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.