Cyberpunk Review » Transmetropolitan (10 Volumes)

April 17, 2006

Transmetropolitan (10 Volumes)

Rating: 10 out of 10

Author: Warren Ellis (writer) & Darick Robertson (Artwork)

Year: 1997-2003

Category: Graphic Novel

Publisher: Vertigo


Transmetropolitan page capture

 

Overview: Ever since Blade Runner, the city has been the host for all that is seedy, slimy and scum ridden. But nobody does the cyberpunked city like Transmetropolitan, and nobody covers it like Spider Jerusalem. Jerusalem shows us the hyper-real – dregs of the dregs. Worse than you can imagine, the authorities shit all over the poor, downtrodden and destitute. And in this future, the poor aren’t just poor now, they’re transient, non-human, and sometimes shocked from being revived from a 200 year-old cryogenically frozen head and reinserted into a new body! Yes, this is the dystopian future, and up-close and nasty! No perversion is too big, and no secret is too nasty to uncover. Transmetropolitan was originally published as 60 different comic books, but is now only available in 10 Trade Paperbacks (TPBs), with one additional greatest hit TPB. You can get them on Amazon for around $10 bucks a piece, or sometimes may be able to get them cheaper from Ebay.

 

The Setting: In an unspecified distant dystopic future, America has become a place where there is the City, and then everything else. The City (no name is given or required) is a humongous massive sprawl, where every type of lowlife imaginable eaks out their miserable existence as best they can. Half the population in the city is doped up on all sorts of mild-altering, hallucinogenic drugs available. Body modifications are all the rage. Extra breasts, werewolf teeth, transplanting one’s mind into the body of a dog – nothing is too weird or forbidding. Many people called transients are slowly transforming themselves into aliens by injecting alien DNA to replace their own. Deviant religions abound – everything from religions celebrating pedophiles to continuous sex are intermixed with judgmental rants and insane prophecies. The rich and powerful live an idyllic existence in this new word order. Corporations and politicians both have the same goals – to fuck the population for their own benefits and gratification. Media feeds of all varieties abound in the Transmetropolitan future. The City is fully wired and monitored so that every happening can be recorded and played back for national amusement. Talk shows have even gotten more deviant than they already are today.

 

It is in this environment that Spider Jerusalem conducts his unique brand of journalism. While most of the newsmen of his time cower in the shadows and happily receive crap spewed from public liaison officers, Spider goes amongst the people to find the story. Early on, many of the mini-stories appear to be unrelated sub-plots, yet in the end, everything is connected.

 

Transmetropolitan page capture

 

The Story: Infamous journalist, Spider Jerusalem, has been out of the game for five years, living in peace on his cabin in the mountains, when threats of lawsuits for unfinished work bring him back to the city. Spider has to write two books he’s already been paid for, but his money ran out long ago. To pay the bills, Spider gets a weekly column titled “I hate this city” at a daily newspaper called The Word, who pays his room and board. Spider starts covering the slime that is the city by all means available – news feeds, old contacts, and walking the worst neighborhoods to get up close and personal with the scum-ridden results of power gone awry. His columns bring down a corrupt president he calls the Beast, and then are targeted at torturing an even worse replacement Spider calls the Smiler. But more than that, they’re a vehicle for exploring this new, hyper-real society that Transmetropolitan brings us.

 

Spider Jerusalem: Spider Jerusalem is a Bastard. He chain smokes, pops every kind of drug he can find, masturbates constantly, pisses on anyone and anything, and has just about every kind of sickening human trait that humans can have. His weapon of choice is an illegal bowel disrupter, which causes people to immediately shit themselves into a stupor. Truly, Spider is the worst kind of bastard in that his pursuit of journalism is always the ultimate righteousness – the ultimate truth. No matter that thousands of people get wasted as a consequence of Jerusalem’s story.

 

The Truth Rules Everything: For Spider Jerusalem, the truth is all that matters. In Transmetropolitan, everyone and everything is a facade waiting to be uncovered. All politicians are not only crooked, they’re the worst that humanity has to offer. Everyone has an angle; a game they play that requires that they fuck up some poor underclass group in order to crawl to the top. And while exposing the truth is drives everything Jerusalem does, knowledge is transient. There are no truths of mankind in Transmetropolitan – the world as we know it has been deconstructed. All that’s left are the pieces.

