Plots

Nathan Eyring does interior and cover colors and Clem Robins is on letters unless noted otherwise. You know who writes and pencils.

If I need to warn you about spoilers here, perhaps you should go back to the remedial Web pages.

Table of Contents

*Issue #1: The Summer of the Year
*Issue #2: Down the Dip
*Issue #3: Up on the Roof
*Issue #4: On the Stump
*Issue #5: What Spider Watches on TV
*Issue #6: God Riding Shotgun
*Issue #7: Boyfriend is a Virus
*Issue #8: Another Cold Morning
*Issue #9: Wild in the Country

Issue #1: The Summer of the Year

Inks: Jerome K. Moore
Cover: Geof Darrow

Nothing much happens this issue. Really.

Spider gets a phone call from the whorehopper, and reluctantly heads back down off the mountain into the City, bitching all the way. There are about four pages of lovely adaptation sequence, and then he storms into The Word to ask Royce for a job. There's some bargaining, he gets the job, and he moves into his new apartment. The uppity household appliances are soon dealt with; he then showers and becomes hairless. As he's dressing, he catches sight of Fred Christ on the telly, and decides that's his first column. The final page is Spider wandering off into the City... "Home again."

The art on Transmetropolitan clicked from day one. Some titles, there's this period where the artist is getting his or her act together and getting used to the writer. Not here; Darick was spot on from page one. It's a beautiful performance. His attention to both those details which Warren provides and the details he comes up with himself is a big part of what makes this a top-notch comic. Check out the Sex Puppets calendar on page nine, in the toll attendant's booth, and remember that the Sex Puppets will show up again in issue #5. Very nice.

* * * * *

Warren's writing ties it all together. As I mentioned, there's not really much action in this issue, but there are these lyrical flights of writing which make you understand why Spider is willing to come back to the City he hates so much. Page 15 is practically poetry, as we watch Spider reawaken to the vibrant life that can't be found out in the wilderness.

I love cities because they are a ripe field for the growth of ecotomes. An ecotome, in biological terms, is a place where two ecologies come together to form something new. Tide pools are ecotomes; the species you find there couldn't live in the ocean and couldn't live on the land. Cities are like this; there are places where power-suited yuppie scum rub up against first generation Vietnamese immigrants, and amazing things result. Maybe I'm reading myself into it, but that's the feeling I get from Warren's City.

So nothing much happens, you could say. But God, it's joyful finding out who Spider is, and watching him be happy about coming back even while he's bitching, and getting to know the place he calls home.

Issue #2: Down the Dip

Inks: Keith Aiken
Cover: Geof Darrow

Issue #2 sets up the apocalyptic issue #3, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Spider makes his way into the Angels 8 district, which has been taken over by a population of transients led by an old friend of his, Fred Christ. "Transient" is the slang term for people who've undergone the species transition treatment; the residents of Angels 8 have incorporated genetic material from a colony of aliens into their bodies.

The district is getting ready for a seige. There are officious assholes on the barricades and starving mothers on the street. Fred is happily ensconced in his offices, getting laid on a regular basis. It's pretty clear something's fucked up here, and after listening to Fred's self-serving rhetoric for a while, Spider knows what. Angry, Spider leaves.

On the way home, Spider finds the ugliest cat in the world. After the cat is fed, Royce calls looking for his column. Spider demonstrates his fine sense of responsibility by letting the cat piss on the phone, and settles back to watch the news.

And the Angels 8 riots begin, with a firebomb thrown by unknown hands but blamed on the transients. Spider knows it's insane, doesn't know what he can do -- but he knows he's got to go back there.

* * * * *

The obvious narrative thrust of this issue is as setup for the next. The less obvious subtext carries more information about Spider: he cares. The anger he's feeling as he leaves his interview with Fred, the bile in his tone as he rants about how people are the weakness in any revolution: it's real fury, but it's also an excellent way to hide how much he hurts to see people fucked over that badly. Fuck yourself over all you want, and he'll despise you for it, but if you fuck someone else over you're sure to piss him off.

