Comic Books For People Who Hate Comic Books: Transmetropolitan

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve never been much of a comic book freak. I had childhood flirtations with X-Men, Spiderman, and, of course, Wolverine, but it didn’t take long for me to grow out of them. The rampant use of dues ex machina, the soap opera relationships, and the sometimes unintelligible back-stories and tie-ins quickly had me throwing up my hands in despair at the superhero genre altogether. It was actually William Blake that wooed me back, half-unwilling, to the pages of story told with pictures. So, now I’m discovering late a bunch of comics that lots of people like me probably never discovered at all.

Transmetropolitan Vol. 2

One of the first books I read upon returning to the fold was Transmetropolitan, and it’s still one of the best. Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Blade Runner. Spider Jerusalem, a drug-addled gonzo journalist of the future is forced out of seclusion by his publishers. Armed only with his laptop, a pair of camera-glasses and a ray-gun called “the bowel disruptor” (which does pretty much what it sounds like) Jerusalem proceeds to rampage all over the dystopian city of the future, culminating in a battle of words with two corrupt presidents.

The story, characters, and art are simultaneously engrossing and gross; I think there’s more vomit than sex in the series, which I know isn’t selling it, but there’s something less cheap about vomit in a comic book. I mean, I don’t often hear people exclaim, “That’s just how it is: vomit sells! We need more vomit!”  But bowel-disruptors and other ejaculations from various orifices aside, the story pulls you in with a coherent over-arching plot bedecked now and again with amusing side-shows that are expertly interwoven back into the main line by the end of the series. Oh, and that’s another thing going for it: this series knew how to end. I don’t know if the creators had the ending in mind from the beginning, but it reads like they did, like a satisfying novel rather than a rambling attempt to end every little stint with a cliffhanger and see how long they could drag me along.

Jerusalem himself is also surprisingly coherent (as a character, not as a person). He’s a little schizophrenic, but one passably assumes that this is due to his steady diet of unnamed narcotics and not due to unimaginative writers forcing their characters into bizarre molds to fit whatever absurd story happened to occur to them on that particular day. And, though he’s not even super-likable, which I always found likable in hero, you still find yourself rooting for him most of the time.

Meanwhile, throughout the series the writers use their darkly comical vision of the future to deal ironically with issues both real and invented. Corporate corruption allows the use of information pollen, a kind of biological advertising agent that causes incurable degenerative mental diseases. The perpetual absurdity of our party system is personified in the Evil and Eviler Presidential candidates, one of whom is modeled after Nixon, the other of whom masturbates into an American flag while editing the Constitution. Gender issues are dealt with by way of the transient movement, a group of social outcasts who splice their genes with that of aliens to transform their bodies. The preservation of culture in the face of progress is accomplished through a system of “Reservations” in which people sacrifice modernity to constantly reenact otherwise extinct forms of human culture. And, perhaps most hilariously, the apathetic attempts to rehabilitate thawed cryogenic refugees mock our desire to forget our cities’ least desirable occupants.  It’s all there, and it’s all funny, and most of it is pretty smart.

Perhaps the coup of this book, though, was the fact that Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise, bitches!) expressed an interest to the writers in playing the aging Jerusalem in an as-yet-undeveloped movie adaptation. I don’t know about anyone else, but the thought of Stewart playing a sex-crazed, drug addled, cyberpunk Hunter S. Thompson gets my geekdar pinging… Although, with our luck, the movie would just be picked up by JJ Abrams, Stewart replaced with Tom Cruise, and all the vomit would just be CGI glittering with lens flare. But we can still dream. TC mark

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  • fulldamage

    1) A must-read for any journalism student (along with DMZ)
    2) A thought-provoking, dark, hilarious read for anyone else
    3) Watch anything Warren Ellis does.  He is Internet Jesus, and he knows the future.

  • PhermonousFan

    I have to disagree. I've tried to read almost every “adult” graphic novel comic book whatever. The themes are always so adolescent and overwrought.

    Then again I can't read more than 10 pages of Hunter Thompson without thinking about all the better ways I could be spending my time.

    • 2ci

      god damn, stop being so elite, i can almost feel it

  • 2ci

    OVERRATED. Comic Book(s)? I only see one comic book here.

    • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

      I plan to review once a month or so.

  • esteban

    There is only one writer, not multiple writers.

  • jack

    i only read the internet sorry

  • Floppycrow

    If you like something, you don't have to make a lot of deliberate mistakes in the review process in order to show that you are “too cool” to get the facts right: one writer (Ellis), Spiderman rather than Spider-Man, etc. This undermines the ethos of the review, especially for those unafraid to admit they like comics. It's sort of like when your dad acts like he can't remember the name of some movie or singer, and you know he knows it, but he's expressing some weird unwillingness to bridge the generation gap by simply saying he saw Sting on the TV.

    A better title might be “Comic Books for People Who Hate Superheroes.” Because we comic nerds are fragile creatures, and many of us like Transmetropolitan while also liking comics.

    • http://christophermluna.com Christopher Michael Luna

      Actually, I don't hate superheroes at all!  The next review I was planning is about a comic book that involves superheroes.  But it seems like you're missing the point.  The point was, I drifted away from comic books when I was a kid because of crappy stories, hackneyed characters, and relationships that reminded me of daytime soap operas.  And I found that boring.  I know lots of people are fans of comic books that (I think) have these qualities (whether they have superheroes in them or not; for example “Fables”), and that's no big deal to me, really.  Lots of people like Joss Whedon and JJ Ambrams, too.  Different strokes, you know?

      What I was trying to say with this piece is that there's a lot I missed, and, after coming back to comics with a very picky set of standards, I've found some books that I think people might like who have never given comics a chance or who lost interest for the same reason that I did.  That's my target audience, here.

      Oh, and you can tell Paulie Parker I'm sorry I misspelled his superhero name.

  • BLOG

    comic books are for children

  • Mr Shankly

    My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

  • xra

    i think comics/graphic novels are crap generally, but i devoured all 6 akira volumes

    so there's one

  • Greg

    Lately graphic novels have been really lacking in quality(or more accurately, burning out of storylines disturbingly fast)…I was so excited to get into the walking dead, but it became ridiculously repetitive, but no critic had the balls to point it out b/c everyone loved it. I've had to go back to things like transmetropolitan, the watchmen, and DMZ

  • lsl377
  • Customconcern

    Fuck off, spamcunt assnugget.

  • slutidarity

    The Invisibles is pretty good. I still don't understand half of it, but anything with a half-Mexican trans bruja witch called Lord Fanny comes up tops in my book. Grant Morrison kind of overdid it with The Filth, but it's worth checking out for the talking chimp from Soviet Russia who quotes Karl Marx while he guns people down.

    Yes, I'm fully aware that the first paragraph of my comment makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  • guesst

    *deus

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