The fifth Transmetropolitan collection is a bit of a hodgepodge. This volume certainly is not as strong as the first first four volumes (see my previous reviews for Lust for Life, Year of the Bastard, The New Scum). Without the presidential election the series loses a bit of steam. But digging into these six issues reveals some truly startling insights of the role journalism plays in our society. Many of the topics covered in these six issues are even more relevant today, including the hostile relationship between police and minority citizens and choosing between two evils in a presidential election. We also get some interesting views into Spider Jerusalem’s thoughts and feelings without him yelling at some poor unsuspecting fools.
The first two issues are pretty much musings straight from Spider Jerusalem’s mind. The first, “Here To Go,” is framed as an interview about death, with the reader unknowingly in the point of view of the interviewer. The second, “21 Days in the City,” is a collection of column snippets placed over splash pages. Take note in the those splash pages for potential references to Marvel’s Sue Storm and Franklin Richards in a park background and a human dolphin from William Gibson.
A slight water motif surfaces during the interview when Spider reveals “The older I get, the more I like it out here by the water.” Very often Spider is seen relaxing near water, particularly on bridges overlooking water. Rain is a recurring weather element in the series; Spider talks about how rain makes everything new again. And Spider’s ex-wife’s head winds up being tossed in a river during an earlier story, an act which cleanses Spider of his marital past.
Near the end of the interview Spider circles back to the recent presidential election.
“I always thought people were essentially bright. Distracted, sure, and weak, and beaten, but never stupid. And then you show them, here’s the two people who want to be president. One is evil, but you can deal with him, because he actually harbors beliefs. The other one will tell any lie, wear any mask, to become president, and not only that, he fucking hates you, and he’s doing this just so he can make your lives hell. And who do you think they vote for? Stupid.”
Spider is obviously upset about the election results. He’s personally upset because Callahan has a vendetta against him. But Spider also worries about the well-being of his fellow citizens. As we see in the “Lonely City” story later, Callahan’s promise of “New Hope” is anything but hopeful or helpful.
The second issue contains a series of column snippets which wind up being very hit and miss. Some pages are mostly played for humor, like Spider’s Ahab garb for dog culling or the odd animal foods available at the supermarket. Several of the pages include a glimpse at a neat idea, such as the intersection of mechanics, drugs, and artificial intelligence or the crossed line talking with Mars. Spider’s disdain for religion comes up again with the naivete trait which replaces instincts with hallucinating God. Spider also delves into his childhood.
“Spending days and nights sitting out on the sidewalk with the other kids, listening to all our parents spouting uneducated hate-filled bullshit over cheap beers and thinking is this it? and is that me in twenty years? and planning our escapes, from eight years old planning our grand escapes from our lives.”
One page nicely summarizes Spider’s literal ascent through the City, as he moves from “hopeless shithole” to Pupin Grove to Chase Square to Puritan Mews. Spider laments “And now I can’t see the street anymore.” His black tower obviously contrasts with the traditional ivory tower. An ivory tower is an “environment of intellectual pursuit disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life” (Wikipedia). Spider is very much in favor of intellectual pursuit, but he is also in favor of the practical concerns of everyday life. In fact, he pursues knowledge and the truth precisely because he cares so much about human life. Spider isn’t quite certain about his own feelings on this, though, as he ends with “Time was this place didn’t make sense and I could live with it. Either it’s changed, or I have.”
“The truth, Grisham. That’s all I need.”
The third issue, “Monstering,” is a one-off story about pestering Senator Tarleton Sweeney in the name of journalism. For the most part this short story is played entirely for laughs. Spider defines “monstering” as “the art of abusing people. Of ambushing them with questions, following them with questions, hounding them with questions, driving them to their fucking graves with questions.” Spider’s constant refrain of “Mister Sweeney!” is quite humorous but gets a little tiresome, and like Yelena the reader begins to wonder what is the point of badgering a politician.
“I want to see humans talking about human life.”
The story ends with one of Spider’s seedier contacts asking “What happened to your journalistic ethics?” Spider’s retort, unsurprisingly, is “The truth, Grisham. That’s all I need.” In the end, that’s still what Spider cares about, and he doesn’t care who he hurts getting to the truth and exposing it as long as he thinks he’s helping humanity. That comes to disastrous results in the closing story of this collection.
“A paranoid is simply someone in possession of all the facts.”
The three issue story “Lonely City” eventually ties into the aftermath of the presidential election while also setting up some key points for later plot threads.
The story begins with the hate crime murder of Rory Flanagan Lockwood. The twist is the hate crime is based on the young man’s genetics (the conclave modification, also known as polytemple or sexgang change, which leads to multiple genitalia) instead of his skin color, sexual preference, sexual identity, or the plethora of other causes for hate crimes in our contemporary reality. As Spider notes to the detective assigned to the case, “City can’t even get basic racism, right, can it? Skin color don’t matter, was the message we beat into these fuckers. It’s what you got inside.” Of course, in this case it was literally what was inside the victim that got him killed.
The actual death scene is somewhat long at five pages out of 22 pages. That’s a lot of real estate to eat up with a series of images with no dialogue about a man getting beaten to death. Especially when another three pages are just a slow pan out on the cover of Spider’s book. But the visual impact is made, and the effects of this crime are felt well into the rest of the series, so it’s mostly warranted. It’s just a jarring difference from Tranmet’s usual heavy dose of prose and dialogue.
“This is the start of something fucking disgusting.”
Spider’s column about the truth behind the riot comes up against the Callahan administration’s policies. Spider’s reaction is that “This is the start of something fucking disgusting.” An earlier debate between Yelena and Spider about the contrasting job descriptions of police and journalists foreshadows this development. But the reader has to continue to the next volume to see the fallout between Spider Jerusalem and President Callahan.
While this volume may not be as stellar as the previous three, it still contains enough wit and food for thought to warrant high praise. And it becomes even stronger after reading the next volume.