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Spider Jerusalem vs. the Truth - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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April 21st, 2010


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11:58 pm - Spider Jerusalem vs. the Truth
After finally reading beloved series by Warren Ellis like Nextwave and Global Frequency, I thought it was high time I read one of his most beloved—and longest—series: Transmetropolitan.

Transmet follows Spider Jerusalem—based on Hunter S. Thompson—and his filthy assistants, Channon Yarrow and Yelena Rossini, as they engage in gonzo journalism in the 23rd century. The setting: the City, a version of New York with enough political clout to decide elections.

The first twelve issues or so are largely spent on the worldbuilding, which is kind of haphazard and insane and does not attempt to be a realistic sci-fi future in any way. In Ellis's vision of the future, the world has gone to shit so hard that popular children's shows include Sex Puppets and Anthrax Cat. There is a growing subculture of people who mix their DNA with alien DNA. Also those who decide they don't need bodies. A new religion is started every hour. Mutant animals run amok. Cybernetic enhancements are fairly commonplace.

The first year of the comic is good, but, in my opinion, it doesn't really give a good representation of the series. Spider is a giant dickweed with almost no redeeming qualities, as he spends most of his time yelling at people and punching them in the face. With one exception, he doesn't seem to be covering anything all that important. And I was reminded of Preacher by the almost relentless profanity and depravity, which seemed too over-the-top.

Once the presidential campaign begins, however, the long-term arc of the series takes shape, and Spider becomes a giant dickweed we can root for. By that time, we can see that a lot of his hate is justified, and it is based in anger and disappointment that people aren't better than they are, when they could be. We also see that Spider does actually have a heart and feelings and stuff. Spider Jerusalem has a deep respect and love for The Truth, and he believes that people deserve to know it, and he can give it to them. He will find it by any means necessary: conveniently enough, in the future, investigative journalism has all but died out, having given way to computers that can search databases and scan media outlets and analyze patterns and trends.

Spider Jerusalem is gleefully offensive and completely full of himself, but he is the only person who has the balls to ask the questions that need to be asked. He's the one who will dig to find the evidence to expose corruption. And he can't do it without Channon and Yelena, who are awesome and badass—when was the last time you saw a female bodyguard? The three of them are a great team: I love stories about strangers coming together to form a makeshift family. Also backing Spider up is Mitchell Royce, his editor at the Word, whose standard greeting for him is "Where's my fucking column?!"

It's notable that the villain of the series is the President of the fucking United States. And he's one of the most chilling, scary villains I've ever seen because even though the depths of his evilness may be taken to unrealistic levels, he represents the very worst of politicians, and at times, he feels all too real and plausible. As the series progresses, Spider and the President wage war with the City as their battleground, and the bodies pile up. Spider is armed with The Truth—and his trusty bowel disruptor—but the President is armed with, you know, BEING THE FUCKING PRESIDENT. The stakes get higher and higher, and the book keeps getting better and better as it gets more and more epic. It's truly a thrilling political thriller.

Mad props to Darick Robertson and Rodney Ramos for the fantastic art. Robertson packs so much detail into every goddamn panel, you feel like you're in the City. And his art strikes a nice balance between realistic and comic book-y. You'll notice that, for the first time, I bothered to acknowledge the inker because I really noticed how much he brought to the table in this title, if only for having to do Spider's tattoos. Ramos helps add those bits of realism that make you feel for these characters in this whacked-out world.

At times, Transmetropolitan can be cheesily idealistic in its rah rah journalism mentality, but that's to be expected when your hero is a journalist, and it balances out the more cynical views of humanity. It does serve to highlight the responsibilities of the media to the people: news stories have changed the world before, after all. It's funny and exciting and touching and socially conscious. I loved it, and I am now officially a Warren Ellis fan.
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(15 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:sabra_n
Date:April 22nd, 2010 07:29 am (UTC)
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when was the last time you saw a female bodyguard?

