24 February 2012

Review 18: Transmetropolitan Vol. 1 - Back on the Street by Warren Ellis

"After years of self imposed exile from a civilisation rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job he hates and a city he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd century surroundings. In this first volume, Spider ventures into the dangerous Angels 8 district, home of the Transients - humans who have decided to become aliens through cosmetic surgery. But Spider's interview with the Transients' leader gets him a scoop he didn't bargain for."

The very first few pages made me laugh a couple of time and therefore I had high hopes for the rest of the volume but unfortunately I felt it lost any subtlety and slipped into coarseness for the sake of coarseness with horrendously unlikeable characters, a plot I didn't really care about and finale I felt like I was supposed to find triumphant but instead found somewhat dull.

First Line: 'So that ignorant, thick-lipped, evil whorehopping editor phones me up and says, 'Does the word contract mean anything to you, Jerusalem?'

This is a short collection of issues which sets up the Transmetropolitan main characters and ideas. The basic idea is that the somewhat psychotic journalist Spider Jerusalem left the City for a dilapidated, isolated cabin up a mountain  where he just drinks and goes slowly insane apparently. His editor rings him up after years in isolating and reminds him of the contract he has reneged on, forcing Spider back into the City to write for the newspaper. As his first big story, he choose the Angels 8 district. The people who live there are transients - humans who have used plastic surgery to get alien features. The transients are shunned by society and live in squalor under their egocentric leader, an old acquaintance of Spiders. As Spider realises that the City is aiming to exterminate the transients, he sets out to expose the corrupt police force.

Fans of Transmetropolitan enjoy the manic look at a corrupt society with a foul-mouthed, corrupt in different way, protagonist. Ultimately, that corrupt in different ways element was an issue for me. Spider thinks he is above all the filth of the city but on his way back he blows up a bar for no reason whatsoever, is incredibly violent as well as generally obnoxious. He just really isn't my type of anti-hero. I'll take Holden Caulfield over Spider Jerusalem, I'm afraid. I'm all for your flawed anti-heroes but Spider is just too much - he's somewhat self righteous for such an awful character and I kind of hated him.

I felt that the humour slipped from being wonderfully crazy in the first few pages to lacking in self awareness once Spider returns to the city. I also felt like Ellis thought the end of this was really powerful as Spider declares his determination to bring down the corrupt police force - kind of like the moment at the end of the first Matrix film but I just thought it was melodramatic and really didn't care.

I appreciated the art in an abstract way and can also see why other readers enjoy it, but it's  just so far away from what I find pleasurable to read. I read the whole thing as it was recommended to me by a colleague who normally gives me things I do enjoy and also because it's short, even for a graphic novel so it only took me twenty minutes to read. For me, it is too coarse and crude and I found the depiction of the city (and Spider) verging on repulsive at times.

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