The third Transmetropolitan collection kicks off Spider Jerusalem’s coverage of the presidential election with the six issue story “Year of the Bastard.” This is where the series truly takes off and becomes something special, and eerily predictive of the 2016 US presidential election campaign. That remains the tragic magic of this series: how well it can be applied to any given period of politics.
“Nobody does investigative journalism anymore. So no one expects it.”
Spider’s true power in a technology saturated world is his willingness and ability to directly confront people face-to-face and utilize his social skills to unearth what he needs. When he decides to investigate Callahan’s VP selection, Joshua Shreiber Freeh, he calls in help from contacts rather than relying solely on machines. Spider stands as a bastion of human intelligence and force of will in a society of people who are tethered to technology and willing (even need) to let others do the thinking.
“The truth, Yelena. No matter what.”
“No matter who it hurts?”
“I can’t let myself worry about that.”
Throughout his vendetta against Callahan, Spider is never intent on destroying the candidate. In fact he wants to support anyone that can potentially oust The Beast from power. But Spider is also a pure journalist, beholden to the truth and facts of the story. He is unwilling, unable really, to bend his ethics even when the truth will hurt him and the ones he loves (even if he won’t admit he loves them until it’s too late).
The double meaning of the title “Year of the Bastard” becomes nicely evident during the story’s climactic confrontation between Spider and The Smiler. Heller’s political sycophants feel disturbingly like the contemporary echo chamber and cadre of “yes men” which politicians, particularly Trump, encourage and embrace. And yet again Spider follows his ethos and goes after Callahan just like anyone else who makes Spider sick. As Spider’s column is titled, he hates it here.
“What did I ever do to you, Jerusalem?”
“You made me sick.”
Follow the money, follow the famous guy.
Tied up in all this is the fact Spider becomes beloved by his “vast audience of losers, wannabes, white trash, hate addicts, children, and nerve damage cases”, the “new scum” as Callahan calls them. But Spider needs to be hated to write effectively, Royce informs Yelena. Spider has a symbiotic hate relationship with the City. So what happens when the very thing you detest comes to love you? Spider has to deal with that very situation when he purposefully yet unwillingly becomes the voice for the voiceless.
“No family. No girlfriend. No friends. No love. No hope. No point.”
The short story “Edgy Winter” (from the Vertigo special Winter’s Edge) crystallizes Spider Jerusalem. His diatribe against Christmas causing people to wander away from his spiteful stories and possibly find a bit of happiness during the holiday season shows how much he hates other people. But he hates them because he feels he can’t be a part of them. As a journalist he must remain apart, he must remain above to keep his clarity. Is that arrogant of him? Sure. But that cockiness is what gives him the confidence to cut through the chaff and see the truth without worrying about people’s feelings. For better or worse.
Warren Ellis brings all his creative powers to bear in Transmet. And the series continues to hold up, actually becoming better over time as the reader experiences more of the real world and becomes naturally inured to the banality permeating our day to day lives. Spider becomes the politically incorrect voice for the everyman, raging against the machine in the pursuit of truth.