‘Transmetropolitan’ delivers futuristic chaos

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Justin Woods


The Internet is a dark barometer of the human race. As our culture pushes its own limits in the ongoing modern quest for stimulation, we see more of this disconnect as new generations are exposed to sexual and violent imagery considered unthinkable by their immediate forefathers, leaving us to contemplate in awe what possible boundaries were left to be broken.

Author Warren Ellis apparently felt this trend all the way back in 1997, when he first published his magnum opus “Transmetropolitan.”

Set indiscriminately in the future in a nameless city that serves as a hybrid of New York City, London, and Tokyo, we find the logical extrapolation of our current society’s cravings. Neon lights buzz and hiss over trash-filled streets with LCD televisions built into the sidewalks. Oversexed brightly colored youths fornicate openly in public, often assisted by a variety of legally available bio-chemical substances sold like candy. Human cloning opens up exciting new frontiers in fast food cuisine. Nothing is forbidden and everything is permitted.

The Virgil to our Dante in this neon-streaked hell is Spider Jerusalem, journalist. Tattooed and bald, perpetually clothed in black and his signature bi-colored photo-glasses.

Jerusalem represents the purest distillation of Ellis’ favorite misanthropic anti-hero archetype. Dragged from his peaceful mountain retreat to the city he abandoned years ago to satisfy a contract, Jerusalem is forced once again to report on politics as a major election spins up. A corrosive combination of Hunter S. Thompson, Sid Vicious, and Bill Hicks on a bender, Spider spits, snarls, smokes, mauls, defecates, and mainlines like a Tasmanian devil of hatred and righteous frustration.

Alongside his two female assistants who loathe him as much as he loathes everything else, and his horribly mutated cat, Spider takes on the whole of the city, decrying its citizens and beating them over the head with their own indulgent stupidity.

Remarkably, Spider isn’t a moralist. He, too, grew up in the world of the future and not much of the horrors fazes or surprises him. Rather Spider’s bile and rage is centered on the same problems we’ve always dealt with, repeated ad nauseam with him sitting at a front row seat.

Bigotry still exists, but rather than race or sexual orientation which have been deconstructed to meaninglessness, instead we beat people to death based on their cosmetic genetic alterations. Worthless two-party system politicians still smile and pontificate as they always have but the customary politeness has been scrubbed away by years of polarized politics, where talking head pundits literally threaten each other with physical violence and hold pseudo-Nazi rallies.

Spider is just as morally bankrupt as the rest of his fellow natives, chucking grenades off of his high-rise apartment and chowing down on buckets of Eskimo Eyeballs. However, unlike his city, Spider believes in something; that mysterious mistress of the human race, who has haunted man since he figured out the reed-in-the-anthill trick. Truth.

Like a coked up Dionysus wandering with his darkened lantern, Spider wages a futile war to raise the consciousness of his city-dwelling neighbors. A population treated equally as trash and property by the government, sinister and Machiavellian religious organizations, and the disgusting depths of sexual slavery are ignored and dismissed by a culture that exists in the same self-centered hedonistic fashion it has for hundreds of years.

The environment may be unfamiliar, but the players and the problems remain constant, and even as he loathes and abuses his fellow man, Spider ultimately tries to help. Even surrounded by the worst culture the Earth has ever spit out, Spider still can’t completely quench his belief in truth, beauty, and the right of self-determination.

“Transmetropolitan” may be as bitterly hopeless as it is acidically funny, but there’s a weird hopefulness in the posited existence of Spider Jerusalem.

No matter how bad we get, no matter how far we slide in to sensory oblivion consumed by our animal/media culture, there will always be a bald man throwing a whiskey bottle at our skull to remind us of the Truth, and that’s enough for me.