Folks Talkin’ Bout Comics 4: Transmet Wrap-up, Gender-izing, and Superman Origin Stories

It was way longer than we said this next chat would come, and possibly even longer for me to edit and post it. To be fair, we’ve been busy not only with our work lives, and comic book reading, but we each also were enrolled in an online course called “Gender Through Comic Books.” It was a challenging class that I wish I had dedicated more time to. I’ll write more about it later, for now, here’s another comic chat between myself and Forrest, in which we wrap up our Transmet series (why are you even reading our thoughts about it anymore, read the damn thing!) and talk about all things comic books.
Forrest: Hey. How’s things?
Paul: Pretty good. Part of my reason for not doing my MOOC homework is that I’ve been running, so thats good I guess.
Forrest: That’s great! I’ve been trying to get in shape too. With varying results.
NOTE FROM PAUL: HEY KIDS! EXERCISE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT READING COMIC BOOKS!
Paul: But I’ve also been reading a lot of the Marvel #1’s…it’s very addictive having that many comics. And not many of them are good.
Forrest: Yeah – I had to abandon that quest for the same reason. That and the ones that were good were tempting me to drop too much money.
Paul: I nearly bought the whole series of Strangers in Paradise, but not having the money to do so was effective in stopping me.
Forrest: I’ve been reading a shit ton of Superman.
Paul: Such as?
Forrest: I think I’ve read 6 different versions of his origin story? Do they tell any other Superman stories?
Paul: They do…sometimes. The animated series from the 90s is excellent.
Forrest: The most recent Geoff Johns one made me angry. Mostly because it cribbed all the good ideas from Birthright and then threw in a bunch of shitty comic book shit to fill in the “new ideas.”
Paul: I am not a fan of Geoff Johns…I’ve tried a bunch, but he’s never worked for me.
Forrest: I liked Long Halloween (NOTE FROM PAUL! I think Forrest confused Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns, but I didn’t call him on it cause I was exhausted!), etc…back in the day, but I haven’t read them in ages. My favorite Superman origin was Secret Identity, though. Birthright is close second.
Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu
Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu
Paul: Secret Identity is fantastic. Both that and Birthright are among my favorites. As is All Star Superman.
Forrest: I purchased that, but I haven’t read it yet.
All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Paul: I’m trying to think of good non-origin ones…and I mainly go back to the animated series. Same as Batman. I feel like so many DC heroes get lost in trying to retell the origin to make them relevant to a new generation.
Forrest: Yeah! Especially Superman! Everyone knows his origin! I think DC heroes are limited by – outside of Batman – not having as many immediately recognizable members of their rogues gallery, at least not to the general public.
Paul: That’s true. Although Marvel might be more obscure, but manage to power through it.
Forrest: I mean, there’s Lex Luthor – he’s a smart asshole. Braniac is a…smart…robot…asshole? Who knows wtf Metallo, Bizarro, Parasite are?
Paul: I do! But because I watched the animated series…not because of any DC Comic book.
Forrest: But I grew up with X-Men and Spider-Man and Batman the Animated Series, so it could just be my ignorance. Yeah, I will have to watch that. BTAS is so good, I’d watch anything from the same creative team.
Paul: it’s great. It’s got a whole different color palate and tone. and it introduced me to Darkseid, which years later would play into me trying out DC’s beautiful Jack Kirby collections.
Forrest: He’s like DC’s Apocalypse, right?
Paul: More like DC’s Thanos.
Forrest: Haha. See?
Paul: …and in fact the inspiration for Thanos.
Forrest: I don’t even know who Thanos is.
Paul: Ooh, if you got it in the Marvel #1s, read Thanos Quest. Its a great introduction to the character, and to the cosmic side of Marvel.
Thanos Quest by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim
Thanos Quest by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim
Forrest: I was one of those people at the end of Avengers who was like “Oh hey, it’s the purple dude the internet told me to look out for!”
Paul: Hahaha
Forrest: Cool I will check it out.
Paul: Darkseid is a fantastic Superman villain, in that he’s out to end all free will…he’s in search of the “anti-life equation.” He’s generally not reacting to Superman, he considers Superman below him, and that’s a rarity amongst any hero’s villains.
Forrest: Well I certainly have more to explore. I’m really glad to have Comixology. For the longest time comics felt like this dense jungle of knowledge that I could never navigate.
Paul: Yes, it’s fantastic. But I wish DC/Vertigo would have sales as frequently as Marvel. I feel like what would really break comics open to more readers is if Comixology (or another platform) offered an “all you can eat” model like Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
Forrest: Yeah that would be insane. I didn’t end up subscribing to that because the Comixology reader has me spoiled. I’d rather pay for Marvel comics on that platform, ha.
Paul: Yeah, plus you’re really limited in terms of reading choices if your only choice is Marvel. I like a lot of what they’re putting out right now, but it is pretty much exclusively super hero or super hero riffs.
Forrest: True. I’ve been making a point to pick up #1s of new series if they look interesting or inventive. For example I like this book Theremin. And I think I told you about Nowhere Men.
Paul: I think you did…I grabbed Nowhere Men issue 1 since it’s free…and I’ll definitely pick up Theremin later this week since it’s a buck! Have you checked out High Crimes?
High Crimes by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa
High Crimes by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa
Forrest: No, what is it?
Paul: It’s another Monkeybrain series…it’s about a former snowboarder that works as a guide on MT Everest, but also ransoms bodies found on Everest to their families…
Forrest: That sounds messed up. I’d probably like it!
Paul: But when running prints on a body her and her partner found, it triggers a response from an elite (and sinister) commando unit in America. Who are coming after anyone who came in contact with their former colleague…and fucking shit up hardcore.
Forrest: I will check it out! I also bought Sex, because it’s dirty. And I like to support artists exploring adult themes in mediums traditionally blah blah blah it’s dirty
Sex by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski
Sex by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski
Paul: I like Sex (the comic series).
Forrest: But not sex, the sex thing, right? Because that’s gross.
Paul: Right.
Ew.
Fluids.
Forrest: TOO FAR
Paul: Not far enough. The people have to know.
Forrest: They’re not ready!
Paul: People of the internet! Sex. Goo. Sex goo! Things squishing together! Babies! Baby goo! There. I’ve said my peace.
Forrest: I’m out!
Paul: No, wait. Comics!
Forrest: Or, as a wise man said, “I’ll be in my bunk.”
Paul: Anyway, I am a fan of Joe Casey’s comic book output. He usually takes high concept stuff like Sex (virginal super hero explores sex after retiring) and executes it well. Have you heard of Butcher Baker (also written by him)?
Forrest: No.
Butcher Baker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston
Butcher Baker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston
Paul: It is insane. I’ve only read the first two issues, but it feels like Kurt Russel’s character from Big Trouble in Little China combined with Freddie Mercury combined with Duke Nukem as the world’s greatest hero taking on every villain he’s ever fought.
Forrest: That sounds like it would have a high probability of being terrible? But I will trust you.
Paul: It’s fucking crazy. But the art is beautiful, and it’s just crazy enough to work story-wise.
Forrest: After all, you were right on about Saga, and I don’t know how anyone could desbcribe that without making it sound bonkers.
Paul: I’m pretty much dialing it down, too.
Forrest: Ha! Stop! My wallet, it hurts. The place where the money goes…
Paul: He also wrote a good Iron Man mini series…that’s on sale today
Forrest: …it’s EMPTY. Which one? I picked up “Demon in a Bottle” because classics.
Paul: Iron Man: The Inevitable. It’s written during a period where Tony Stark was trying to deny he was Iron Man after having previously revealed his identity. And he’s trying to move past all his old villains, even help them rehabilitate, but they won’t evolve, they just want to kill or humiliate him.
Iron Man: The Inevitable by Joe Casey and Frazier Irving
Iron Man: The Inevitable by Joe Casey and Frazier Irving
Forrest: Hmm. That sounds…really good…
Paul: You should already have issue one from the #1s…(pops up on your shoulder as the devil in an iron man suit) But you should probably save your money for the new comics coming out on Wednesday (slightly less evil devil on your other shoulder)
Forrest: Yeah…I really should!
Paul: (Both devils laugh and disappear)
Forrest: Hahaha. I should also read this week’s SuperMOOC comics. I really loved Captain Marvel – that one is going on my monthly buy list now.
Paul: I don’t even remember what’s on deck for this week yet.
Forrest: I think it’s all Gail Simone – Secret Six (which I am very excited to read!) Batgirl
Secret Six by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott
Secret Six by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott
Paul: Ok good, I’ve read most of those. Secret Six is one of my favorite series, and Birds of Prey got Chrystal into reading comics.
Secret Six features the best comics version of Bane.
Forrest: All exciting stuff. I’m looking forward to the last week when I can chill because I read Y: The Last Man years ago. All the rest has been new to me!
Paul: I think it’s been 50/50 for me…Strangers in Paradise was the most exciting to “discover.” Mainly because even though I’ve been reading more varied comics cause of Comixology, it has all still been mostly super hero, sci fi, or fantasy.