On Chuck. :) But that's besides the point - I just wanted to say...well, word, to pretty much this whole entry. I still think that Spider's violence is more than a bit much, but once you get past the bowel disruptor nonsense he becomes a deeply affecting character.

Also, the fact that his glasses came from a fabricator on drugs will never cease to amuse me. And his evil chain-smoking cat!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2010 07:37 am (UTC)
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On Chuck.
Ha! I knew there had to be something I was missing. Well, even better that I obliquely referenced it in the title.

I still think that Spider's violence is more than a bit much, but once you get past the bowel disruptor nonsense he becomes a deeply affecting character.
Agreed. He got more and more interesting as the series went on, and I loved the little moments of seeing his softer side. There's a scene near the end of the series that I just wanted to hug forever because it was so unexpectedly sweet and touching, and I didn't think Ellis/Spider had it in him.

Also, the fact that his glasses came from a fabricator on drugs will never cease to amuse me. And his evil chain-smoking cat!
Also agreed! What an iconic pair of glasses, too.
[User Picture]
From:liviapenn
Date:April 22nd, 2010 07:45 am (UTC)
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One of the Warren Ellis one-shots that hardly anyone ever talks about is "Ministry of Space," which I highly recommend now that you're a fan. *G* It's a lot subtler than Transmet, but then, so is everything.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2010 07:51 am (UTC)
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Oh, thanks! I was hoping people would pipe in with other Ellis recommendations since, uh, he's written a lot. I do plan to check out Planetary already, since that's one I've heard a lot about.

Of course, the library only has the two middle volumes of Planetary, and they don't have Ministry of Space. Balls.

It's a lot subtler than Transmet, but then, so is everything.
Ha!
[User Picture]
From:liviapenn
Date:April 22nd, 2010 09:13 am (UTC)
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Oh, Planetary is EPIC. That's pretty much all there is to say about it: it's just weird and heartbreaking and gorgeous and epic. (And "Planetary Batman: Night on Earth"-- well, I can't say it's an epic Batman story because it's not really a *story*, but, it gives really, REALLY good Batman. *G*)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, the guy at the comic book store was raving about that one too.
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:April 22nd, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Transmetropolitan is pretty cool. I read it about... four years back? It's so over the top and crazy and hilarious and fun and interesting. Spider's a dick, but he's an entertaining dick who tells it like it is, and he sticks it to people who are far worse by exposing all their dirty little secrets. The filthy assistants are great. The City is every cyberpunk vision of the future taken to the Nth power and turned absurd.

...when was the last time you saw a female bodyguard?
Yesterday morning.

[C]onveniently enough, in the future, investigative journalism has all but died out...
Hell, this one's already starting to come true. Nobody investigates anything anymore. My friend who'd wanted his whole life to be a reporter is quitting his newspaper job and going into the Diplomatic Corps because there's no future left in journalism.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
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Spider's a dick, but he's an entertaining dick who tells it like it is, and he sticks it to people who are far worse by exposing all their dirty little secrets.
Yep.

The City is every cyberpunk vision of the future taken to the Nth power and turned absurd.
Ha, yeah, that's a good way of describing it.

...when was the last time you saw a female bodyguard?
Yesterday morning.

:-P

Hell, this one's already starting to come true. Nobody investigates anything anymore.
Le sigh.
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:April 23rd, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
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...when was the last time you saw a female bodyguard?
Yesterday morning.
:-P

Hey, you asked. ;-P

And the timing of the question was particularly amusing, since on Wednesday morning I'd watched a series with two of 'em. :-D
[User Picture]
From:kali921
Date:April 22nd, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
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I assume that you've already read Ellis' run on Stormwatch and the ensuing Authority which rose out of the ashes of the Stormwatch book. Ellis' Stormwatch was so, so, so good, as was, of course, The Authority.

