It’s been awhile, but it’s time for another round of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan discussion with my good pal, Forrest Karbowski! As always, there are spoilers, but at this point we’re really just calling out our favorite moments from the book while going off on tangents…whiiich, I think we’ve already been doing, but you should read this comic so you’ll know what we’re talking about when we ARE on topic. We started this chat with me waiting for Forrest to finish watching The Fast and the Furious 6 trailer.
Paul: Hey compadre.
Forrest: How’s it going?
Paul: I’m surprised you could tear your eyes away from Vin Diesel’s Facebook page.
Paul: It’s open in another window, isn’t it?
Paul: We go MONTHS without talking about Transmet because you were waiting to hear Fast 6 news, and you can’t break away from it for 5 minutes… jeez.
(We then went off on a tangent about honeymoons and Disney World. You don’t need to read that, and that’s about as much context as I’m going to give you for this segue!)
Paul: So, speaking of drunk Disney…Comic Books!!!
Forrest: Yes! So what’s with this image you sent me? Is it more work by Darick Robertson?
Paul: No, it’s by David Aja. An artist who in that spread, was paired with Warren Ellis on a series called Secret Avengers.
Forrest: Ah, I’ve heard good things about that. I like the sci-fi Escher vibe.
Paul: Yes, he did six issues, each one standalone, each paired with a different artist. And even on a series that he probably didn’t invest much in, he told a great story, filled with action, snark, and basic human decency.
Forrest: Somehow I’m guessing he didn’t also find a way to fit in an evil politician ejaculating into an American Flag…
Paul: No, Basically, I just wanted to share another way in which Ellis is awesome…and how he helps elevate the form of comics storytelling rather than just aping popular elements from other mediums like Millar, Loeb, or Bendis.
I started positive and moved to mini rant…
Forrest: Sounds like you have some beef!
Paul: I do…oh, I do. In general, I’m tired of people who settle for what IS versus those who will strive for what can be. And Ellis is a creator who strives, even when on superhero work that he’s deemed ‘beneath him.’
Forrest: I do love Ellis for all he is, but I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to say his influences don’t bleed through. Spider probably couldn’t exist without Hunter S. Thompson, for one. And I’ve been reading a bit of 2000 AD ever since watching the excellent, underrated Dredd last year, and the whole culture of Transmetropolitan seems indebted to Mega City One.
Paul: Yes, that’s fair. I guess I’m saying that in spite of that, he still has his own distinct style, which works, where as the others I cited tend to have styles that are more formulaic. The thing that always shines through for me with Ellis is characters who are gruff and curmudgeonly, but have a wonderful decency that can’t help but shine through.
I need a thesaurus or less beer…
Forrest: Or more beer! Always more beer.
Paul: You’re right. So anyway, drive by snipes at other creators aside, I did prepare notes for our chat about Transmet!
Forrest: I’m torn, because I’ve read and enjoyed things by all of those guys, but I also don’t disagree with you. Something you said dovetails with a feeling I had while reading these latest issues, but we can come back to it later if you’d like
Paul: Well, let’s keep going with it. I do enjoy specific works by each of those creators…Millar’s Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men, Bendis’s Daredevil and Alias…and I can barely take Loeb’s Long Halloween, but any enjoyment I take from his work is generally attributed to his artists. So what was your reaction to these issues that dovetails with my thoughts?
Forrest: Basically, to play devil’s advocate (I trust my love for Transmetropolitan doesn’t need to be defended at this point!), there were times in these volumes where Spider does things that are so casually cruel, that it almost breaks the delicate balance of his gruff side with his hidden, heartwarming side. They’re almost always played for laughs, and I can write them off just as funny sight gags or naughty asides, but it does tend to remind me that I’m reading a comic. I guess I lose some of my investment in him as a character when he’s just a dick.
Paul: He does almost go over the edge sometimes, but he is operating in a heightened world, full of even more terrible people than our real one. Or rather, more overtly terrible people than our reality. Though with every passing day, Ellis must get more and more tweets that say “Transmet is coming true!”
Forrest: That’s true. Oh god, I’m going to be one of those shocked old people who clucks his tongue at those rude kids someday, aren’t I?
