys - I tyhink Ennis is really into using solid, dependable artists with good storytelling skills who maybe aren't so flashy but get the job done better than someone who is more of a show-off.
posted by Artw at 2:32 PM on December 17, 2011


No.

Every man has his insurmountable mountain and this one is mine.

I think Transmetropolitan is, for the most part, intellectually lazy. It's a prime example of the potential and power of the medium being wasted on childish author-wish-fulfillment (Spider Robinson being quite obviously a Mary Sue for Warren Ellis).

Love it for the cyberpunk, ignore it for the trite, self righteous writing of its creator.
posted by pmv at 2:38 PM on December 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I helped put together tribute session to Transmet with Jiz Lee as Spider ( NSFW is an understatement )
posted by The Whelk at 2:44 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Spider Robinson being quite obviously a Mary Sue for Warren Ellis

Um.
posted by brennen at 2:46 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bah, that wasn't supposed to be entirely in bold.

It sort of worked that way though.

For me the Ellis work that's like that is not Transmetropolitan, which I read before I'd really had much exposure to his internet persona, but Crooked Little Vein. It's 80% recycled from his blog, 20% creepy Mary Sue letching over polyamorous suicidegirl type. Ugh.
posted by Artw at 2:46 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Spider Robinson is Spider Robinson writing himself as a Mary Sue where he is actually Robert Heinlein.
posted by Artw at 2:46 PM on December 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Spider Robinson is Spider Robinson writing himself as a Mary Sue where he is actually Robert Heinlein.

This wasn't always true. (Although possibly he started this behavior before I was born.)

Anyhow, carry on.
posted by brennen at 2:50 PM on December 17, 2011


The City of Transmetropolitan is up there with Mega-City One on my list of favourite comic book cities. Coincidentally, on my way out of town at the beginning of the week I grabbed the first six trades to read out here in the country. My only complaint is the level of detail in the background of the city scenes seems to lessen as the series goes on. Understandable I guess, considering the length of the run by a single penciller as mentioned above.

(Aside from that issue with a series of vignettes by guest artists, notably Frank Quietly's revenge story featuring a 50 ft tall Spider Jerusalem. So good.)
posted by Lorin at 2:51 PM on December 17, 2011


*slaps forehead

Jesus. SPIDER JERUSALEM.

Well, I'm going to WALK WAY from the internet right now but if anyone needs more comics criticism I'll be around.

Next up: How I can't believe anyone has the gumption to defend Y: The Last Man.
posted by pmv at 2:53 PM on December 17, 2011


That and Fables are the two big Vertigo ones that never clicked for me.
posted by Artw at 2:55 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This (-> 1 2 3 4 5) might be my favorite moment from Transmetropolitan. I think it captures the whole spirit of the series in only five pages.
posted by byanyothername at 2:57 PM on December 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


That sequence reminds me a little of his Hellblazer work. Shoot was fanatstic.
posted by Artw at 3:01 PM on December 17, 2011


The first five trades of Fables were great! I think it was a great concept that had a great execution, before it fell prey to incoherent world building, i.e. the author didn't know where to take it and shifts gears midway through the series, e.g. how the potential scope and size of the universe in (trade) issues 1-3 is much more immense than what gets delineated later on.

The first trade could easily have led to a New York populated with Fables living under this secret code/society/laws instead of the couple hundred actual Fables it explicitly tells us about.

The same tragedy befell BSG where we're constantly told there are FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE but it turns out that the same 12-18 are the only ones who do *anything* of importance.

THEN Fables becomes an overt allegory for Israel's foreign policy and how the ends justify the means intertwined with some heavy handed somewhat misogynist moralism. It's as if Bill Willingham pulled a crypto Frank Miller on us.
posted by pmv at 3:02 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Transmet is hugely fun to read because of the author wish fulfillment, but I have to say that I think it works as an interesting story almost because of its simplicity. It feels so right than one can fight the bad guys of the world via engagingly written telling of capital T Truth. But obviously this doesn't work in the real world, and thus in some dialectical sense I found it to provide a lot of interesting fodder for thinking about how issues of politics, subcultures, and journalism intersect with a more complicated world full of real people with real cognitive biases and complex power structures. I can't say it was intended as such, but I don't think Ellis would go around thinking that a real Spider Jerusalem were the answer, either.
posted by Schismatic at 3:05 PM on December 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


The same tragedy befell BSG where we're constantly told there are FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE but it turns out that the same 12-18 are the only ones who do *anything* of importance.

Jebus, does anything measure up to your standards? You have to focus on a subset of people in order to show character development - you know, arcs.
posted by squorch at 3:08 PM on December 17, 2011


"There are eight million stories in the Naked City. Fuck you, you're just getting one."
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on December 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


>Jebus, does anything measure up to your standards?

The standard answer is: Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, everything I've read by Chris Ware or Joe Sacco.

