Written By Cadeem Lalor
The Commander recently suggested that I check out Vertigo’s Transmetropolitan. I’ve heard of the series before on numerous “best of” lists and figured it was time to start reading it. I ordered volume one last week, read through it yesterday and then ordered the next two volumes. I would have ordered the remaining nine if my budget allowed it.
Transmetropolitan (1997-2002) spans sixty issues, following journalist Spider Jerusalem as he battles corruption in “The City”. An exact year isn’t revealed so far, and from what I have read online, the series never gives an exact date. However, the technology and references to events like rebellions on Mars, makes it clear that the setting is a futuristic one.
Many outlets describe Transmetropolitan as cyber-punk, a subgenre of science fiction that focuses on futuristic earth settings where life is drastically impacted by A.I or other technological advancement. Like other sci-fi genres, the fictional world created by cyber-punk is often meant to mirror our own or to explore questions that are relevant to our own world.
Spider is revered and reviled for his desire to fight corruption, which obviously brings up a universal issue that audiences can relate to. Of all the vices presented in the first volume (issues 1-6), the most striking ones are police brutality and consumerism.
At the beginning of the story, Spider is hiding out in a secluded mountain home armed with security that detracts any potential visitors. After years of solitude, book contracts force Spider out of hiding and back to the city to continue his work. In order to secure income while he writes his books, Spider goes back to journalism. His first story involves the transients, humans who modified their DNA with alien DNA and exist as an amalgam of human and alien features. When civil disobedience turns into a riot, Spider quickly realizes some transients were paid off to start a fight and give the police reason to attack them. Panel after panel shows the police killing one unarmed civilian after another and enjoying themselves. After Spider exposes their behavior, they assault him on his way home.
The issue that comes to the forefront even more in volume one is the issue of mindless consumption and the people who take advantage of it. Spider decides to spend a day watching television, hoping to immerse himself in the culture that he spent five years isolated from. Throughout the day we see him slouch further and further, burying himself in his couch as he watches “Anthrax Cat” and sees commercials for shows such as “JFK’s Magic Penis” and “Anything for Drugs”. Later in the day Spider experiences his first “buybomb”, ads that unreel in your dreams. The buybomb is a living manifestation of a subliminal message, but technology has now allowed it to advance and become an even more effective tool for advertising.
New religions also abound in the new world, with a new one emerging every hour according to one of the characters. These new religions range from ones supporting cannibalism to ones that proclaim “God Loves Guns”. Issue six ends with Spider ransacking one of their conventions, lamenting how the people who start these religions feed off people’s need to believe in a higher power. Like our society, technology now allows these groups to register themselves and attempt to recruit through public meetings and newer outlets such as television. The advertising itself isn’t that different from out society, but the level of depravity and manipulation is. The City is routinely described as a hotbed of vice and sin, where morals have decayed while technology progresses.
Spider’s journalistic breakthroughs give him some level of fame and notoriety. It is implied that the fame, the exposure, is what drove Spider into exile: He couldn’t get at the truth anymore. The fans, the noise, all the garbage that was so saturated in the media distracted him from the evils of the world. In many ways, our lives are the same. Comics are after all, a tool of escapism; just like reality television and all the other entertainment we might mock. Transmetropolitan satirizes society, but we can’t always assume that we are in on the joke.
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