Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why I Love Transmetropolitan

I tore through the final 3 tpbs of Transmetropolitan last night. I should preface that by saying that I've read the first 7 books in the series multiple times over the past few years, but just never got around to picking up the final volumes. Embarrasingly, I think the main reason that I didn't buy them, was that the covers for the Transmet tpbs are just similar enough in color and design that I was constantly terrified of buying a volume I already owned. I could never remember whether the last one I had read was volume 6 or 7.

And ever since a sad day as a 13-year old when I accidently brought home two separate copies of X-Factor #42, I've been paralyzed with the fear of Redundant Purchasing.

Anyways, my neuroses aside, I did finally get around to finishing up the series. And I believe it is Warren Ellis' strongest work to date, and may well stand as his strongest work, period.

What stuck with me most, upon placing my copy of One More Time on the carpet next to my bed, was the incredible sense of momentum that Ellis and Darrick Robertson were able to sustain. The final four volumes of Transmet are frantic, even frenzied, in pace. There's a lot of running, and exploding, and scheming packed into those pages. Spider Jerusalem's impending descent into pseudo-alzeimer's spurs a full-bore assault on the sitting President, as Spider and his "filthy assistants" try to wrap up business before it becomes too late.

The script and art are working together in complete synergy at this point in the run, one of the benefits of having a permanent (in the real sense) artist. Where Robertson was occasionaly guilty (and I'm sure this was either motivated or encouraged by Ellis) of grotesquery for its own sake, he is now fully involved in the process of making the City seem a real place, especially necessary when the opening arc of Dirge (volume 8) only works if the reader can feel horror at the City's betrayal by it's "keepers".

Ellis clearly has very strong feeling about the role of journalism in society and politics. Luckily for the reader they are engaging feelings, and he has created the ideal setting to take those ideas and jack them up to 11, as it were. Spider is repulsive, but cannot be bought. Ellis refuses to give us an easy protagonist, and he rarely rewards his characters for the positive choices they make. I think Ellis wants us to recognize that true journalism has a cost, that integrity cannot go unpunished when the corrupt are controlling the situation.

I also enjoyed reading an Ellis book where the lead character embodies the best of the "Ellis Archetype", while shedding some of the more grating characteristics. Spider, like most Ellis protagonists, always knows more than both the other characters and the readers. He's arrogant, but usually right, which only serves to make him more infuriating. However, contrary to many Ellis stand-ins, he is also repugnant and undeniably unattractive. In both manner and hygiene, he repels all who come into contact with him. The only thing that makes him tolerable, the only reason that he is able to maintain the services of any of his varied supporters and aides, is his unshakable tenacity in "getting the story out". Nothing else matters to Spider, and in a milieu where almost the entire populace has resigned themselves to being mistreated and abused by those with power, be it politicians, pimps, or corporations, that makes him a crucial presence.

I think Transmet is an important story. I think it has a lot of valid things to say about the role of the journalist as the last bastion of accountability when all other avenues have been blocked. But more than that, I thinks it's an enjoyable story. I love a comic series that has a beginning and an end. Especially an end. Superhero comics are fun, and some can be really great, but they are all inherently limited by the need to leave something for next month. Nothing can ever truly be resolved, it's simply shelved until the next writer want to take a crack at it. It can weaken the creative team's ability to tell the story they want to tell.

But in creator-owned books, such as much of the Vertigo slate, there are no such restrictions. Ellis and Robertson were able to tell the story of Transmetropolitan in exactly as many issues as they felt the story warranted. These are the books that stick around on my bookshelf, to be pulled out once a year or so for a full reread. The trades of Transmet, along with those of Preacher, The Invisibles , and Sandman, are books that I value.

And I have a lot of books.


Blogger Amanda said...

it's funny that you wrote this, because buzzscope.com just put up an interview with Ellis. it was good, you should check it out :)

12:39 AM  
Blogger Jhunt said...

I definately will. One thing you must concede to Ellis, regardless of your feelings aobut his work, he certainly gives good interview.

8:55 AM  

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