I mean, the issue ends with the man walking into a riot zone with absolutely no idea what he's going to do when he gets there. He has nothing in particular going for him. He's tough, but he's not up to fighting cops. It's almost suicidal. But he can't just sit around and watch it on the news. It hurts him.

Warren continues to do a great job of hooking us into the next issue. In both this issue and the previous, we get a full story but the last page sets up a tension that won't be resolved until the next issue. There's also some clever parallelism going down here. In issue #1, he leaves the mountain, travels through the City, talks to Royce, goes home, and heads for Angels 8 on the last page. In issue #2, he leaves his apartment, travels into an even darker bit of the City, talks to Fred, goes home, and heads for Angels 8 on the last page. From light (the mountain, his apartment) into darkness (the City, Angels 8) and back again. Intentional? I don't know, but it reads really well.

Issue #3: Up on the Roof

Inks: Keith Aiken, Ray Kryssing, and Dick Giordano
Cover: Geof Darrow

The middle sequence in this issue is the best portion of Transmetropolitan so far. We're talking heartwrenching, a word which is woefully overused but I mean it. This issue was the best comic of 1997.

In a darkly inked, darkly colored issue, Spider heads back into Angels 8. When he gets there, in the middle of the chaos, he bluffs his way into a strip club and goes up to the roof to write his column. It's beamed directly to The Word and Royce, who cuts a deal to run the column live on the SPKF newsfeeds. Spider's exposing the truth that nobody wants to see; explaining that the riot was staged, that it's just a show of authority versus harmless citizens. As transients are beaten and killed in the streets below, Spider's column scrolls down the surface of half the skyscrapers in the City.

The City pays attention. Royce refuses to shut the feed down. The police pull out, and the riot ends. That night, Spider is cornered by faceless cops and beaten, threatened with worse if he ever fucks with them again. Triumphant, laughing in the face of the system, he vows that he's here to stay.

* * * * *

Spider's all the way back to the City now, yup. During the course of the first three issues, he goes from abhorrence of the City to a dogged refusal to leave. It's a very elegant development of character; Spider is anything but a one-dimensional mouthpiece for political and social rants. There's depth to everything he says and does.

In this issue, his words reach their fullest potential. The middle five pages are just Spider writing his column, with reaction shots and panels of what's going on in the street below. It's quiet, potent stuff. It's mostly just words, with Darick's art a steady foundation for what Warren writes. It's very nearly perfect.

One might have guessed that the number of inkers would have hurt. It didn't; everyone worked well together and you can't see the seams.

This issue seems, to me, to lay out exactly what Spider is. He is erratic, vindictive, and deeply human. That human voice, eloquent and impassioned, is exactly what the City needs. His depth of feeling for those unjustly oppressed is what makes his writing so powerful; if he was as cynical as he might like his audience to think, he would be unable to connect to them -- and to us -- as well as he does.

Issue #4: On the Stump

Inks: Kim DeMulder
Cover: Frank Quitely

After the emotional blast of issue #3, it was time for a lighter issue. This is it.

We open with Spider meeting his new assistant (assigned to him by Royce), who is no puling grad student but rather Channon Yarrow, one of the strippers he met in Angels 8 last issue. She's a grad student too, but it's probably not that which made Spider decide to put up with her. After he explains the realities of journalism to her, they set off to attend the President's first official reelection speech.

They con their way into City Hall, where Spider accidentally catches the President alone in a bathroom. Being Spider, he takes advantage of this to use an illegal bowel disruptor on the man. Exit Spider and Channon, hurried, stage left.

* * * * *

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but Kim DeMulder's inks on this issue are my favorite of all the inkers so far. I thought he had a nice light touch that supported Darick's detail work. Said detail work continues to be excellent, by the by, and the only reason I don't mention it every issue is because I don't want to be repetitive. Check out the sweat on the President's brow.

Spider wins this issue, no question about it. He leaves the President defeated and loose-boweled on the floor of a public restroom. At least... it's a localized win. Will the President still win reelection? Probably. Did Spider make a difference in the long run? Probably not. I still say it's a fairly upbeat issue; by this point in the series we like Spider enough so that we're willing to cheer him on in even the petty victories.

With the introduction of Channon, Warren has a relatively inexperienced (but not stupid) character against whom he can play Spider. It's the mentor/student relationship, which is a great way to get chunks of exposition into the story. This issue has a fair bit of that, without losing any story value at all. Channon also provides much-needed contrast to Spider's cynicism.

Issue #5: What Spider Watches on TV

Inks: Rodney Ramos
Cover: Frank Quitely

OK, so Spider doesn't win them all, even on the local level.

In this issue, Spider watches television. He takes a little while at the beginning to scare off Channon's lame boyfriend, Ziang, but mostly he just watches television. After a while he gets bored of being an observer and uses talk shows as a lever with which to become a participant in the television experience.

This works wonders for his mood, until a rude wakeup call from the whorehopper reminds him that television co-opts everything -- Spider's become news, just another bit of sensationalism for the mindless drones. Depressed, Spider collapses into bed, but not before getting a shot of subliminal advertising. His dreams that night are of advertisements.

* * * * *

It's counterpoint to the previous issue. Spider's "victory" over the President was just as useful, in the long term, as his "victory" over television. The only difference this time around is that he had his nose rubbed in his ineffectualness. Transmetropolitan may have lighthearted moments, and there's always a laugh or two in every issue, but it's not a lighthearted comic.

On the metalevel, Warren's satire of today's television is right on. I find it an interesting contrast; Spider's failure is Warren's success. Perhaps my irony detectors are too highly tuned.

The Spider/Channon relationship continues to develop. Warren wisely expands her as a character with the introduction of Ziang; she'll need to be well-defined to hold our interest given that Spider is such a powerful central character. Warren also makes it clear that there are areas in which she's more competent than Spider. She knows things about the urban environment that he missed in his five years of exile. Again, it's good that Warren's making sure she's strong and that Spider needs her.

Plus she's a bodyguard; most likely nastier than Spider in street brawls. I'm looking forward to seeing that.

Issue #6: God Riding Shotgun

Inks: Rodney Ramos
Cover: Frank Quitely

Spider takes on religion. Or his own memories, depending on how you look at it.

Our story opens with Spider on too many drugs and too little sleep. He's dressed in robes, Air Jesus sneakers, and a truly overwhelming fake beard; yes, it's Spider as Jesus Christ. After he wakes up Channon, she expresses her exceeding discontent at being woken so early, they drink coffee, and we fare off into the City to gather information for a column on religion.

In transit, Channon snipes at Spider and Spider responds by picking apart exactly those facets of the Channon/Ziang relationship that hurt her the most. He has a truly expert eye. Expert enough to wound her; expert enough to get her to tell him exactly how bad it feels to love Ziang, to need Ziang, and to know that she's just a convenient body to fuck. That expert. There's a pause, and some quiet regret on both their parts, and Spider attempts to apologize and cheer things up by dragging her off to screw up churches. It's not much of an apology but Channon's willing to let the matter lie there.

Eventually, they find their way to a convention for new religions, at which Spider rips apart the arguments of various charlatans, becoming more angry with each one. By the end he's berserk, ripping apart booths and stalls -- and crying out to the world that he couldn't do anything when his father went cultist and all he can do now is tell the truth.

* * * * *

This was kind of a hard issue for me to think about; my dad went there too. I'm not sure if this means that I'm biased towards or against attempts to write about the subject. Regardless, I had mixed feelings about Transmetropolitan this month.

I think it suffered mostly from packing two very emotional plotlines into 22 pages. There were two relationships fuelling the emotional content of this issue: the relationship between Channon and Spider, and the relationship between Spider and his father. These two relationships didn't have enough in common from what we were shown to resonate, to shed light on one another, and thus I think Warren and Darick were somewhat rushed.

The first half was incredibly strong, with a beautiful speech from Channon. It's was poetic as you can get when you're talking about someone being balls-deep inside you. But it was clipped short, without the aftershocks I'd like to have seen, because it was important for Spider to get on to the next plotline. Mind you, this makes sense for the characters; it's just like Spider to put off dealing with the problem, and I don't think Channon was inclined to discuss it further either, and I do think it'll all come back in due time. But still, a touch rushed.