Ellis also took a stab at rebooting Marvel's New Universe a few years ago (New Universe was a Marvel universe that was created in the eighties and dealt with an Earth where people begin to develop superpowers. It was very different for the time and very cracky). Ellis' reboot was called newuniversal, and while it was full of typical Ellisisms, Salvador Larroca did beautiful art and Ellis was chillingly good at executing the concept for the most part. The story's great - the way he reimagines the Star Brand, Nightmask, Cipher, and Justice really had me reluctant to put the book down. I liked it because it was a realistic telling of what would happen if four people woke up one day and suddenly were gifted with immense powers and then had to wrap their heads around the concept that Big Changes were coming to Earth - and boy, it ain't pretty. Unsurprisingly, Justice was my favorite character.

Sadly, the project stalled when Marvel wanted to take Larroca off the book, and it died. (I'm pretty convinced that future!cranky!Star Brand that appears in one issue was a stand-in for Ellis himself.)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
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I assume that you've already read Ellis' run on Stormwatch and the ensuing Authority which rose out of the ashes of the Stormwatch book. Ellis' Stormwatch was so, so, so good, as was, of course, The Authority.
You assume incorrectly! Although the guy at the comic book store was raving about it. I'm not really familiar with the Wildstorm Universe.

newuniversal sounds pretty interesting! I'd never heard of it. And conveniently enough, Dr. Comics is having a sale next weekend. Maybe I'll pick it up. (Also looking forward to the Atomic Robo free comic on FCBD!)

By the way, I still have that Planetary poster for you, and if I don't get it to you soon, I'll read Planetary and want to keep it for myself!
[User Picture]
From:mrbroom
Date:April 23rd, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
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I'd argue not that the world of Transmet has gone to hell, but that it's gone to what Ellis sees as a logical continuation of world cultures, with new tech added in. Seems to me he's giving us fourth-dimensionality on a cultural level; the most liberal person alive two centuries ago would be appalled at our popular forms of entertainment and fashion. He (right, I feel) assumes that this is only going to continue. People not batting an eye at growing extra genitalia if you feel like or eating cloned human meat. Mary's story nicely demonstrates this.

Granted, there are a lot of injustices in the City that haven't been solved by Future Technology™, but that seems to me just Ellis's way of pointing out that a post-cyberpunk world is one where we fix a lot of problems, don't fix a lot of other problems, and invent new problems, such that it's plus ce change, plus ce meme chose.

I agree that the first year feels a lot like Ellis was either trying to figure out what this serious was going to Be About or just warming up the setting so he could throw us into the big arc. Based on the introductions in the trades, I'm leaning toward the former.

Lastly, about God damn time. Good man.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 23rd, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
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Granted, there are a lot of injustices in the City that haven't been solved by Future Technology™, but that seems to me just Ellis's way of pointing out that a post-cyberpunk world is one where we fix a lot of problems, don't fix a lot of other problems, and invent new problems, such that it's plus ce change, plus ce meme chose.
Now you're just making up French phrases.

I agree that the first year feels a lot like Ellis was either trying to figure out what this serious was going to Be About or just warming up the setting so he could throw us into the big arc. Based on the introductions in the trades, I'm leaning toward the former.
It's weird how different it becomes after the first year. I read that the series started out at an imprint called Helix before moving to Vertigo, which could explain the shift. The way he writes Spider even seems different after the first year, as if he realized that he should maybe give him layers. I think having Channon and Yelena to balance him out also helped.
[User Picture]
From:justjohn
Date:April 23rd, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
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Conceptually, Spider Jerusalem seemed to owe a bit to Jubal Harshaw in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. They seem to have staffing policies in common.

But for the look ... I've seen videos of HST, as well as Bill Murray's and Johnny Depp's interpretations, and their moves were totally unlike my image of Spider's.

If there's ever a live action movie made, I think pro wrestling's Christopher Daniels could do a good job at portraying Spider. Plus, he's good at both pomposity and being mercurial.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 23rd, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
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Wikipedia says Ellis and Robertson would like Tim Roth. I guess I could see that.

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