& Darrick Robertson
A warning up front, this review is an overview of the entirety of Transmetropolitan and contains minor spoilers and plot points from throughout the series’ run. If you don’t want to have the series spoiled I’ll leave you here with my basic thoughts.
Transmetropolitan is a fantastic piece of work. With hilarious characters and a wild, anarchic sense of humour but also a lot of genuine heart.
It’s sleazy cyberpunk style is given substance by an intelligent politically fueled narrative that any comics fan should check out some time.
Now, if you’re already familiar with the series or aren’t too concerned about spoilers, we can continue to the main review…
If you were delivering an elevator pitch for Transmetropolitan, the easiest thing to say would be “It’s Hunter S. Thompson in the future”.
Now, If you’re anything like me, you’ll have already scrambled off to buy the series from that description alone but, for those who need a little more, Transmetropolitan is the story of Spider Jerusalem, a journalist living a hermetic lifestyle in the wilderness before he is interrupted by a phone call from his editor demanding that he deliver upon his contract to write two books on politics.
His self imposed ostracism from society shattered, Spider returns to the sprawling metropolis known only as The City, to complete the books and get back to the mountains as quickly as possible.
Over the course of the series, we follow Spider’s day job as a columnist for newspaper, The Word, as he exposes the gritty underbelly of the city. He uncovers cases of police brutality and corruption, sleazy political conspiracies and manages to bring down not one, but two, U.S. Presidents.
The City is presented in a gritty but colourful cyberpunk style. Every panel of the comic bursts with exotic detail, from bizarre food packaging to extravagant technologies. There’s a hyper-sexual feel to a lot of the characters too, background characters have mutated, electronically enhanced bodies, they’re riddled with wires and horrifying appliances and the whole city feels completely alive, at once a frightening and fascinating place to be.
This over detailed style and frequent sexual content could, in the hands of a lesser writer, simply be a dumb, sleazy book. A freaky world designed to titillate. But in the hands of creator Warren Ellis, this world is used to brilliant effect to tell a deep and intelligent story.
This is largely down to Spider himself. While the book is filled with high octane scenes and constant action, Spider is still a journalist and the book is extremely wordy. Characters engage in long conversations and Spider writes detailed, smartly written Gonzo articles. There’s a lot of text and this heavy leaning on narrative and character interaction makes this book far more interesting than you might expect.
And of course, like all good science fiction, it’s not talking about the future, it’s talking about the present. In a similar fashion to the works of Orwell or Alan Moore, these strips present a twisted future while clearly discussing issues of the modern world. It’s hard not to see the Transient riots, which pitch the police against a group of people using genetic modification to transform themselves into aliens, as a metaphor for our slow acceptance of the Transgender community. Or the stories of people who have been cryogenically frozen, being re-awoken in a society that has nothing but contempt for them, treating them as a burden and ignoring any potential they might have, as talking about current attitudes towards immigration.
The fictional future setting also allows Ellis to talk about issues that it would be impossible to get away with in a contemporary setting, leading to uncomfortable but important issues of the book dealing with issues like child prostitution.
It’s another great testament to the writing of this series that, despite these heavy themes, Transmetropolitan is a lot of fun to read. For every hard hitting topic there’s an account of Spider going on some kind of rampage that’s just a blast to read (though even these have a lot of satire within them too, Spider tearing up a religious convention in particular springs to mind).
Start to finish, Transmetropolitan is everything you could want. It’s an energetic, smart, funny, beautifully drawn, colourful, deep, heartbreaking, rage inducing, look at modern society that every comic, sci-fi & dystopian fan owes it to themselves to checkout.