Even the Beginnings Of the Greatest Works Have Some Shortcomings
Transmetropolitan is perhaps one of the greatest series of graphic novels to be released in the last decade, truly capturing a captivating world that earnestly reflects the misgivings of our world and what we're headed for. It's smart, vulgar, thoughtful, hilarious, and down right thought-provoking. Yet, even a series as great as this have some issues in the long run, and it shows in this first volume, Back On the Street.
Basically, we are thrown into the world of Spider Jerusalem, a rogue journalist who suddenly is torn from his picturesque life to complete the contract that he has forgotten about long ago to write two novels. Broke and more or less alone, he must set out to the city he hates to reclaim his life of peace and prosperity within the year. Though a very simple set up, the reader quickly forgets Spider's real reason for being in this messed up city, as his antics and observations take over a majority of the narrative. Spider is a well developed and fascinating character. We see what he wants to the world to see, as well as the very human person underneath it all, with failings and misgivings all his own. He is definitely the star of his show, and as a reader, I loved to follow him through his absurd escapades even years after having first experienced this work. The other characters in Spider's life are rather well rounded as well, and helps to both flesh out Spider and the odd world they live in, but no one can hold a candle to our anti-hero.
The city that this story exists in his complex. If you stop to stare at each and every panel of this book, you'll find the most minute details that will draw you in further and further, and for that, this book is incredible when it comes to immersing you into the narrative. There's so much to see, learn, understand. Admittedly, at times characters will make reference to events or ideas that the reader has never heard of and won't necessarily understand, but it doesn't feel forced, and it helps to make the world larger and more robust, even with all the visual nods and references thrown in there. It can be confusing, but, if you're in for the long run, it's worth it to really absorb everything each page has to offer.
Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson are on their top games here, really bringing everything together nicely, but there are the occasional hitches, yes. At the beginning, Ellis uses way too much exposition for my taste, very forced exposition at that, as Spider is more or less talking to himself for a long car ride. However, once we get into the story itself, this is all cleaned up and cleared away for some wonderful character interaction and story telling. On Robertson's end, sometimes from panel to panel certain characters can look rather different from themselves, specifically Fred the transient from the first story arch. It doesn't bother me much, as it allows for a lot of perspectives on the same characters, but it is worth noting for those who have issues with that sort of thing.
The story is made by Spider's observations as a journalist and the stories he writes, and the adventures he goes on to obtain these pieces of info are beyond fascinating, drawing us into the world and the characters simultaneously. Not only that, but readers get a good look at journalism techniques and overall strategies for good writing (beyond the great work that you are actually reading... somewhat meta, no?). However, at times, the book can become very preachy, particularly with the last issue of this volume, which focuses solely on religion and how far gone it is at this point in the world. Ellis clearly has a lot of ideals and personal philosophies that he puts in here, and that really helps to make the book feel earnest, yet you can become tired of some of the flagrantly obvious jibes are certain parts of our culture, especially if you aren't expecting it. It's part of what makes the writing great, but it's important to be aware of it prior.
Despite it's short comings, this is a book that you need to read, the start of greatness that spans ten volumes, and can inspire some greatness as well. Pick this one up when you can, and get sucked into Spider's twisted realm that hopefully won't end up being the New York of tomorrow.