 

Transmetropolitan page capture

 

The Filthy Assistants: Spider has two assistants: Channon Yarrow and Yelena Rossini. Both of them develop a low-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Spider over the course of the series. Well, that’s not quite true – they start off hating him (REALLY hating him in Yelena’s case), and over time, they begin to understand him. Channon Yarrow eventually becomes his body guard while Yelena becomes his journalist assistant, but both evolve deliciously over the course of the series. Eventually, Spider, Yarrow and Yelena become an unstoppable trio.

 

The Writing & Artwork: Transmetropolitan is a terrific collaboration between two unassuming folks in the comic industry that succeeded in shooting for greatness. Warren Ellis, the writer of Transmetropolitan, does consistently brilliant work throughout the series. His dialogue is creative and always interesting (see the page scan above for an example). Spider Jerusalem clearly has a unique voice – one that creates mood all to its own. Additionally, the overall story arc is intricate, well written and wonderfully constructed. Flat out, Transmetropolitan provides us some of the best cyberpunk writing ever. Perfectly meshed with this story is Darick Robertson’s absolutely terrific down and dirty artwork. He seems to continually experiment in issue after issue - constantly trying new looks and different approaches while keeping the core intact. Far more often than not, this experimentation gives Transmetropolitan an almost constantly refreshed look.

 

Transmetropolitan page capture

 

The Bottom Line: If you want to delve into one of the best graphic novels that cyberpunk has to offer, look no further than Transmetropolitan. The overall story is wonderfully constructed, and boasts extreme diversity in composition and approach while at the same time forming a coherent and satisfying whole. Once you start the first volume, you’ve have a hard time putting it down. By the time you read the second volume, you WILL be hooked for the rest of the series. As scary as these sounds, after reading just a few of their stories, you really will believe that the City is a real place. Sadly though, after you get familiar with Spider Jerusalem, you’ll notice yourself even more depressed than previously about the current state of our news media – they really don’t seem to be striving for the truth. In fact, they seem to be an integral part of the hypocritical bullshit that Spider is constantly exposing. If only Spider were real. :(

 

Page 2: More Page Scans –>>

This post has been filed under Graphic Novels by SFAM.

Comments

April 17, 2006

SFAM said:

Yes, I know, the header is fucked for this entry. This is the first time I’ve done a book review. I’ll have to go and update the book review type tomorrow.

Glam Creature said:

You say one of the best graphic novels cyberpunk has to offer. But the scans show very average drawings, sometimes even pretty poor, if compairing too suh artists as Enki Bilal and Moebius.

gwyddon said:

And also I don’t see much of the cyberpunk feeling.. just gritty urbanity with a few science fiction elements. Sure, it may be good but you don’t say anything about how much it uses the cyberpunk ideas and methods. This would be a good review for a generic site, but as this is a site about cyberpunk, talking a little more about the cyberpunk elements would be desirable.

curt said:

I’ve only read the first TPB, SFAM, but I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed. Specifically, I was disappointed in the City. This quote from this review prompted me to go out and buy it:

The City is bigger and noiser than anything you’ve ever seen, but Darick Robertson’s stunningly detailed panels in the first issue recreate the awe you felt when you saw that opening aerial shot of LA in Blade Runner.

That wasn’t my experience at all. I’d have to agree with gwyddon’s reaction above. This shot of real-life Hong Kong looks a zillion times more cyberpunkish to me than anything I saw in Transmetropolitan.

Still, I’m very glad to see you moving into comics, graphic novels, and manga in your reviews. Looking forward to seeing which of them you’ll cover next!

SFAM said:

Hi Gwyddon, in all honesty, I’m not sure how much more cyberpunk Transmetropolitan could get. We have a society absolutely destroyed by run-away technology, corrupt power ruining the masses, body modifications of all varieties, including having your consciousness turned into an AI system, and an anti-hero who does everything possible to expose the hypocracy. The punked underground of society is always at the forefront.

Truly, whether you hate the visuals or not, it’s really not in doubt as to whether this cyberpunk. I think I state this pretty clearly in the first two paragraphs. I also go into this in depth in the page scans on page two.