Comics are my favourite medium. The highest of the literary arts, as far as I'm concerned. You can do such incredible things with it, yet year after year we're saddled with unimaginative, boring crap. Like, so unimaginative and so internally inconsistent that I feel my intelligence as a reader being vaguely insulted.

I realize that I sound like a hipster comic book guy, but I wonder whether we as an audience just don't know how to demand to be respected. I'm talking some London Review of Books shit.

GO BIG OR GO HOME.
posted by pmv at 3:21 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


You think pmv is bad? The only thing that meets my standards is The Unwritten.
posted by etc. at 3:30 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chris Ware has an amazing and distinct visual style but he writes the same damn thing over and over and it wasn't that interesting the first time.
posted by The Whelk at 3:37 PM on December 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love Transmet with all my filthy, defective heart.

Accusations of wish-fulfillment probably have some grounds, but it's journalistic wish-fulfillment, which I sneakily adore: loosening bowels, finding stories and making a goddamn difference.

"You're miserable, edgy and tired. You're in the perfect mood for journalism."

I flew home to DC from London for Election Day 2004 so that I could personally help vote "President" Bush out of office. I was absolutely certain that this time, justice would be done and the monstrous wrong that had blighted the last four years be put right at last.

We all know how that went down. On the sleepless night flight back to sunless London, only one book came with me. I needed it as badly as I've ever needed anything.

One day, maybe there will be justice. Until then, there's Transmet.

"The future is a good place. And we move into it one winter at a time."
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:39 PM on December 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


The problem with Warren Ellis's writing is that he has one (count them, one) voice for his characters: the foul-mouthed, angry asshole. That voice may suit his protagonists generally, because his protagonists (and antagonists) generally are foul-mouthed, angry assholes; however when we are expected to believe that an Ellis character is not angry, or not an asshole (the idea of an Ellis character not being foul-mouthed is too ridiculous), it is extremely jarring. In Freakangels, for example, Ellis presents some ten or so major characters, each with (apparently) his/her own personality and style, however every single one, even the caring and empathetic ones, speaks fluent Ellisian Foul-Mouthed Angry Asshole dialect.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:52 PM on December 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's even worse when he's writing some established DC or MArvel character and the Ellis voice comes out of them...

Still, in the simpler happier times of Transmet it was all a bit fresher.
posted by Artw at 3:54 PM on December 17, 2011


One thing about Ellis I've noticed is that yes, the big popular stuff has the Trademark Ellis Voice, but he's got suuuuch a big back catalog that it's easy to find stuff without it, Crecy never gets any love, and he tosses off little gems like Superidol pretty frequently.
posted by The Whelk at 5:07 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bah, that wasn't supposed to be entirely in bold.

Heh. I spend too much time on Reddit. I immediately pictured it being spoken by this guy.

THEN Fables becomes an overt allegory for Israel's foreign policy

Eh? Really? I stopped reading it around the time when the Gepetto was overthrown, did this happen after that, or did I just miss something?

Transmetropolitan is fucking amazing. Not perfect, no, but still well within the top five on my comic series list.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:45 PM on December 17, 2011


THEN Fables becomes an overt allegory for Israel's foreign policy

Eh? Really? I stopped reading it around the time when the Gepetto was overthrown, did this happen after that, or did I just miss something?


You missed something. Bigby explicitly draws a parallel between the exiled Fables and Israel (surrounded by enemies, vastly out-powered) just before they kick off the war with the Adversary -- their equivalent of starting the Six-Day War.
posted by Etrigan at 6:01 PM on December 17, 2011


One of the coolest things DC ever released were these Spider Jerusalem glasses! That and the Starman badge are prized possessions!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:07 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


We really need to institute warnings on tvtropes links, especially when it's the first link! I just lost the last 3 hours of my life...
posted by Joe Chip at 6:19 PM on December 17, 2011


It's even worse when he's writing some established DC or MArvel character and the Ellis voice comes out of them...

But the very worst thing is when the Ellis voice comes out of a real person. Socially awkward nerds of a certain age really latch onto anyone with a strong personality and a way with words (and I speak here of Ellis's characters, not Ellis himself, who I am sure is a gentleman, a scholar, and a fellow who helps old ladies across the street), especially if that guy can use those skills to push people around (see also the newly canonized Mr. Hitchens). I hardly blame Ellis for the negative impact he has inadvertently had on certain segments of fandom over the years, but it really helped to sour me on his work for a while.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:23 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh god... the horror...
posted by Artw at 6:42 PM on December 17, 2011


The problem with Warren Ellis's writing is that he has one (count them, one) voice for his characters: the foul-mouthed, angry asshole.