Forrest: True. I think they could branch out if they do this again. I was surprised there weren’t more autobiographical/slice of life/indie titles. Maybe it’s due to what’s available on Comixology, or maybe they assumed people who are interested in comics would be more interested in superhero books?
Paul: I think its probably based in easing people in with super hero books. But there’s also probably more examples of stereotypes and breaking of stereotypes in the mainstream books.
Forrest: True.
Paul: I’d like to see a follow up class that has Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic on the syllabus. That has a character that is male in the normal world, and female in the magical world.
Forrest: Interesting! I love Neil Gaiman. Haven’t read that book, but I will add it to my ever-growing list.
Paul: Hahaha.
Forrest: Ok, so my wife is going to stab me in the face if I ignore her much longer…and you know what book has people getting stabbed in the face (probably?) Transmetropolitan! (segue segue segue)
Paul: Ha. Great segue! With all the recent real world terribleness I have been again pondering the prophetic nature of Ellis and Robertson’s opus. It seems very much like the world of Transmet could be our future, and I think that’s a great selling point for those who haven’t read it before. It’s not necessarily an entirely bleak future, but it could very easily be the culmination of all the good and bad things occurring now.
Forrest: It is, but I think the compelling/frightening flipside of that is how much it’s reflective of our past as well. See page 59 of vol 10 for a particularly explicit example, though there are plenty of implicit ones as well. Do things ever change, that much?
Paul: True. As I’ve mentioned before, I read the series in college, during the Bush presidency, while reading about Nixon’s presidency as seen by Hunter S Thompson, so I was seeing plenty of things repeating themselves.
Forrest: And the state of journalism these days doesn’t leave much room for hope that we’ll ever have the likes of Spider Jerusalem to scourge the bowels of our corrupt systems. Do we have a voice like that?
Paul: Well. It’s interesting, cause I thought all the “in the moment” reporting via Twitter this week was like the way news was reported in Transmet.  And I thought Anonymous’s foray into reporting with Your Anon News was similar to The Hole.
Forrest: Hm, true…But
Paul: But there isn’t a Spider Jerusalem.
Forrest: Yeah. Because Spider Jerusalem has standards, for lack of a better word.
Paul: The closest thing I could think of is Jon Stewart…and he doesn’t want to be that.
Forrest: Yeah, Jon Stewart comes close, but he plays the jester too eagerly. I mean, I love the guy, but he doesn’t display the righteous rage and disrespect for gastrointestinal systems that are necessary for the job.
Paul: Our generation has tried to assign a status to him as head truth teller, as “our” reporter, but it’s something he’s denied again and again.
Forrest: Which is a shame, because I think he has it in him. But he likes to hide behind comedy (which he’s brilliant at) when push comes to shove.
Paul: Yes. But I wonder what a Jon Stewart with nothing to lose would be like. He could make a Louis CK type move at this point.
Forrest: Kidnap his children and find out! (Kidding.)
Paul: Hahaha. Jon Stewart in “Give me back my kids, internet Guy!”
Forrest: Haha
Paul: I think what we’ve hit on is that Transmetropolitan is a timeless series. It speaks to us, it speaks to past generations, and to future ones as well.
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
Forrest: I’d like to think we can move past some of this bullshit, but I think you’re right. It would be just as relevant if we handed it to some fiefdom vassals in the Middle Ages. If they could take time out from burning us at the stake to read it, and if I could take time out from calling my next rock band “Fiefdom Vassals.”
Paul: I think by calling your band the “Fiefdom Vassals” you’re setting yourself up for a situation in which a traveller from the future will give you a time machine so that you can finish your homework and become the greatest band ever.
Forrest: Hahaha. I can only hope!
Paul: And then you would likely find yourself in a scenario where you would recommend Transmet to someone from the past.
Forrest: I guess hopefully Spider Jerusalem teaches us that the truth is worth fighting for, profanely if necessary. He teaches us to look out for the little guy, and to find the humanity where there may seem to be none. And he also teaches us that sometimes, assholes just need to be trolled.
Paul: I feel like Spider would like Superman (bringing this shit FULL CIRCLE). Especially Waid’s Superman (with a little bit of “teach those broads a lesson/working out Mort Weissenger’s issues” Superman).
Forrest: That would be the weirdest crossover series ever.
Paul: I think the closest is an issue of Ennis’s Hitman where Ennis’s foul mouthed hired cyncial killer basically tells Superman that he matters. (another series to read!)
Forrest: Re-reading these volumes, I noticed there seemed to be much more emphasis on action than in the previous volumes.
Paul: Yes, yet I don’t think it feels out of place. I think the series has built to it. Once Spider goes on the attack against the Smiler, the Smiler has nothing left but violence.