SFAM said:

Hi Curt, at the risk of asking you to spend more money, the first TPB is actually pretty short, and only sets up the context. The second one is actually one of my favorites. The story is just awesome, and this issue really gets in to a lot of the deviants within the City. That said, Transmetropolitan is really not supposed to be in ANY way glitzy like that image you link to - in fact it’s the exact opposite. Imagine taking that image and then going down to the seediest area in the (futuristic) city - this is where Transmetropolitan resides.

BTW, just in case people might be missing it - I do have a second page of images. Also, if the complaints are with the scans themselves, my apologies. Part of what you may be seeing is the quality of the images I’ve put up - I had to reduce the JPGs to 25% quality to get them down to halway-reasonable filesize (about 140K each).

SFAM said:

Glam Creature Said: “You say one of the best graphic novels cyberpunk has to offer. But the scans show very average drawings, sometimes even pretty poor, if compairing too suh artists as Enki Bilal and Moebius.”

Hi Glam, I’ll be getting to those too. I would certainly agree that Bilal’s images especially look more polished, and I definitely like both stories at lot. But in terms of story, Transmetropolitan is far better, far more intricate and well thought out than either of those two. If you’ve looked at both pages of the review and hate the artwork, then there’s really not much I can say about it, other than it works in context of the story.

Incidentally, I chose the images for the first page of the review (this page) far more based on the text than the images themselves. If you read them, they really do give a sense of what Spider is about. The second page probably has more visually grabbing images, although there I also chose a good number of them to help expose the story.

DannyV_El_Acme said:

Aaah, Transmetropolitan. What a great book, I loved every issue of it. Warren Ellis is just a gifted storyteller, and Darrick Robertson is the absolute dirtiest artist ever. His art is just downright FILTHY, no wonder he got picked up by Marvel to draw The Punisher and Wolverine.

And Curt, you REALLY need to read the rest of the series. The concepts of technology gone SERIOUSLY out of control and corruption in our leaders just gets really crazy later in the series. And Spider Jerusalem is just about the most charming asshole ever written. The series is just full of laughs and cringe-inducing moments. I recommend it to anybody, cyberpunk fan or no.

Glam Creature said:

Sfam said: “But in terms of story, Transmetropolitan is far better, far more intricate and well thought out than either of those two.”

Maybe. But in animation and comics, style of drawing and level of art is much more important for me than the narrative.

Glam Creature said:

What I wanted to say, once I saw work of Bilali or Moebius, I’ll always remember them as great and talented artists, and those drawings of “Transmetropolitan” I’ll be forgotten next day. If I want a great story, I’ll pick up the book.

SFAM said:

Again Glam, I can’t really say anything to your objections of the artwork except to say that it fits the narrative like a glove. Honestly, Robertson’s style is PERFECT for the narrative. I also happen to love the artwork here - its creativity is constantly top notch. Robertson doesn’t settle for a single view as many do - instead, each story gives you completely new looks - sometimes its to the point that you have to check the front to make sure the artist hasn’t changed. I’m sorry you’ll be missing out on this.

curt said:

Robertson doesn’t settle for a single view as many do - instead, each story gives you completely new looks - sometimes its to the point that you have to check the front to make sure the artist hasn’t changed.

I think David Mack does a great job with changing looks and styles in Kabuki: Circle of Blood. Hmmm . . . would you consider that cyberpunk? I would! And I love it. It’s blown me away every time I’ve read/reread it.

SFAM said:

Hi Curt, I haven’t read Kabuki - I’ll give it a go though. I’m still compiling my cyberpunk graphic novel/manga list. I’m afraid I’m far more behind on these than I am my movies :(

April 18, 2006

Neuromancer said:

Haven’t read a comic since school but it sure is great to see you are still expanding on the site!

gwyddon said:

Ah, didn’t notice the second page. Some of the pictures there do look more cyberpunky, yes. So maybe it’s just unfortunate choices of pictures in addition to not discussing much of the cyberpunk elements(avoiding spoilers, I guess?) that causes the reaction in some of us that it doesn’t look like cyberpunk.

