Paul: For all the nudity in the books, I don’t believe we ever see Spider’s penis. So, for the folks who are looking to see a journalist’s genitals, sorry. Another artistic note here, and I still haven’t figure out entirely what it means yet, is that we have a Spider that looks very Alan Moore-ish.
Forrest: I thought of that as well. I don’t know if Ellis and Moore are friends, although I’d imagine they are.
Paul: It could be an expression of the idea of the hermit writer, which Moore essentially is, though Thompson also spent a great deal of his career living and writing remotely…so maybe it’s just a friendly reference.
Forrest: Can I mention that as brilliant as Ellis’ writing is, what really drew me to these books in the first place is the amazing artwork by Darick Robertson. Maybe you can do better than me at describing his style – it’s almost like cartoon realism? That sounds stupid, but it’s what comes to mind for me.
Paul: There may be a better term for it, but it sounds about right. So much is left “unsaid” about the world and left to Robertson’s background characters, advertisements…I don’t know if Ellis worked ‘full script’* or not, but still, it’s on Robertson to draw all these insane details into the background…the constant streams of television and advertising, the Sex Puppets…oh how I love the Sex Puppets.
Forrest: The art does a lot of the world building. I kept thinking “Blade Runner” when I looked at the images, but that’s stupid because it’s nothing like Blade Runner. It’s bright and gaudy and loud and alive, where Blade Runner is dark and stylized and noirish.
Paul: But Blade Runner does have that explosion of screens and advertising.
Forrest: That’s true…they’re similar in certain ways, but I think Blade Runner is an obvious touchstone because it’s the only other reference we have…the energy of the cities are different. But then, the energy of the stories are very different, so that’s fitting. I also noticed on the very first page, two very blatant homages – Spider has a copy of “Fear and Loathing” and “Confederacy of Dunces” on the floor.
When did you first read Transmet? for me it was college, I think.
Paul: It was college for me as well…probably over the course of sophomore/junior years…it had just ended, I had started getting into some of Ellis’s other work, while also starting on Hunter S. Thompson’s books, so I dove right into these. I was all about angry writers with crazed, hilarious, furious prose. I think it was also right around the time of the 2004 election, which was the first presidential election I voted in.
Forrest: Perfect timing!
Paul: So I of course saw Nixon in The Beast, and Bush in The Smiler even though The Smiler is the ‘liberal’ candidate.
Forrest: Ellis really doesn’t let anyone off the hook in this. Not even Spider, to some extent.
Paul: No, in the second volume, we get a former intern who fell under the influence of a sex bomb, who Spider doesn’t even remember. And of course, the tossing of his wife’s frozen head off a roof (though we’re on Spider’s side with that one).
Forrest: I think that’s significant. Both events are sort of played for laughs, but behind the humor there’s a suggestion of something darker. I remember when I first read these books, I was on my college newspaper, and my love of journalism plus sci-fi made this an easy sell. But one of the reasons I left journalism was because I felt like to truly be a great journalist, to some extent you have to give up a bit of your own humanity…to be truly objective, you have to doggedly chase the facts, emotions be damned.
Spider is nothing if not dogged.
Paul: Though one thing seems to set off his emotions and that’s hypocrisy. In volume one, he’s set off by Fred Christ’s ploy for power and fame through the Transient Movement.
Forrest: I think when you boil away everything else away, all that’s left is anger. Although we do get some tender moments from him – with Channon, very occasionally. Also any time he encounters a true underdog.
Paul: Mary’s story in volume two is beautiful.
Forrest: oh my god yes
Paul: On page 111, when he kisses her on the forehead? Jeebus.
Forrest: Ellis marries that righteous anger against society’s injustices with the profound inspiration you get when you read something that challenges you to be better, because humanity has that capacity to be better, dammit. That’s absolutely one of my favorite issues.
Paul: (I don’t know what it says about me that my drunken rants often center on the potential of humanity to be better, but I hope it makes me like Warren Ellis).
It also pairs nicely with the issue proceeding it, with Channon’s boyfriend joining the foglets.
Forrest: Prooooobably my second favorite storyline.
Paul: Each group, the Foglets, and the Cryogenics are seeking to transcend their own lifetime. The Foglets seem to give up humanity, while insisting that they’re still a part of it.
Forrest: Exactly. Although the cryogenics want to have and eat their cake – they want eternity without giving up anything. While the foglets forsake their physical form in order to become something different. Greater, maybe? But certainly different.
Paul: There’s also a group that leaves the idea of the future behind: The reservationists. I had forgotten this issue until now, but it’s one of the more disturbing ones for me, mainly for the Mayan reservation (or the Mayan equivalent). That groups of people willingly sacrifice themselves to be a part of a reenactment.
