Transmetropolitan is another of Warren Ellis’ spiky and superbly wrought stories that, in many important respects, turns comics on their head. Back on the Street incorporates the first three numbers in the series in the tale of Spider Jerusalem, journalist.
Spider Jerusalem is your basic gonzo journalist who got the advance from his first book, signed a three-book contract, and decided to get away from it all. It’s been five years and his publisher wants the other two books, or there will be trouble. Jerusalem, bowing to the inevitable, heads back to the city, where he manages to find his old friend Mitchell Royce, who has become city editor of the The World — Spider needs a job, a pad, and newsfeeds. Royce fixes him up — sort of — and starts demanding a regular column. Spider heads off to the biggest news story happening right then, an uprising in the transient quarter. The “transients” in this version of reality are those who are transitioning to a new species — it’s all the alien colony in Vilnius has left to offer. And of course, no one involved in any of it is honest.
Spider Jerusalem himself is pretty much pure id — there seems to be almost no mediation between impulse and action, although he has enough grace not to try to dress up his motivations as anything more than they are. Fred Christ, the leader of the transients, has his own agenda that mostly revolves around Fred Christ. Mitchell Royce wants his first-hand account, and right now — meanwhile figuring out who he can license it to and for how much.
The milieu is spectacular — Bladerunner meets Fellini’s Satyricon, enough to justify the sometimes insanely crowded frames. Layouts are a little beyond standard-issue, but not as free as they could be — although there’s enough visual activity on any given page that any looser flow might verge on incomprehensibility.
The drawing sets the mood perfectly, a sort of pick-up from the counter-culture comics of the ’60s (but with class) zapped into a future in which “dystopia” is a pale description at best. It works, and it works very, very well.
Having a chance to catch up with Transmetropolitan is a treat. If you haven’t, you should.