SFAM said:

Hi Gwyddon, my apologies if the review sucks - it is my first graphic novel review. I did certainly mention the cyberpunk aspects in the first two paragraphs. Also, as I mention, the selection of the images was more due to the text in them. The hope was that you’d read them and get a sense of what the story is like.

curt said:

The review doesn’t suck, SFAM. Please don’t get discouraged from keeping on into graphic novel territory!

DannyV_El_Acme said:

Fun fact: Before being a Vertigo title, Transmetropolitan was actually part of a new mature sci-fi line of DC Comics called Helix, but the people at DC Comics felt that they could just absorb the Helix titles into Vertigo, since Vertigo was a much more recognizable(not to mention critically acclaimed) brand. Turns out all the Helix titles fizzled, only Transmetropolitan survived, and thrived for 10 volumes, becoming one of the more memorable titles on the line and opening the door for more sci-fi/cyberpunk titles in the line, like Y: The Last Man and Tank Girl.

But that’s not the fun fact: the fun fact is that before being called Helix, the line had another name, but it was changed at the last moment at the request of Warner Bros., DC Comics’ parent company, because it conflicted with the name of a project they were going to release. The name of the project? Here’s a hint: it ends with -ix as well and is a 10 star movie in this site :p

gwyddon said:

no no, the review doesn’t suck. I said earlier that it is a good general review - what I’m trying to say is that I’d like you to go deeper in detail about the cyberpunk aspects since this is a site about cyberpunk and thus can comment better on such details than the general film/comic review sites. It’s true that you do mention some cyberpunk-related things in the Setting section, but for some unknown-to-me reason I’m still feeling that Transmetropolitian seems more like a urban dystopia with a few scifi elements..
Compare with one of your film reviews(take for example Blade Runner, Tetsuo, Ghost in the Shell) and you’ll notice that you go in more detail about the cyberpunk elements of the films, that’s what I was/am looking for.
I’m not belittling your efforts at all - I know just how hard it is to review something and wouldn’t even dare try reviewing a 10-volume comic..

April 19, 2006

SFAM said:

Hi Gyyddon, I see what you mean. I’ll try to go through this and add some cyberpunk linkages. Perhaps I took some of these for granted. The biggie that Transmetropolitan does is exposing fascades of those in power through various technologically wierd means (soaking himself in nanotech source gas, which allows digital feeds to pick up the conversation, for instance). But in terms of a visual depiction of a gritty, underground cyberpunked future, I really can’t come up with another graphic novel that does it even close to as well.

Truly, maybe my review doesn’t capture this, but cyberpunk oozes out of every pore of this 10 volume series. I think one change I’ll do next time is not try to capture the essence of the dialogue style for the page scans, but just use them to focus on the visuals. I actually spent hours picking out page scans, but again, did them more for the dialoge (I LOVE the monstering concept, for instance :D )

April 24, 2006

Bergo said:

Hey SFAM,

Thanks for doing the review. I have purchased a copy of back on the street that will arrive “real soon now”. I had seen transmetropitan kicking around as cyberpunk, so now i’ll give it a go.

Did you have a list of Cyberpunk graphic novels? I noticed the book list kicking around on the forums (and elsewhere).

I definetely be interested in seeing more graphic novel and novel reviews !

SFAM said:

Hi Bergo, I’m still putting a list of graphic novels together. Probably we should make a thread about this in the meatspace, as I know I’ll be missing many titles.

March 27, 2007

85% Is Still Sheep! | Cyberpunk Review said (pingback):

[…] modified sheep liver for a song!” Truly, at first glance, this sounds like something out of Transmetropolitan. Apparently others have similar thoughts, given their […]

March 28, 2007

Caelum said:

wow I never saw that you reviewed Transmet!

awesome! thanks SFAM!

SFAM said:

Hi Caelum, I really gotta get to more graphic novels…there are TONS of great ones out there.

Nek said:

I am going to keep nagging you to write that list for me, if even a short one.
I’d be more than happy to buy and review a few titles, I’ve got a steady job now and I’m stinking rich :P

June 26, 2007

Anonymous said:

Did you READ it?

June 27, 2007

SFAM said:

Anonymous, perhaps you could clarify your comment somewhat. Are you asking did I, the reviewer read it? If so, why do you ask (noticed how details might help here)? Or are you asking someone else? For the record, I read and/or watch everything I review - usually multiple times.