Paul: …Forrest…you already are! Dun Dun DUUUUN.
I had a moment today where I wished I was Spider Jerusalem.
Forrest: Oh yeah, what happened?
Paul: There was a guy on the train speaking aloud to everyone about how he was a member of the NSA, and if there were any fellow agents on the train, they shouldn’t be afraid to talk to him…whatever people had said about him wasn’t true.
Forrest: Oh boy
Paul: And I thought to myself, rather than using the shields of an iPod and Kindle, Spider would engage this guy, listen to his story. Not worry about the guy eating his face. That’s what’s wonderful for me about Spider and many of Ellis’s protagonists is that he’s better than me and worse then me in complimentary manners. He cares more about people, he’s more selfless, but he’s also more full of himself, more careless about those close to him, and drinks a shit-ton more.
Forrest: That’s what gives him his power – both in the book, and in our minds as we read the comic. He goes to that extreme that we all wish we could in our best/worst moments. He goes places we wish someone would. Really, that’s what all “heroes” do, in any form of storytelling. Give us a glimpse of what we wish we could be, good or bad.
I think what we’re getting at is we both have man-crushes on Spider Jerusalem, and wish he was our comically abusive uncle.
Forrest: Can I mention how strong the opening of volume 5 is?
Paul: It’s very strong, and I’m realizing for the first time that Volume 5 begins and ends in the rain. It’s a cleansing, wonderful rain in the beginning, and then in the end, it’s just Spider getting peed on by the world.
Forrest: It’s also the perfect way to jump back in after a long hiatus (sorry, fans!). I was worried I would be lost, but everything you need to know about recent events and their impact on Spider’s mental state is right there. The long monologue with Spider talking about the first time he thought about death is brilliantly written of course, but the facial expressions in particular really sell it.
Paul: Yes. Robertson’s ‘acting’ for Spider is always tremendous. He never feels stiff and always jumps off the page.
Forrest: That’s funny, I was going to describe it as ‘acting’ as well. I’m not sure if there’s a better word for it!
Paul: I’ve seen other comics bloggers use it, so let’s run with it! Vol 5 really is an emotional roller coaster as movie poster critics would say.
Forrest: We watch Spider go through a pivotal transition over these two volumes. He begins somewhat listless, almost de-fanged after the assassination and The Smiler’s triumph in the election. So he tries to cause a bit of mischief in typical Spider fashion, and it’s funny ’cause my first thought when he chases down the hate crime story is that this is Spider almost licking his wounds, going after small potatoes when he should be frying big fish.
(sorry bout the food metaphors, I’m hungry)
Well…I like the…delicious steak of hilarity when Spider goes after the Senator involved in a pornography scandal…”Show us your penis, Senator!” Then there’s the brutality of the hate crime, followed again by the intro of volume 6 which features a number of artists turning Spider into the public’s ‘cartoon character.’ Followed by some hilariously brutal beat downs of everyone who can help take down Callahan.
Forrest: Gah, let me be a fanboy for a minute…that cartoon bit was SOOO GOOOOD. Seriously.
Paul: It’s probably one of the best “jam comics” ever. The pornographic parodification (Parodification copyright Paul DeKams 2013) of nearly everything is yet another thing that Ellis predicted. I’m just going to get “Warren Ellis was/is right” tattooed on me. More than anything, that’s a mantra I can get behind.
Forrest: Geez, that is true. Look, as much as I love Ellis, if he turns out to be God or something, I want my money back. Or at the very least, I want my own filthy assistants.
Paul: I’d be okay with it. Just in case, I’m gonna make sure I’m buried with a carton of his favorite cigarettes. The filthy assistants get to shine in Volume 6.
Forrest: They even get their own issue! It’s fun to see what they get up to when Spider’s not around, even if it is mostly just talking about Spider. (I don’t think Transmetropolitan passes the Bechdel test.)
Paul: I love the coda of him being revealed after they walk away “They love my ass.” Even if it doesn’t adhere to the Bechdel test, there’s genuine affection between these characters that everyone should recognize and love.
Or I will fight them.
Forrest: Haha! Speaking of fighting, there’s more glorious violence here. One panel actually made me squirm in my seat.
