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.
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.
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…
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,
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!

Folks Talkin’ Bout Comics: 3 Fast 3 Furious (Transmetropolitan Volumes 5 & 6)

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! 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.
Forrest: Hola!
Paul:  Hey compadre.
Forrest: How’s it going?
Paul: I’m surprised you could tear your eyes away from Vin Diesel’s Facebook page.
Forrest: Well…
Paul: It’s open in another window, isn’t it?
Forrest: …yes
The Rock clotheslining a guy off of Vin Diesel's shoulders...OK, this does look pretty cool.
Fast & Furious 6: The Rock clotheslining a guy off of Vin Diesel’s shoulders…OK, this does look pretty cool.
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.
Forrest: Haha.
(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?
Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 9.48.45 PM
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.
Paul: Haha..yes.
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)
Paul: hahaha
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: 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….)

Folks Talkin’ Bout Comics 2 (Resisting Electric Boogaloo Joke): Transmetropolitan Volumes 3-4

This is something resembling a feature, “Folks Talkin Bout Comics,” where I’m joined by a friend via Google Chat to talk about a comic book that we both enjoy. Maybe it’ll entice you to read this comic, maybe not. In the case of Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, it’s a book that inspires a lot of discussion on humanity, the future, and politics (don’t worry, those feeling drained by political coverage, it’s FUTURE FICTIONAL POLITICS, though Forrest does ponder how it relates to the current election…that jerk). If you haven’t read our first chat, you can do so here, and if you haven’t read Transmetropolitan, or aren’t up to volumes 3 and 4 yet, be warned, there are spoilers discussed freely. As with last time I’m joined by Forrest.
 Forrest: So, should we talk Transmet?
 Paul: Lets! So we’re talking Volumes 3 and 4, which really kickstart (my heart) and the plot of the series.
Forrest: True story. Up until now it’s been a bunch of loosely linked vignettes with some plot rearing its head from time to time, but we start to get into the meat of the overarching story here. The “plot arc” if you will.
Paul: Yup, with some vignettes sprinkled in, but Ellis and Robertson bring in politics, and they bring it in…hard.
Forrest: Gotta say, it’s interesting reading these in an election year.
Paul: It is, cause it goes back to the “well, the candidates or parties are really just the same,” or “you’re voting for the lesser of two evils.” But “The Beast” and “The Smiler,” while both awful, are pretty different. The Beast, like many politicians (both real and fictional), is there to preserve the status quo, while The Smiler simply wishes to “fuck with people.” Fucking with people is something Spider can’t stand for.
Forrest: I think the book’s cynical disregard for our political system goes even deeper…but let’s get to that later. The first thing that hit me on rereading this was how The Beast’s running slogan, “America for Americans,” is so similar to Romney’s (and, it turns out, the KKK’s, once upon a time) recently announced slogan, “Keep America American.” (Or are those the other way around?)
Paul: I don’t recall (nor do I bother to do any research while editing this), but The Beast also has the poster that reads “Hard job, Hard man,” while Callahan (The Smiler) has his smiling face “Callahan for a new USA.”
Forrest: It’s interesting that Ellis chose these two extremes – the fascist man’s man VS the nihilistic, powergrubbing yes man.
Paul: Aren’t they both kind of fascistic? Although, maybe The Smiler isn’t outwardly so until post election. But I guess I’m skipping ahead in that respect, when he starts killing Spider’s columns.
Forrest: I’m having a tough time remembering, which is why this re-read is good for me! But so far, I think the Smiler is more interested in power for power’s sake, to the point where he’ll do or say anything just to get it. Whereas, to paraphrase, say what you will about The Beast, but at least he has an ethos?
Paul: This is true. Aside from his pantsless chat with Spider, and his posters around the city, he doesn’t seem to be doing any active campaigning. He believes that he’ll win, and he really believes that he’s the best man for the job. He may not think much of the people he’s doing the job for…he almost seems to see himself as maybe a prison warden?
Forrest: Right, or a big, angry, abusive dad.
Paul: Yeah, I was tempted to go the dad route…but a dad…you elect (NOTE: What I was really searching for was a way to make a joke out of it. I suppose ultimately it would be an elaborate joke involving a sitcom called “President Dad” where both his kids were voting age and it’s an election year. There would be constant threats by the children to vote for his opponent and he’d be campaigning to his kids. It would be awesome, you’d love it, America).
Forrest: Whereas the Smiler just wants the power, regardless of whatever is best for the people.
Paul: But I guess there’s plenty of folks in authority who see themselves as a “Dad” to a group of folks (I like the word folks)
Forrest: You’re nothing if not folksy!
Paul: As is Spider, who buys a little girl’s stuffed animal back from the pawn shop for her.
Forrest: I like the dichotomy of these two volumes, showing Spider championing the New Scum even as he sort of loathes them.
Paul: We’ve talked about Robertson’s skill for comedy and gore, but I don’t think we’ve talked about his ability to convey touching moments.
Forrest: There was that bit where Spider wrote about the girl who was cryogenically frozen, who makes a return appearance here. Like a lot of people, I suspect, Spider likes the little guy, but he hates it when people are small, if that makes sense.
Paul: Totally.
Forrest: (Small minded, small hearted…)
Paul: I also love the bit where a bunch of protestors or performance artists kill everyone’s technology in a roped off area. We’ve seen a lot of technology tied into humans in this series, and this group’s argument that people have forgotten how to be human is a very Spider, and very Ellis argument.
Forrest: Right, and the funny thing is, it doesn’t really change anything, which prompts Spider to scream “I FUCKING HATE YOU!”