August 15, 2007

Priscilla Picasso said:

WTF!!!! Hey ppl! I need a new bf any1 interested? Im sexy im cute im popular to boot im bitchin great hair the boys all want to stare im wanted im hot im evrithing ur not im pretty im cool and i dominate the skool who am i just guess?? im priscilla yeah yeah priscilla

September 21, 2007

  Max HeadRoom by Frikis.net said (pingback):

[…] ms famoso Edison Carter, un periodista de investigacin al ms puro estilo Spider Jerusalem de Transmetropolitan, encargado de sacar la basura y los abusos a las pantallas de su cadena, pero el pobre Edison tiene […]

October 29, 2007

  Transmetropolitan by Frikis.net said (pingback):

[…] crtica y valoracin cyberpunkreview […]

August 9, 2009

Kiski said:

This makes me incredibly unhappy.

Isn’t only appreciating the artwork in a graphic novel equivalent to a little kid looking at the pictures in a novel? A good graphic novel has to be a balance of quality artwork and good story, or you’re just doing the same thing fad gamers do, which is an ADD reaction of ‘Oooh, shiny’ that will leave you out of the appreciation of all the less pretty but phenomenal works of the past. SFAM is correct when talking about the art of Transmet; it’s incredibly detailed when it comes to landscapes or open shots, and very richly coloured, which really does work for the vibrancy of the story.

SFAM, great review. I felt you did a fine job characterizing the novels.

September 6, 2009

bolt151 said:

you should review more of warren ellises work especially the brilliant doktor sleepless

December 27, 2009

glycerine said:

SFAM, In the review you mentioned wishing that Spider was a real person. Oddly enough, he was based off of a real person: Hunter S. Thompson. If you’ve seen the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” the link between Spider Jerusalem and Hunter S Thompson is easy to imagine. They even have a similar appearance!

Hunter S Thompson explored concepts of the news that no one else wanted to see, and wrote about them in a way that showed them as people needed to see them: gritty, dirty, grotesque, and REAL. His style of journalism, Gonzo Journalism, involved writing in first person narrative, a subjective review of events witnessed first-hand. Thompson’s struggle to meet deadlines also helped evolve this style of writing, wherein the writing itself lacks polish and is often submitted raw.

Spider’s dialogue throughout the series, as well as how he looks and how the story of Transmetropolitan itself moves along reflect not only who Hunter S Thompson was, but political and general issues of humanity in the time the comics were written, and constitute a warning for the future.

As to the degree of “cyberpunk” the series contains, I can’t think of any possible way that Warren Ellis could have made a more cyberpunk story. All the elements are there, they just appear in a less polished and more gritty scene than many are used to. The art in the series is perfect, when considering the context, and only adds to the cyberpunk themes shown in the story (control of the masses through media, drugs, cyberized/atomized humans.) The series also explores the concept of human, where it poses the question, “when does being human end?” when the population is modifying them selves, transplanting their thoughts into other bodies or forms, and replacing large quantities of themselves.

Great review, and thanks for putting it up!

[…] or writing some of the most acclaimed comics of the past two decades (Astonishing X-Men, Planetary, Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Stormwatch, etc.), he’s critiquing relatively unknown music for the benefit […]

March 1, 2010

Raoul Duke said:

you said at the end you wish spider was real? He kinda was… I’ve never read the series, but became interested in it because of Spider being loosely based on Hunter S. Thompson. If you pay attention to Hunter’s character in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Spider very closely resembles Raoul Duke.

April 3, 2010

[NRO] said:

Yea, Spider is based on HST. Great comic.
This is…excellent. Could not get more cyberpunk.

July 13, 2010

Sniper said:

Recently I got myself a new computer good enough to play Dragon Age. In the beginning of the game the player gets a chance of getting a combat dog into the party, just like good old Neverwinter Nights. Naturally a player can choose the dog`s name, so I thought of no-one better than… STOMPONATO!!! BTW, the dog looks quite like him :)

March 7, 2011

Cassandra said:

Whoa! Your review is great. I started reading it a couple of weeks ago when my girlfriend gave me her collection. I am devouring it, it is excellent cyberpunk and you said it all in your overview. I just love it because being made ten years ago is a very contemporary work of art.

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