Warning: Mature readers only.

tek's rating:

Transmetropolitan, Vertigo (DC)
written by Warren Ellis; pencilled by Darick Robertson
DC Database; GCD; TV Tropes; Vertigo; Wikipedia

Caution: Spoilers!

Spider Jerusalem is my g**damned hero. He is a crazy bastard, but he's also a famous journalist, and just about the last person on the planet who seems to give a damn about the Truth. I should explain... the story is set at some indeterminate point in the future (the 23rd century I guess, though no one in the story actually knows what year it is, which I think is a neat way Ellis has allowed himself to be vague), in a place called The City. A brief excerpt of an introduction by Garth Ennis reads "here is a city filled with every sin you can imagine, and a few that have been imagined for you. Here is Spider Jerusalem, the cranky, miserable bastard who will guide you through this future Babylon. Here is the finest, blackest humor, and the purest hate, and a sense of justice hissed through gritted teeth. And here, as unexpected and natural as a stripper's tears, is a little vein of ordinary humanity." Not to let Mr. Ennis do my reviewing job for me, but that's a pretty good summation. All I can do, really, is try to elaborate a bit.

Listen... think of everything cool about the world today, all the technology... think of everything vile about the world, everything twisted (and the public's apathy/indifference/glorification of it)... think of the evolution of social mores over the course of the 20th century... think of the commercialization of the world, of media and advertising saturation... think of all the science fiction you've ever read/watched, particularly the dystopian stuff... think of society overcoming old prejudices only to replace them with new ones... think of the globalization of the world, the merging of cultures and ideas... mash all that together, and extrapolate the kind of world it could all lead to in a couple centuries. Then imagine a man who sees it all for what it is when everyone else would prefer to ignore it, revel in it, or work it for everything they can get out of it. A man who is a product of that society, and seems a part of it himself, someone who can be more vile, twisted, sadistic, foul-mouthed, violent, etc., than your average joe in the time when these stories were written, but who still hates that society, rises above it, writes about its evils and corruption, and actually manages to affect some change. A man who can explain to you in brilliant vitriolic detail exactly why you suck (for supporting/ignoring the corruption perpetrated by the evil people you put in power), and you'll love him for it, make him a celebrity. Which will make him hate you even more. A man who will get the crap beaten out of him by the police when he exposes their corruption, and still come back for more every time. That is Spider Jerusalem. A genuine hero, and yes, a miserable bastard ta boot.

Be forewarned that the comics contain a great deal of profanity, violence, blasphemy, nudity, endless acrimony, and constant general weirdness. If you are easily offended, you probably won't like it. If you are deeply religious, you also probably won't like it. ...But it also has some of the most incisive, biting social commentary around, a unique and vivid vision of the future, and just some of the most intelligent and hilarous writing I've ever seen (don't let the constant swearing fool you). Plus one of my favorite lines ever: "Fuck you. If anyone in this shithole city gave two tugs of a dead dog's cock about Truth, this wouldn't be happening."

Anyway, I never had a chance to read the comics when they were first released, but I read the story collected in a series of trade paperbacks, later. I don't want to go into too much detail about them, but I might as well provide a brief description of the plot. Originally I was going to break this up by volumes, but after finishing the series, I think it's best just to lump it all together.

When the story begins, Spider is up on a mountain, where he's been living for the last five years, since giving up on the craziness of The City. He looks quite wild... long, unkempt hair, naked, covered in tattoos, and ranting. His former editor, to whom he refers as "the whorehopper," phones him threatening a lawsuit, because of a contract. Spider owes him two books, for which he was paid in advance 5 years ago. So, he has to start writing again. And to do that, he has go back to the City. So he'll need money to spend while writing his books. So he gets back into journalism. His old friend Mitchell Royce is now the City editor of a paper called The Word, and he gives Spider a weekly column, called "I Hate It Here." He also gets Spider an apartment. With a shower that gets rid of all of Spider's hair; the better to make out all his tattoos, I guess, particularly the one of a spider, on his head. Spider also gets a feral, two-faced, gecko-eating cat, which chain-smokes unfiltered cigarettes.

Anyway, for his first report, he investigates the Transient movement, which is being led by a guy named Fred Christ. Transients are people who are in the process of altering their species, using DNA from aliens who have a colony on Earth now. (The aliens look like your typical Greys, if you know anything about alien abductions; I wish the story said something about how they came to be living on Earth and all, but I suppose it's not important to the story at hand. The aliens themselves aren't even important, just the Transients who are making use of their DNA.) The Transients are currently living in a district called Angels 8, and they decide to secede the district from the City, to the aliens' Vilnius Colony. When a riot breaks out in Angels 8, Spider goes to cover it, and expose the truth behind it, and in the process unwittingly puts an end to it. In so doing, he renews his popularity and fame, earns himself a ton of money, and also earns the hatred of the authorities. And oh yeah, he meets a stripper named Channon Yarrow, who ends up becoming his assistant in the next story arc.