Forrest: I like that storyline – it shows the romance of living in the past, but also has the reasoning to show that the past kind of sucked, because – exactly – human sacrifice, no penicillin, etc. But the disturbing thing is – what about the kids of the people who decided to be a part of the reenactment?
(and that’s where we come to M Night Shyamalan’s The Village)
Paul: Hahaha. Well, there’s the moment on page 132 where two refugees from what I would assume is a Communist China reservation have escaped and found love that undermines the value of the reservations. At first it does seem like a good idea, playing off the “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it” until you realize that they are in fact repeating it.
Forrest: Right, exactly.
Paul: It’s not like they’re playing out the Mayan scenario again and again to see if they can come out of it with a group of surviving Mayans.
Forrest: Haha, yes.
Paul: And that plays out in the larger world too, what Spider rails against, the people who want the status quo, who want to be lied to.
Forrest: Good point.
Paul: The one exception being the Farsight reservation (which I think plays a role in the end of the series too, but we’ll get there) which is based off of an idea of the future. Farsight DOES seem to exist to explore the new “This is a test bed for humans. Within these walls we seek to make HUMAN work, without all the shortcuts and get-outs like going Foglet.”
Forrest: Do they? What about their children who look like giant bugs?
“they have sex using bacteria” Haha. That’s the one reservation i could never wrap my head around.
Paul: Well, it’s a perception thing, they probably see starting with a human base and building upon it as perfecting Humanity
rather than abandoning the human body to the cloud.
Forrest: I see.
Paul: (ooh the cloud…tech buzzword!)
Forrest: Relevance! What really amazes me about all of this is the breadth of Ellis’ imagination. Like, it wasn’t enough for him to create this insane, tripped-out version of our future, he had to fill it in with all these subcultures and niche groups and really explore the whole spectrum of sci-fi. Because the future of humanity isn’t just the future version of…New York, or whatever (The City is definitely not supposed to be NY, but you get the idea), it’s the future of humanity as a whole, which already covers an unimaginably huge range of cultures.
Paul: Yes, within the first volume he gives us the Transients, humans that are transitioning via alien designer genes.
Forrest: Again – one of those things that just totally makes sense to me, like of COURSE in our future, people are going to mutate themselves genetically, not just for function, but for fashion. it’s the next step in body art/modification.
Paul: Then we get an issue on religion, which includes Ellis/Spider’s take on “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”
Forrest: So good – another one of my favorites. Spider as Jesus.
Paul: In spite of all the violence in the first volume, his beat down of the “icepick in the head” religious leader was probably my first instance of being taken a little aback by the brutality.
Forrest: “Read my fucking scripture!”
To be fair, the dude was going to put an icepick in his head.
Paul: Robertson can draw him some gore. And it’s the cartoonishness of the injuries that really does it. It takes things beyond real and somehow makes it more real in doing so.
Forrest: Yeah, there’s some brutal stuff for sure. Even just the imagery of Spider’s “Son” without that head…ugh. Reminded me of Arse-face from Preacher.
Paul: But so funny, and again, the second volume is only probably about 10 issues into the series, but they’ve done such a great job of world building, that along with Royce, we believe that Spider could have fathered a child without a head.
Forrest: Haha, yeah.
Paul: This mini arc, which contains a number of people conspiring against Spider, also has a meta(?) joke where portrayals of the future are concerned. In Blade Runner, in Firefly, they run with the prediction that China is going to be a much larger power, and become a part of the English language. But here, we have America WIN A WAR WITH FRANCE to assert the dominance of the English language. “Les Miserables” is “The Miserables.”
Forrest: Hahaha yeah, it’s brilliant. I was typing this earlier, but I don’t think I ever sent it – I know some people who liked Transmet less and less as it went on, (which I disagree with – I love it all), but I think that speaks to the power of these early issues. You do feel a bit disappointed when the plot catches up and becomes more central (even though it’s been going on quietly in the background throughout the whole thing) because a part of us just wants Spider to keep walking the beat, writing a new column every week into eternity.
Paul: So, before we get into THE PLOT, which really takes off in volume 3, I’m gonna cut us off, cause I’m starting to crash, but I think this is a good Part 1/coverage of volumes 1 and 2.
Forrest: sounds good – that’ll give me time to do more than skim vol 3
Paul: I’ll edit it together with some scans of panels and send it your way before I post in case you want to add anything.
Forrest: Awesome! Feel free to add extra words in to make me sound more eloquent…and capitalization.
Paul: I’m gonna make you sound like Gambit in 90’s X-Men comics.
Forrest: Perfect! That’s actually how I hear myself, in my head, mon ami.
Paul: And that’s round one of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan
. Where can you read it? Via Amazon
for you tablet owners, or your local comic or book store.
Levar Burton: You can also find it at your local library!