Forrest: There’s some cool ideas for tech on display as well. The ID trashcan thing that removes all genetic trace of a body, the victimbots…
Paul: Yes. The ID trashcan freaked me out. As did the “Ebola Cola” commercial. More disturbing art from Robertson.
Forrest: Speaking of disturbing, there are quite a few creepy, flavorful non-sequitors that pop up, like the lonely cannibals that fall in love, or the three-breasted transvestite(?) Annabel who commits suicide randomly?
Paul: Yes, the Annabel thing was funny tragic and disturbing…especially the porn producer who said “Hi Annabel” on her way down.
Forrest: More weird worldbuilding? Or do you think there’s intent behind these vignettes?
Paul: At this moment, I can’t think of any intent…except maybe that like most of the book, it’s the real world dialed up to 15 and a half? They’re those weird people that you fleetingly encounter in your every day life, but exaggerated.
Forrest: I think you’re right. They seem like throwaway gags, but at the same time there’s a core of tragedy to them. It establishes the world as extreme, but also kind of relatable?
Paul: Yes. Exactly. Any day, either one of us could have a suicidal person come crashing down next to us…but they’d probably be pretty normal looking.
Forrest: Yeah, apart from aesthetics, the crazy shit that goes down in Transmetropolitan is the same crazy shit that goes down in our world. We just don’t talk about it as much.
Paul: And for most part, neither do they. Spider (and the other journalists) barely bat an eye at most of these everyday occurances. People die, people eat each other and it barely rates a sentence in many cases. It’s something we and they are aware that happens, but there might not be a story in it. Or it might not be a story we want to hear.
Forrest: Interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Although Spider does make a point to give a voice to the voiceless throughout the series.
Paul: He does. But realistically…he can’t give a voice to everyone.
Forrest: True, but that’s why we need more Spiders! For example, I like that Mary, the revival woman, keeps popping up. And even plays a small role in Spider’s eventual (spoilers!) victory over The Smiler.
Paul: Yup, and even Robert McX is a Spider of sorts. He’s a Spider who probably sold out early on, but through Spider’s actions maybe reclaims some of who he used to be.
Forrest: Yeah, I liked that character. How do you feel about the ending? Specifically, Spider’s fate? Although any other thoughts you have on the plot resolution are welcome as well…
SPOILERS SPOILERS END OF THE SERIES SPOILERS DAMMIT
Paul: I love the ending. I love how Spider and Yelena’s relationship has ended up, and how Spider still is fucking with everyone…and before that, I do enjoy that Spider is the ‘one man that can make a difference’ and successfully takes down The Smiler.
Forrest: The first time I read it, I was disappointed in the resolution of Spider’s illness. I guess at the time it felt like it was an unnecessary twist, like maybe there was something poetic in him losing his mind after it all. I don’t think I feel that way anymore, though. It does seem like if anyone can beat the odds, it’s Spider. And maybe it’s a mind over matter thing.
Paul: Yeah. And he is still infirmed to a degree…he mentions that in all but 1% it’s progressive…so he’s going to be at the level he’s currently at…not getting better, and messing with his filthy assistants by pretending to drop down a level or two when he feels like it. And that’s perfect for Spider. He gets to retire, to be loved, but to still also fuck with people.
Forrest: I like that Yelena becomes the new Spider, although I wish we could see more of it. But that’s not this story.
Sequel! (Please!)
Paul: No! Cause then DC will do a crappy Before Transmet series…
Forrest: Well, “After,” but yeah.
Paul: They’ll do it all!
Forrest: I’d only be down if Ellis and Robertson re-teamed and were super passionate about it.
Paul: Or if they were at least being paid in mountains of drugs and money and the skulls of their enemies (what I assume is in Ellis’s contract). Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap up if you’re good.
Forrest: I’m not sure what else to say! I feel like nothing I write can possibly do justice to this series, which is one of my absolute favorites and everyone should seriously read. It’s thought-provoking, visually rich,
Oops
I realized I didn’t want to finish that paragraph.
Meant to just send “I’m not sure what else to say!” Haha
Paul: You ruined it!!!
Forrest: Noooooo. Also I picked up Gun Machine (Warren Ellis’s new novel).
Paul: Nice.
Forrest: I’m only on page 3. But it’s good!
Paul: Yeah it is. Well. I think we should re-convene in the near future to talk more comics in general…keep this thing going.
Forrest: Ok – now that we’ve spoiled the entire thing for everybody – GO READ TRANSMETROPOLITAN!
Paul: I CONCUR WITH THIS STATEMENT
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