Paul: Nope…”I’m the only one who’s remotely fucking interested”
Forrest: Yeah, but keep going.
Paul: The small people acting small. Not too worried about who wins the election as long as they get their blow job every day, just like The Beast said. It’s just that The Beast underestimates the desire for a slightly better blow job.
Forrest: Heh
Paul: That’s ultimately what swings Spider to The Smiler’s side, albeit temporarily. The fact that Vita Severin, an intelligent, idealistic woman is working for him, makes Spider believe in a candidate.
Forrest: Oh, Vita. So tragic. I knew it was coming, and I still was surprised when it happened.
Paul: That panel f’d me up when I first saw it.
Forrest: It’s disturbing!
Paul: It still does….her head…it’s just GONE!
Forrest: In a manner of speaking. Bits of it are still there…everywhere.
Paul: What’s really interesting for me, as someone who’s adopted digital comics, is how this would play out for the first time for those readers, where they’re reading panel by panel. Cause one panel…head…next panel: NO HEAD.
Forrest: And the thing is, you actually do care about her, like Spider does.
Paul: Yes, she seems to be a genuinely good person.
Forrest: One of the few we ever meet!
Paul: It’s even shocking to see her funeral and everything…I think I wondered if maybe they faked her death with their new fangled hard sci fi technology.
Forrest: I think it’s doubly shocking because of how they condense the time between death and funeral. Only separated by one splash page.
Paul: Yeah, definitely Spider’s shock to Spider’s mourning.
Forrest: It’s a great example of something you can do in comics that you can’t quite do in other mediums. Certainly there are ways of condensing time, but that particular trick wouldn’t work as well in a book, or a movie…
So do you think Ellis is completely cynical? Are there no honest politicians? Will the little people ever open their eyes and give a shit? Are we all just reading Spider’s column for laughs? Is there only one sane man in the world, and does he have to take a cocktail of stimulants, hallucinogens and various other drugs to remain sane?
Paul: At this point, in the series, I’d have to say YES, though later on, NO, as we are introduced to more people who are inspired by Spider, but it does seem to require his actions to get them going.
In volume 4, there’s a scene with a man who lost his legs saving The City.
 Forrest: Yeah, oh man. That.
Paul: He’s bitter that he doesn’t see any money because of that. That’s an interesting bit of foreshadowing. Or could be read as such.
It could also be read as a take on The Beast. Someone who keeps the trains running on time, but is ignored except when trying to get votes (or spare change).
Forrest: It made me think, briefly, about how much of a shit I am for passing by all the homeless people on the street each day. Who knows where they came from, who they used to be?
Paul: Yeah…I go back and forth between cynicism and feeling like an awful human being on that front. The other character in that scene is the journalist, who listens, like Spider would, but pays the legless man in drugs.  I don’t think Spider would do that. Or at least do it so …emotionlessly? If anything, we’re constantly reminded of his empathy with his subjects through this nameless journalist’s apathy.
Forrest: Yeah, I don’t know? I think he’d find another, better way to help him.
Paul: This guy, who is presenting an unfiltered feed of this man’s words, doesn’t care to contextualize it, he’s just aggregating content.
Forrest: Exactly. I love that sequence a few pages later, where Spider watches the weird cyborgs having intercourse via their various ports and outlets. Even with all this plot and social commentary going on, Ellis and Robertson take time to show us what a funky, far-out place the future could be.
Paul: And then we get another great moment with Mary, the revival. Her face when she gets her camera, very similar to the little girl who gets her Sex Puppet back.
Forrest: “All we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.”
What does that mean?
At first I thought that last line was a cop-out, but I think it’s more a challenge from Spider to the New Scum.
Paul: I agree…throughout the series, he’s challenging his audience. Probably the same way that Ellis may have felt he was challenging comic book readers. I don’t think he’s ever someone who’s really labored under the superhero genre…he’s MOSTLY done his own thing. But there’s got to be some frustration as a non-superhero writer in comic books.
Forrest: Spider seems to be a pretty clear analog for Ellis. Even though his opinions in the book are about a sci-fi universe, it’s pretty clear he’s talking about society now. Humanity doesn’t change much, in the long run. But we COULD.
Paul: I’m not gonna lie, I got excited and read ahead a little…and I think the moment I’m thinking of is in volume 5, but there’s a point where a monitor on the street talks about all the technological advances of this (Transmet’s) society, and how it would still be MILLIONS of years before it was a truly advanced society.
Forrest: They have a bit like that in volume 4 as well. The whole thing about the Type One, Two and Three society.
Paul: Oh, ok, that’s what I was thinking of…just couldn’t find it skimming right now.
That shit depresses me.
Fuck you, Warren Ellis!
And fuck Michio Kaku, too! Whenever I read his books about what SciFi stuff is actually possible, or how long it would take to BE possible, man…it’s hard to cheer me up from that. So maybe that’s why this series speaks so well to me…cause no matter what kind of gadgets we get, we’re still not going to see any kind of true advancements for humanity in our lifetime.
Forrest: Man, now I’M depressed 😦
Paul: At the same time though…there are the wonderful humanistic moments that keep us going. Cause no matter how stupid we are, we have each other.
Forrest: But at the same time, speak for yourself. I plan on becoming a Foglet.
Paul: For better and for worse. Just like newly married couples!
Forrest: Ha! Yes!
Paul: Man, if I intro this by saying how long it took for us to write part two cause of you getting married, this’ll all feel very thematical and such.
Forrest: I like that. Themes and motifs and shit. On that note – I think I need to go apologize to my wife for being snippy with her earlier :/
Paul: Uh oh. (Insert hacky comic wife joke)
Alright, well i think we’re in a pretty good place for 3&4
Forrest: Definitely, I think we covered it pretty well.
Stay tuned, faithful readers! Volumes 5 and 6 will be coming…SOONISH!