Righteous Fury: Celebrating Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s ‘Transmetropolitan’
Imagine, if you a can, a world where charismatic leaders and would-be messiahs take advantage of people's basic need for hope, and soulless corporations run by greedy little monsters squeeze every last dime out of their consumers even if they end up killing them, and elected officials care more about whatever they stoop down and squat out than the people who need their help.
If such a scenario is too hard to imagine, then you're just not paying attention, and you need a crash-course in the realities of human sewage and the power of truth. Begin with Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's Transmetropolitan, which got its start on July 9, 1997.
Created by Ellis and Robertson as part of DC's Helix line of science fiction titles, Transmetropolitan is black-comedy-sci-fi-political-satire at its most vicious, inventive, hilarious, and forthright. From the get-go it was unlike anything else in comics, and when Helix closed its doors just two years after its inception, Transmetropolitan was uprooted to Vertigo to live on for a total of sixty head-spinning issues.
In the 23rd century, in a sprawling megalopolis known only as The City, journalist Spider Jerusalem battles corruption, consumerism, ignorance, and power with the only weapon that should mean anything in any world: the truth. Cajoled back to The City after an absence of several years, Jerusalem --- modeled after gonzo journalist/counterculture figure/dangerously volatile drug addict Hunter S. Thompson --- quickly immerses himself back in the culture of The City, and it's not pretty.
Created at a time when the internet was still a baby, in Transmetropolitan Ellis and Robertson produced an image of the future that seems alarmingly more prescient with each passing year. The overwhelming population of The City is self-obsessed, permanently linked-in, but helplessly disassociated, willfully stupid, debauched, and anesthetized. Seemingly everyone is part of a specialized subculture, cult, or micronation, from transhumanists to dog-body transplants to fast-food cannibals. It's modern consumer culture taken to its most crass extreme, placed in the stocks and pelted with its own garbage. Repeatedly.
Transmet does not suffer fools gladly: it skewers the pointless and idiotic, rains down holy terror on hoi polloi, and fires a bowel disruptor at every chumpstain who turns without signaling. Through Spider Jerusalem, Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson take out their frustrations on modern complacency and ignorance through one issue after another of pure, justifiable vitriol.
But despite all that rancor, Transmetropolitan is ultimately humanist, maybe even optimistic. Although Jerusalem has an apparent distaste for the rank and file, and has to keep himself drugged at a molecular level just so he can stand to be around others, it's borne out of something as simple and universal and completely understandable as disappointment in the human race.
Ultimately, Jerusalem believes in people, and wants them to act like they really should: to become responsible for their lives, to care about others, to fight for their rights, to quit lying down while their elected leaders and social institutions walk all over them. The greatest indignation --- and the most satisfying revenge --- is always reserved the real garbage; the ones who, like Jerusalem, see the weakness and stupidity of people, but take advantage of it: politicians, religious leaders, racists, fascists, and bureaucrats.
Over the course of sixty mercilessly cutthroat issues, Spider Jerusalem exposes cult leaders, demagogues, social injustices, and two presidents, armed only with two filthy assistants, a warehouse worth of drugs, a polycephalic cat, his trusty bowel disruptor, and the truth. Because no matter how dumb human beings are, they can always get smarter; as wild and rudderless and absurd as the world can be, it can always get better; as cartoonish and insane as our presidential candidates are, and as pointless as voting feels, there's always hope. There just have to be those who are willing to stand up for the truth.
Drugs also help.