Fell doesn't feature that, nor do Planetary, Nextwave or Crooked Little Vein.
posted by mhoye at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2011


Well, Planetary has Jakita.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:16 PM on December 17, 2011


Transmet is Tintin post-Alien, post-Bukowski.
At the time is was published it was like intelligence, exploration and fun with great art were back in comics. Moebius had fell back into art for art, Druillet was out, Jodorowski was into pop-wisdom, true madness had deserted the landscape.
Transmet was fresh air with punks and smokes.
Audacious, ambitious and unafraid.
It made me discover Ellis who is since part of my daily dose of art through his blog.
Trasnmet is a milestone in the cultural and media landscape of the end of the 20th century.
posted by bru at 8:24 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Transmetropolitan had two big things going for it: no one had done a decent comic version of Hunter S. Thompson before, and Ellis brought out Darick Robertson's best qualities in a way that no one really has before or since, in the way that the right artist/writer matchup (with the right subject, at the right time) can do; see also Dave Gibbons on Watchmen, Steve Dillon on Preacher, John Byrne on X-Men with Claremont, and Frank Quitely on just about anything and everything he's done with Grant Morrison.

On the other hand, it was arguably not aging well even before the series was done; part of this has to do with Ellis seeming to get bored with certain stories well before they're over.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:38 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


no one had done a decent comic version of Hunter S. Thompson before

Uncle Duke would beg to differ with you, sir.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:41 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure mhoye is joking there, or has never read those books.
posted by Artw at 9:50 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was introduced to Transmetropolitan by my son. I <3 Spider Jerusalem's smoking, white Janus cat! And all the genera weirdness.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:19 AM on December 18, 2011


Never really got into Transmetropolitan. Super cool chain smoking go grab vat of llama balls and a kilo of vasopressin before I shoot out the display wall guy grates on my nerves.

Plantetary is one of my favorite things ever though.

Something bugs me about Fables as well. Same feeling I get from Promethea. I think it might have been mentioned, the stories themselves are too weak to justify the grandiose vision of the the universes. Some Grand Scale comics are still good when they hyper focus on one story, the 527 sandman comics about fiddlers green were still good I though. Some of the Hellblazer comics that consist of nothing but Constantine searching under sofa cushions for spare change to buy A pack of 20 silk cuts and bet on the horses are also good IMO. I can't fathom how you could create a universe where fables live or goddesses can posses college kids and I still find them uninteresting.

Maybe I just don't like comics in general.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:29 AM on December 18, 2011


Haters gotta hate. Transmet was awesome. A team of superheroes whos power is one mans reputation, a passion for The Truth, and a sincere and deep love for their city and fellow man. It was like HST in a world dreamed up by Mark Leyner.
posted by butterstick at 7:29 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Patrick Stewart loved Transmetropolitan so much that he wrote the Preface to one of the collections, and tried desperately to get a mini-series version off the ground (with his own production company) in which he would play Spider. Alas, it never managed to coalesce, and now he's too old.

(That would have KICKED FUCKING ASS.)
posted by tzikeh at 9:19 AM on December 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is a man who totally goes for roles involving baldness and sci-fi. Good on him.
posted by Artw at 10:22 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Patrick Stewart... tried desperately to get a mini-series version off the ground (with his own production company) in which he would play Spider.

I WANT TO GO TO THERE.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:19 PM on December 18, 2011


I would call myself a not carer more than a hater.I read 5 or 6 trades and wasn't invested enough to waste the time or money on the rest.

You must mean Et Tu Babe era Mark Leyner. Not his achingly earnest fiction collective output in I Smell Esther Williams. FWIW I stopped reading him after Tetherballs of Bougainville. I have a signed first edition of Esteher Williams made personalized to a guy named Tim Knowles that is how cool I am.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:40 PM on December 18, 2011


Of course I'm late to this party...but if you're interested I worked on a documentary on Warren Ellis. That 8 hour interview was pretty damned interesting.
posted by bloody_bonnie at 7:58 PM on December 18, 2011


Not a hater, here, either; stuck with the series until the end. Like I said, it just hasn't aged well.

Also:

Uncle Duke would beg to differ with you, sir.

I was referring to comic books, of course, but as someone who was familiar with Duke quite literally before you were born, Strange Interlude (assuming you're the age you list in your profile), I have never really seen HST and Duke as the same person; one obviously inspired the other originally, of course, but not only did Garry Trudeau not have either the space or the editorial freedom to do a proper send-up of HST's epic rants, and he quickly took the character in a very different direction (getting directly involved in international politics, rather than reporting on national politics) so that I felt that Trudeau's decision to continue his character after HST's death was proper, even to the point of having Duke acknowledge that they were two separate people.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:00 PM on December 18, 2011


I'm glad he's going to finish Fell, eventually, but I still miss Desolation Jones.
posted by Zozo at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2011


Fantastic post, Rhaomi. Thanks!

I take it the movie with Patrick Stewart as Spider Jerusalem is never going to happen?
posted by homunculus at 9:57 AM on December 19, 2011


Jerusalem's touching report on cryogenic "Revivals"

Here's a full scan: "Another Cold Morning"
posted by homunculus at 9:58 AM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The short story anthology stuff in Transmet are some of my favorite things ever.
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on December 19, 2011


I'm glad he's going to finish Fell, eventually

Yeah, right...
posted by Artw at 12:53 PM on December 19, 2011


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