Spider now has a new, better apartment due to his renewed popularity (and profitablity for the Word). He brought the cat with him, plus the maker. (Makers are like Star Trek's replicators; Spider's happens to be mafia-made and addicted to hallucinogen simulator.) Royce also forces Spider to get an assistant, to keep him on the straight and narrow (i.e., get his columns in on time). The girl he sends is a journalism student named Channon Yarrow (I mentioned before that she was a stripper, but of course she'd only been doing that to put herself through journalism school). Spider will try to teach her his own somewhat unorthodox methods of journalism. Unlike the first, 3-issue collection, the nine issues in this volume are for the most part not really connected to one another, but rather stand-alone stories that let us get to better know the characters and the world they live in. The first story is about an encounter between Spider and the President, who everyone calls "the Beast" because of some very nasty (and true) things Spider wrote about him years ago. The two of them don't get along, obviously. And he's running for reelection. I don't really want to say anything specific about the other stories, but I do have to at least mention that at one point, things just become too much for Channon, and she quits working for Spider, to join a nunnery (though it's certainly nothing like any nunnery you're thinking of; it's run by Fred Christ, so it's bound to be depraved).

The next arc, or actually all the remaining volumes, tell a more unified story, though there will still sometimes be stories that seem somewhat standalone things, like the previous arc, letting the reader get to know the world better. Though ultimately, everything from throughout the series does rather tie together, sort of. Anyway, Spider has another new apartment (he makes so many enemies, he needs better security), and Royce gives him another new assistant to replace Channon. Her name is Yelena Rossini (Royce's niece, ostensibly), and she seems somewhat gothlike, I guess. She dresses in black, is generally rather sullen, almost morose, and seems to dislike Spider (though that doesn't make her any different than most anyone else who knows him personally). But eventually people notice her becoming more like Spider, herself. Anyway, Royce also forces Spider to cover the election campaign. The only candidate really capable of opposing the Beast is a senator named Gary Callahan, who Spider calls "the Smiler." But there's another candidate named Robert Heller, who can be compared to Hitler. Spider doesn't like Callahan, but he hates Heller even more, of course. Still, he doesn't want to endorse either candidate, which is a problem because he really wants the Beast to be voted out of office. Meanwhile, Callahan's campaign director is a woman named Dr. Vita Severn, and after awhile she and Spider become friendly. He endorses her, if not so much her boss. Of course, you wouldn't expect journalists to endorse anyone, but... Spider's job is to share his opinions and expose the truth, and his readers eat it up. As has been noted, he's become something of a celebrity himself through his writing, no matter how much he may hate that fact. So people listen to what he has to say, and are influenced by it. Which puts Callahan in a good position. At least until Spider learns the truth about his new running mate, who no one ever heard of until two years ago....

Well. I've failed to mention some characters who are at least a bit important. And I intend to leave out most details of the series from this point on. Basically I have to say that the Smiler ends up winning the election against the Beast, in spite of Spider's best efforts. Which really pisses him off; but then, it was to an extent his own fault. He'd always been so vehemently against the Beast, that it took him awhile to realize the Smiler was far worse. Anyway, Channon rejoins Spider's team, as a bodyguard. Spider, Channon, and Yelena work on gathering evidence against President Callahan, who is himself working against Spider. He gets Spider fired from the Word, but that just frees Spider to publish his stories on an independent feedsite called the Hole, which he sees as meaning that journalistic rules no longer apply to him. For the most part, things get progressively worse for Spider and his assistants (no longer living in a fancy apartment, they become essentially fugitives, though eventually they end up staying with Yelena's wealthy father). Also, Spider winds up with a health problem unrelated to the Smiler. I don't want to say anything about that, except that it means he has to work harder and faster than ever to bring down the President, while he still has time. Anyway, I don't want to say how it all ends. I'll just say... it's good. Really... the whole series is just bloody brilliant....

Oh, and there's volume 0 (tales of human waste), which comes after the other 10 volumes of the series. It collects a holiday story that also appeared in one of the other volumes, as well as "I Hate It Here" and "Filth of the City," the former of which includes bits of Spider's columns from the first part of the series, and the latter of which includes bits of his columns from later in the series (after he was fired from the Word). It doesn't really contribute anything significant to the story, but it's good reading, if you're a fan of Spider's.


comix index