Science fiction is often hit or miss for me. I just don’t have the brain for hard science so the kind of science fiction that I enjoy tends to be more on the soft side of the genre. Due to my introduction to the card game Android: Netrunner, I’ve recently fallen in love with cyberpunk for exactly this reason. The idea of a society in which technology is extremely advanced and yet the social structure has gone to hell is just fascinating. I’m admittedly a total sucker for an underdog story and it’s hard to get much better than pitting a lone wolf against a corrupt government or corporation. So this week seemed the perfect time to follow my cyberpunk interest and review the series Transmetropolitan, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Darick Robertson.
Transmetropolitan introduces readers to Spider Jerusalem, a journalist in some future time in which technology has taken over human existence and huge corporations tied to the media and the government have essentially taken over everyone’s lives. Spider had been incredibly famous for his biting attacks on the government but after the election of a man he despised and refers to only as The Beast, he went into self-imposed isolation in the mountains. Unfortunately for him, his editors haven’t forgotten the book deal he promised them so in order to avoid one hell of a lawsuit, Spider is forced to re-enter both society and his former profession in order to get the money and material for his books. He once again begins a regular column entitled “I Hate It Here” and, unsurprisingly, gets drawn back into the world of politics. Thus begins Spider’s war against government corruption and his crusade makes for one hell of a ride.
Transmet is dominated by great characters and biting social and political commentary, a combination that Ellis pulls off incredibly well. As the focus of the story, Spider is one of the most well-rounded and fascinating characters I’ve seen in a story like this. Sometimes in conspiracy stories (looking at you Dark Knight Strikes Again) the crazy conspiracy can overwhelm the story and make it feel like just an agenda on the part of a writer. But Ellis makes Spider someone that you almost have to care about by making him an incredibly compelling character. He does this by making Spider as grey as possible. He’s no black and white, boyscout-type crusader. Spider is obsessive in his search for the truth to the point of not paying attention to collateral damage, filthy in his habits, and so acerbic that dealing with him on the day-to-day level is probably hell. It’s like Ellis took Hunter S. Thompson and Bob Woodward, sprinkled a little cyberpunk dust on top and then wrote the kind of story that Frank Miller dreams about. Best of all, the supporting cast is brilliant. Spider’s two assistants, Yelena Rossi and Channon Yarrow, manage to deal with his shit and be invaluable to him without him ever really saying thank you. The relationship between the three is occasionally weird but by the end, feels both real and immensely satisfying. Neither of the women are throwaway, romantic interest characters that never get any real depth. Yelena in particular has impressive growth as a character from her first introduction to the end of the series.
Besides great characters, Transmet avoids the pitfalls of many conspiracy stories in that it makes its social commentary in a way that has you laughing along with it. Ellis pokes fun at reality TV, media domination, journalism, politics in general and so much more. When I say biting social commentary, I should really underline the acerbic nature of it.
Transmet is full of brutality, corruption and the general selfishness of your average person. The humor is extremely dark and often seriously twisted. And pairing Ellis with Darick Robertson was absolute genius. Robertson perfectly matches Ellis’ dark humor with a style that perfectly captures the manic reality of Spider Jerusalem and the City which he loves to hate.
Transmetropolitan simultaneously made me fall in love with Spider Jerusalem and fear for the future. I couldn’t put it down from beginning to end. I can’t unequivocally recommend it for everyone because you honestly have to be pretty twisted to enjoy it. However, if you enjoy conspiracy stories dominated by weird, fascinating characters and brutally dark humor, it’s exactly the kind of cyberpunk story that you need to pick up!