Have you ever been drip fed an alternate reality? Chances are you’ve only found one or two authors who can give you a whole new world to be in. Warren Ellis can be added to that list. Actually, if you read all 10 volumes of Transmetropolitan, you will probably put Warren Ellis at the top of the list.
This isn’t a review. Transmetropolitan, along with the rest of Ellis’s work has been reviewed by better minds than mine (and worse, for that matter) and the information about the work is out there. So no, this is not a review. It is simply me sharing what I think are the reasons to read this wonderful story.
The world in which Transmetropolitan is set is pretty much our own. It’s a little more advanced, and a little more extreme, but it’s certainly on a par. One of the first things I noticed about the world created here is the superb idiosyncrasies that it holds up to a fish eye lens. It uses these to highlight the stupidity of humanity and wry humour is certainly the spotlight used to do it. In the futuristic world of Transmetropolitan, smoking has not been eradicated, despite it’s lethal consequences; instead, each carton is sold with a blister pack of pills, preventative medicine for cancer, heart disease and emphysema. An idea that wraps our idiocy and potential up in one neat joke and drops it into the background, for you to take at your leisure.
The artwork of Transmetropolitan is, much like the story, chaotic, multi-faceted and fast paced. It allows you to take what you want from it, but always has more to offer. The panoramic streetscapes are my favourite pieces. They have the feel of a “Where’s Wally?” masterpiece, if Wally was a lunatic with a penchant for whores, sci-fi, stimulants and violence. The more you look, the more offensive fun you see. Whilst artist Darick Robertson varies his style through the series, the feel is maintained and continues to fit the story in such a way that you don’t have to think about it. You’re not looking at the artist’s rendition of the world, but the world itself. It’s not always pretty, but it is honest, and painfully so.
The character work that Ellis presents is masterful. Every character is apparently one dimensional. A stereotype, representing an easily identifiable subsection of society. But every character has a depth, or a depravity to them. The politicians, criminals, journalists, and street kids all have a multilayered back story that’s whispered to you, like a secret you deserve to hear. In doing this, Ellis illustrates the complex nature of people every time he introduces you to, or revisits a character. Holding up a mirror to everything around you, without pious, is a gift that Ellis gives without prejudice and it’s one that everyone should take.
But most of all, if there is one reason above all others to read Transmetropolitan, there’s a man. A man who is the best and worst of things. A man who is a juxtaposition of everything a self aware man is. A man burning with the rage of righteous indignation, the messiah of the observant. A man who can be summed up in three words:
Spider. Fucking. Jerusalem.
Now, everyone I’ve introduced to this book tells me that I love Transmetropolitan because I’m so like Spider. Whilst to me, that is a massive compliment, it’s not true. Spider is much more of the man I wish I could be. The fact that he’s a fictional character makes me all the more pathetic I’m sure, but make no mistake about it: Spider Jerusalem is a hero. He looks at what you look at, the things that you see as wrong, and he strikes them down, with witty and foul language, unrelenting savagery and complete lack of boundaries. All those social frustrations you have are taken on and sorted out, with extreme prejudice. For every time you wished you could assault the dregs of society for being the millstones around the necks of society, Spider does it for you. For every time you wish you could expose the short comings of our leaders to the masses, Spider does it for you. For every time you wish you could be a bastard, Spider is THE bastard.
Plus, the guy has a gun that makes people shit themselves.
So why should you read Transmetropolitan? It’s a funny, sweary, dirty, satirical side swipe at the world. It just might wake your brain up enough to make a positive change. After all, you can’t sleep forever, can you?
First published in 2012 for http://www.proudlion.co.uk