Thursday, March 26, 2009

Transmetropolitan #1 Special Edition

DC Comics/Vertigo, 24 pages, $ 1.00

Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciler: Darick Robertson
Inker: Jerome K. Moore
Colorist: Nathan Eyring
Letterer: Clem Robins
Cover artist: Geof Darrow

(The comic reprints Transmetropolitan #1, first published in 1997 by DC Comics/Helix.)

“Special Edition,” in this case, means that the comic is part of DC Comics’ “After Watchmen … What’s Next?” program, which tries to foist more of the company’s product on people who, for some reason or other, vaguely liked Watchmen. With Transmetropolitan, which is set in a not-too-distant future and stars an eccentric reporter named Spider Jerusalem who’s loosely based on Hunter S. Thompson, the connection is more strenuous than with some of the other participating comics—it’s not superheroes, it’s not by Alan Moore, and it’s generally not very much like Watchmen at all. I mean, all right, it’s a comic; and it’s written by an Englishman and it’s kind of cynical sometimes. Evidently, that’s good enough for the publisher. Desperate times, you know.

And, by the way: It’s probably not a very good idea to tell people that Preacher, 100 Bullets or The Invisibles are “books for mature readers” in the house ads. At best, it’ll make them scratch their heads; at worst, it’ll make them think they’re porn. How many film or prose publishers are advertising their stuff as being “for mature readers”? (Then again, maybe making people think their comics are porn has been Vertigo’s strategy all along.)

Turning to the content, this is still very much as good as I remembered it to be. Given that it’s been ten years since I last read this story, that’s something of an achievement. Mr. Robertson’s art may be less refined than it is nowadays, but seems much looser and more dynamic here—and, frankly, a lot more fun to look at. Mr. Ellis’ writing is at once more whimsical and more controlled than his more recent work.

It’s more whimsical because Spider does stuff like randomly insulting and assaulting people, blowing up his favorite pub with a rocket-propelled grenade, invading his old newspaper’s building like it’s a beach in France and discovering that one of the futuristic doohickeys in his apartment is on drugs; and it’s more controlled because, through all of this, Spider has a clear and present desire that gives the whole thing some tangible urgency: He needs to produce two books, hence he needs to leave his mountain refuge where he can’t write and return to the City, hence he needs a job to support himself, hence he goes back to being a journalist.

“I couldn’t get at the truth anymore,” Spider Jerusalem says at one point, trying to explain why he left in the first place. It’s a great example how to cut through the surface antics of a character and give them some depth that makes the audience want to learn more about him next month. And while there is the aforementioned cynicism, the book isn’t drowning in it—on the contrary: Coming back to this, I’m surprised by the fair share of optimism and the sheer joy at the chaos of human existence that’s on display on every page.

So, all told, the story is holding up very well. Even 12 years after its initial publication, it’s making me want to go right on to the next issue, which is a lot more than most current comics can manage.

Grade: B+

No comments: