Hidden Panels: ‘Transmetropolitan’ Issue 2

Anyone who plans on reading this column long term should probably be warned that they’re going to be hearing a lot about Warren Ellis. A one-in-a-million freak of the comic book industry, Ellis is the kind of creator that takes the medium and turns it on its head. Whether it’s injecting X-files style conspiracy narratives into a seemingly mundane superhero storyline, creating an openly gay analogue of Batman and Superman named Apollo and Midnighter (stay tuned for my take on that book soon) or even making a monthly title about the adventures of a madman, gonzo journalist in the far future, Ellis is full of unconventional ideas.

Speaking of madman, gonzo journalists in the far future, this week’s book is “Transmetropolitan Volume 2: Lust for Life” (2009) by Warren Ellis. “Transmetropolitan” is the story of the return of anti-authoritarian columnist Spider Jerusalem as he returns from self-imposed exile far from the responsibilities of his everyday life. Armed to the teeth and drugged out of his mind, Spider spends the bulk of Vol. 2 visiting the “Angels 8” district, looking for a story in his old friend Fred Christ, a man currently leading an occupation of the district. Ellis’ trademark strangeness kicks into high gear, as the occupation force is made up of “transients,” humans that have genetically altered their bodies to resemble bug-eyed, gray aliens. The environment doesn’t look much better than the inhabitants, as Spider quickly discovers squalor, filth and general poverty.

Spider crosses the Les Misérables-style barricade in the “Angels 8” district by jamming a cigarette in the lone guard’s eye, claiming that “if I’d’ve been a cop, you’d be trying to pick a bullet out of your eye right now.” He finds Fred with relative ease, busting in with guns blazing and demanding an interview. Fred obliges, explaining that the aliens whose DNA the transients hijacked had little culture to “exchange,” so they traded their genetic makeup. Fred and his buddies have the intention to form their own colony of sorts with, of course, Fred at the top of the pyramid. Spider snaps, railing against Fred for his grandstanding, screaming that Fred is “puffed up on the power of the people” and drunk on his own status as a revolutionary hero.

While the rest of the issue seeks to set up B plots for future issues, the first half is well worth the price of admission. Ellis blends the body horror of a man-alien hybrid, the drama of a verbal sparring match between two old friends and greatest of all, the tragic fall of Fred Christ. The real horror of the moment comes from Spider’s realizing that he’s been away too long, his friends have changed and the tyranny of those with misplaced authority will never disappear. “Transmetroplitan” is a great introduction to the world of Spider Jerusalem, perfectly illustrating why its world needs someone as crazy as its protagonist, someone who’s willing to go as far as is necessary (or further) to get people to tell the whole story.