The fourth Transmetropolitan collection continues Spider Jerusalem’s coverage of the presidential election with the six issue story “The New Scum.” We get to see Spider go one-on-one with both The Beast and The Smiler. Spider’s hate and venom for both candidates is in full bloom during these interviews. Some of the strongest dialogue and best food for thought is presented in these issues. Warren Ellis truly found his muse with this series and illustrator Darick Robertson continues to excel.
“You traded on fear and hate and snaked your way into a place where you could make your wet dreams come true.”
First up is The Beast, the incumbent “ruling party” candidate. He is simultaneously everything we loathe and praise in politicians, just like Hillary Clinton’s detractors claimed in the real world 2016 U.S. presidential election. Spider’s reasoning for naming him The Beast includes the above quote, an apt way many of us would use to describe the opposing party’s candidate. But when The Beast tells Spider “Just because you don’t like what I believe in doesn’t mean I have no beliefs,” the reader realizes how powerful beliefs can be, especially ones you don’t agree with. It also illustrates how polarizing partisan politics can be, with neither side even willing to acknowledge the other’s belief system. Robertson’s portrayal of The Beast fits right in with a smug weasel of a president like Nixon, holding a snifter while hiding behind layers of security in his personal darkened wood-paneled lair.
“I want to be president because I think I should be.”
Spider’s interview/confrontation with The Smiler is just as blunt and direct. The Smiler represents everything we loathe about politicians without the redeeming factor of actual beliefs. He will say anything and do anything to get a vote. There’s no way to get a handle on such a creature because it will simply change and alter itself to escape. He even gets one over on Spider, which is actually a bit of a disappointment that Spider didn’t expect such a stunt. Robertson goes to town with The Smiler’s facial expressions and bodily gesticulations. Some panels are reminiscent of The Joker, which is surely intentional to highlight the sociopath behind the smiling mask. It’s an understatement to say The Smiler presages the real world U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump.
“Tradition: one of those words conservative people use as a shortcut to thinking.”
“Bullshit. It’s the word we use with respect to protect old things that work. Don’t act like ignorance of your culture is an excuse for being a prick.”
The future is inherently a good thing
A big theme of the series is summed up in this argument over tradition. It springs from the fact that even in a technologically advanced society as Transmet the people still have to physically show up to vote. Robertson’s artwork always does an excellent job of blending the futuristic high tech with the old school low life, which adds to the cyberpunk nature of the series. This hearkens back to the previous volume when Spider declared no one does investigative journalism anymore because it requires human contacts rather searching the feeds. This all ties into the short backup story at the end of this volume, “Next Winters.” Spider addresses the reader directly and explains“The future is inherently a good thing” and “The world is, generally and on balance, a better place to live this year than it was last year.” This in turns recalls the fact that Spider hates everyone because he cares too much. In the end, Spider really is an optimist. How else could he deal with a presidential election with these two candidates?
I give you the truth and you do nothing
But then he tells Revival Mary “I could be wrong.” He’s worried about the election results. After the votes are tallied and the winner declared, Spider rages at The City “I give you the truth and you do nothing.”
That opinion is why Spider hates all the people he cares about. He looks around and sees no one even cares about the election except as a spectator sport. What good is writing his columns to inform the people if no one bothers to act on that information? One can see this in our current real world, with people more involved with the next episode of Game of Thrones or whether a presidential debate will conflict with an NFL Game. Even Trump himself is more concerned about TV ratings and sound bites than actual votes and policies.
“You don’t think this is real life?”
“Good God, no. They’ve only just put it on television.”
And, that, in the end, is why Spider “fucking hates you all!”