Celebrating the Power of Journalism with Transmetropolitan
“Point: journalism is not about plans and spreadsheets. It’s about human reaction and criminal enterprise. Here the lesson begins.” Spider Jerusalem
So far I’ve written about two non-superhero comics, and in this post I’ll continue that trend by talking about Warren Ellis’s “Transmetropolitan”. I love superhero comics, but I think that more people should be aware of what else is going on in the medium. Sure I could tell people to read more mainstream books like Brain Michael Bendis’s “Ultimate Spider-Man”, which is probably the most accessible Spider-Man book to read from the start, however I really want people to be aware of books and characters that they may not have heard about, or genres that they didn’t know existed in comic books. Having said that, lets talk about “Transmetropolitan”.
If there is one author that could be a comic book character, it’s Hunter S. Thompson. Technically the character of Duke in “Doonesburry” is based on him, but the “Transmetropolitan” version of Thompson is able to really convey the gonzo journalism that made the author such a cult figure. The stand in for Thompson in this comic is Spider Jerusalem, and he is Thompson if Thompson were to exist in a Brave New World/1984 type of future. Like Thompson, Spider is a bald journalist with a penchant for questioning authority, indulging in mind-altering substances, and is rarely seen not smoking cigarettes.
The writer of the series, Warren Ellis, is one of the greatest modern writers around. He goes back and forth from writing comics that satirize comic tropes, like “Nextwave“, to books that embrace them with a unique spin like “Planetary”. “Transmetropolitan” is different than his other books, because “Trans” has a full run. “Nextwave” was a great book, but was just too short. “Transmetropolitan” lets the reader stay with the character of Spider Jerusalem for an extended period of time, so they really get to understand and root for the character.
There are certainly scenes of action in “Transmetropolitan”, but a lot of the book also celebrates the power of journalism. Spider is a writer that tells people the way the world is even if it gets him in trouble with his employer or the government.
Like the comic “Chew”, “Transmetropolitan” goes back and forth from being funny to delivering social commentary. For example an early arc deals with prejudice against a group that is splicing their DNA with genetic material from aliens. This type of metaphor for a current issue, really goes to show that comics can deal with serious issues even if it is a bit hidden. Like all science fiction that takes place in the future, fundamentally the issues of focus in the book are issues that are directly linked to the real world. If you enjoyed the work of Hunter S. Thompson, you will love “Transmetropolitan”.