Burn this City
Warren Ellis (writer), Darick Robertson (pencils), others
You know what? This post started as one about the series Transmetropolitan, which is a pithy, scary (if there is any premonition in the writing), sad, hilarious and downright brilliant series of graphic novels by renowned writer Warren Ellis (John Constantine: Hellblazer, FreakAngels, etcetera) and pencilled by Darick Robertson. It actually turned out to be a post on how much I love comics. But that’s alright, because not only is it my blog (so har-de-har, you’ve got to put up with it), all the reasons why I love Transmetropolitan are also the reasons I love comics. So I’m going to stop blabbering now, and get on with the post.
I came to comics (or, more fancily, graphic novels, or more fancily still, sequential art) pretty late, and to the good ones even later. It wasn’t until I was seventeen that I bought my first Amazing Spider-Man (although I can’t even remember which issue it was now… though I do remember that there was a full page piece of art in it which had Spidey and the Fantastic Four in a ticker-tape parade, which I subsequently ripped out and used for a theatresports poster – my priorities were different then). A few years later, I met a boy at university who was pretty interested in them (he was a Judge Dredd fan from way back, with a bit of X-Men thrown in for chuckles, but he also wrote and drew his own). After discovering the joys of indie and art comics (starting with Jhonen Vasquez’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac; yes, yes, I know), and marrying said boy, I have become the thoroughly addicted person who stands before you today. My name is Mama Wolf, and I love comics. Even the StarJammers arc of Uncanny X-Men.
I first got to Warren Ellis’ writing through the John Constantine: Hellblazer series, which is really no surprise. There is some damn good writing in there; for a side character from Swamp Thing, Constantine has a lot going for him. These long running series can be really interesting from a writing perspective, as each writer brings elements of the character that they’re interested in to the fore. They’re interesting from an art perspective too, I suppose, but all I know about art is ‘ooh pretty!’ or ‘ooh, weird-looking!’ (both of which have their charms, I ain’t judgin’), so I can tell you what I like, but not about the technical aspect. I do admire comic book artists abilities to make a character completely recognisable from many different angles. I guess you artists out there are going ‘der’, but from someone who really can’t even make her stick figures look the same, it’s pretty impressive.
You could probably draw quite a few similarities between the Constantine character as Ellis writes him and the main character of Transmetropolitan, Spider Jerusalem, but that doesn’t really interest me, so you’re going to have to read it to know if that is correct. What I liked about Transmetropolitan is that there are kick-ass lady characters (Channon, who literally kicks ass, and Yelena, who would kick ass if she could aim her bowel disruptor properly – she’s got the desire, just not the chops), and a world in which the downtrodden of the future are just as fucked up and forgotten about as the downtrodden of today. There are no rosy-colours in this palette, wolflings. I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but I’m strangely comforted by the fact that people won’t stop being people in the future – we’ll still kick and bite and punch old ladies for our piece of the pie right until the sun explodes and sends us spinning mindlessly out into space. I know it’s bleak, but honestly, the idea that Technology Will Save Us From Ourselves doesn’t hold much water for me. It doesn’t seem to for Mr. Ellis, either, but I’d hate to presume – for all I know he might be writing out his gloom and be a Sunshine and Starbursts kind of dude.
Oh, I’d better tell you what the thing is basically about before I put y’all right off by all of this black-skying. The story basically follows Spider as he comes back to The City (it’s never named, just the City) from The Mountain to resume his previously successful career in journalism. He doesn’t do it on purpose, this resumption of career, but it’s sort of like his writerly gonads get the better of him. It doesn’t always end up well for him, but he fights the good fight all the way through, come Hell or high water. Not without some questioning, of course, of his integrity and ethics, but like the man says, “all I can do is tell you the truth”.
Getting back to Channon and Yelena, Spiders’ filthy assistants – now that I’m thinking about it, there are no real female ‘bad guys’. It seems to be an issue that male writers have a bit of trouble with, realising that women have just as much potential to be power-mad jerks and treat people shabbily as guys do. They might do it in a different fashion, but the ladies like the power too. Pretty much all the female characters in Transmetropolitan are victims of some sort of male-perpetrated nastiness; Vita Severn, the victim of an assasination; the ‘reclaimed’ Mary, cast adrift in a society that she can’t understand and won’t understand her; even Channon, to a certain degree (maybe not so much Yelena though – she comes from a pretty priviliged position, but maybe that traps her too – trapped by who her Dad is). There are many other more minor female characters who are used by the male characters for various nefarious ends – the transient girls of Fred Christ, the wife of the Smiler. Again, this isn’t a judgement, because I really like the series, and I think that it raises a lot of interesting points, but you know… just putting it out there.
Oh, and the language! The language! I don’t mean that in a bad way – there are some nicely turned phrases in here, that’s all I meant to say. Spider is eloquent when he gets going, and damn, if you ever need an excellent insult, he is the guy to consult. So overall, super-interestingly written, and well worth a look, especially if your tastes incline you toward dystopian future-shock and a tub of caribou eyes.