Let’s be clear about one thing: whatever other nonsense DC has pulled (coughnew52cough), Vertigo is a pretty cool imprint, and has published a lot of great stuff. Sandman is the obvious one, and Fables has done well for itself, too. But this is a science fiction blog, and as such if there’s one Vertigo title that deserves our attention, it’s Warren Ellis (writer) and Darick Robertson (art)’s Transmetropolitan.
Set in the non-specific future of the 23rd century, Transmetropolitan tells the story of Gonzo journalist, certified lunatic, and all around magnificent bastard Spider Jerusalem. He’s pulled out of an idyllic life in the wilderness, letting his hair grow down to his ankles, by a call from his agent, demanding that he fulfill his book contract. This brings him back to The City, a festering wonderland of crass commercialism, sex, and good old-fashioned bizarreness. Before long, Spider is back in the journalism trade, exposing injustice and corruption, and doing everything he can to break through the apathy he sees around him.
If the past is another country, then the future of Transmet is another planet: the people of The City can and do indulge in almost anything, with the aid of the incredible technology available to them. Feel like smoking like a chimney? Grab an anti-cancer gene and have at it. Up for some cannibalism? There’s a street vendor with artificially-grown human meat. Basically think a grittier and even stranger Futurama and you’re in the right neighborhood.
As interesting as the setting is, what really carries the series is its protagonist. Spider is a striking mix of eloquent and vulgar, and his tirades against the world he sees around him are savage and full of vitriol (and extremely funny). He’s perfectly willing to dive headfirst into hedonism as well, leading a life full of drugs and pornography. But there’s a certain tenderness underneath his ego and madness, that the audience is allowed the occasional glimpse of—the center of why he cares enough to be so angry in the first place. In fact, if the series has one notable flaw
Spider’s character establishes the tone of Transmetropolitan as a whole. The world of the future is disgusting or disturbing on any number of levels, but there’s a kind of strange beauty to it. Is it weird that one chapter deals with a character who has his consciousness transferred to a cloud of floating micro-computers? Or that Spider’s first assignment after his return involves a riot of “Transients,” people who have spliced themselves with alien DNA, and have subsequently been forced into living in the slums? Absolutely. But the idea of a world where such things are possible, where the body can be altered essentially however one feels like, is certainly interesting.
If you’re in the mood for a darkly funny, unflinchingly harsh look at the world as it is, and as it could become, then Transmetropolitan is right up your alley.
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