Paul: Was it the facepalming of the interviewer? Or the bell smashing of the hotel pimp?
Forrest: Page 115 of vol 6 – Spider stomps someone’s nose in…The hotel pimp. Grisly. The interviewer is pretty rough too.
Paul: Oh yes, most definitely. On both counts. (FYI, a more grisly/brutal pairing is Garth Ennis and Robertson on “The Boys”)
Forrest: And poor old Charlie Brown. That is supposed to be a reference, right? I was scratching my head over that one.
Paul: Yeah, he’s definitely Charlie Brown. I don’t know how much significance it’s supposed to have. Hell, in the Transmet world, there could be a whole GANG of Charlie Browns that gets hired out as muscle.
Forrest: There are a few other references to other properties sprinkled throughout these books, but that one seemed more overt than the others. Maybe there’s no significance other than it’s funny. Or, yeah, I like the idea of bodyguards genetically cloned to look like cartoon characters! That sounds like a thing.
Paul: Let’s go with it! There’s probably Hagar the Horrible thugs working in the next town over.
Forrest: Marmaduke attack dogs…
Paul: So, under the header of “Hard Sci-Fi for Hard Sci-Guys” I’d like to talk about Spider’s use of “telefactoring,” with his consciousness being transmitted, or exerting control over a clone created across the country in order to covertly interview Callahan’s wife. For me, this solves a huge existential problem I have with the realities of (theoretical) teleporting, in that a person is essentially being copied, destroyed and transmitted.
Forrest: Yeah, that was a pretty slick invention. It skirts the line of just being a bit too convenient for plot’s sake, but you can believe it exists in this world. And it’s a neat idea. What’s probably more realistic is some sort of virtually-controlled humanoid “drone.” At least, based on current technology. (Which I don’t understand at all.)
Paul: Yeah, it seems plausible…at the very least, you could control a robot with your face on the screen at this point.
Forrest: Another bit of future-tech: the ability to give everyone in a room Martian STDs.
Paul: I believe that if that tech was real, Warren Ellis would use it.
Forrest: Hell, there are days I would use it…given the right room, of course.
Paul: SPEAKING OF FUTURE…six ends with shit getting real, and Spider going on the run in the face of the President cracking down on the media…this leads into the endgame for both, with Spider engaging new and free technology to subvert the existing mass media establishment
Forrest: It’s a great cliffhanger! And, like all things Transmet, weirdly prescient.
Paul: Yes, especially with the mass media outlets reporting on Spider’s reporting…it’s exactly like when news shows cite Tweets.
Forrest: Why isn’t there a Spider Jerusalem twitter account? I guess it’s just Ellis’ twitter. Which is excellent.
Paul: There apparently are a number of Spider Twitter accounts, but I suspect that they are all terrible.
Hmm…they seem to either be in French, or aping Spider/Ellis/HST’s style while commenting on current events…so, yes. Terrible.
Forrest: https://twitter.com/warrenellis/status/289803319591960576 You can’t beat the original.
Paul: Nope. He is glorious. Speaking of which, his new novel was a quick, fun read. Very familiar, but still wonderful.
Forrest: Oh yeah? I hadn’t heard of it. I will have to Kindle it.
Paul: It’s called Gun Machine
Forrest: Ohhh yes he keeps tweeting about it but I thought it was a comic.
Paul: NYC detective finds apartment FILLED with guns, all of which are linked to famous homicides.
Forrest: Oh shit. I need to finish the Dredd comic I’m reading, but that’s next up. Sounds awesome.
Paul: nice, I have never read any Dredd, but loved the new movie.
Forrest: I’m reading some pretty early stuff…it’s hit or miss, but there is some brilliance to it. I hear the later stuff gets very good. And I believe Ellis wrote some of it, so I will have to seek that out. Well, I think I’m out of clever observations, is there anything else you wanted to toss around about Transmet?
Paul: No, I’m good on Transmet…wanna do the final four books for the next one? I feel like they move pretty quickly
Forrest: Sounds right up my alley. Sure, maybe in two weeks time?
So we’ll see you all in roughly two weeks time, dear readers! (Unless of course another trailer is released for The Fast and the Furious 6…then it might be awhile….)