The second half had to pack a lot of plot development into its eleven or so pages. I got the distinct impression that Spider was intended to go from his cynical anger, cutting down religious frauds with a few well-placed words, to a bitter despairing rage which we don't see as often. However, the transition felt a bit too quick. He's calm with the multi-religion lecturer with a fake scar, there's a quick page of one-panel shots of other frauds, and then he's at outrage with the trephanner.

The other jarring point, for me, was that these religions are real. Previously, we've seen an exaggerated satire on the real world. There is no Ebola Cola, and you can't mix alien genes into your DNA. However, I know people who think that aliens have come to talk to them, and I know of people who claim to sincerely believe that they don't need to eat or drink to live. It isn't wrong to use actual examples, but it is a difference in feel.

So those were my problems. I thought the last two panels deftly saved the whole by telling us why Spider was so erratic and upset that day. It's an explanation for his level of violence and an explanation for his poor treatment of Channon. I also found all the nice touchs I've grown to expect; the art continues to be detailed and amusing (Church of Ennis indeed) and the prose is top notch.

Many points for further developing the relationship between Channon and Spider, and many points for telling us more about both of them individually. I just wish it'd been two issues instead of one.

Issue #7: Boyfriend is a Virus

Inks: Rodney Ramos
Cover: Darick Robertson

Have I mentioned that this is a tremendously compassionate comic book?

In this issue, we open with two stunning pages of the City, wordless, and one stunning page of Channon, also wordless, crouched small and alone in a chair. Ziang's dumped her to go off and become a posthuman entity; he's going to turn himself into a cloud of tiny machines the size of fat cells that retains consciousness through an electrical field. He's going to be downloaded.

Spider knows how to help Channon. She's going to write his next column, and it's going to be about what happened to her boyfriend. Channon is less than thrilled by this idea, but Spider literally drags her along, and after an interlude in the park while Spider explains how Hans Moravec invented the term "downloading" they arrive at Ziang's new community. (Which Darick drew as Broadcasting House, the BBC headquarters in London.)

Tico Cortez, an old friend of Spider's, welcomes them and explains to Channon exactly what this downloading means. Ziang is getting his life's dream, and yes, in some ways it is better than the old human flesh. Channon seems to find at least some comfort in this. Along with Spider and Tico, she views the actual download process. At the end of it all, Ziang's new body merges with another foglet (who's been overseeing the entire process). Tico, who has less tact than Spider, explains that Ziang and the other foglet are essentially having sex.

* * * * *

Ramos has the inks down pat here, and Darick is as good as always. This is important, given that we open with three wordless pages. I'm not sure why they're there, except to impress upon us the sheer variety of the City, but they're darned beautiful. The cover is also lovely; I'm hoping Darick keeps on doing them.

In some ways there wasn't much to this issue; it's a very quiet little story about Channon and tangentially about Spider's relationship with Channon, continuing on from the first half of issue #6. This time, Warren gave himself time to relax and tell the story at its own pace, and it works very well.

We learn more about who Channon is in this story. She's self-possessed enough to understand that Ziang is working her over, but there's a good reason for it; she's not a doormat. She's also flexible and understanding. One of the really nice touches for me was that when she figures out why Ziang's doing what he's doing, she's willing to support him. Sure, her support is meaningless by that point, but it's what she wants that matters.

And she's still not perfect. She could take that he was leaving her because there was something he wanted more than her body, but when it became clear that he wasn't actually giving up the pleasures of the flesh, well, that was more than she could take. I can't blame her. It hurts to know that you're offering your best, and being denied because someone else can give you the same thing but better.

We also get to see Spider caring. Interestingly, his advice was much better this issue than last. He's a journalist; he can't be oblivious to human social interaction, right? His advice wasn't that useful last issue, partially because he was really fighting his own demons. This time he thought harder about Channon's problems and let go of his own. She needed to confront her demons, not avoid them with mindless violence, and that's what he gave her.

The background material in the middle of the issue, by the by, is solid science. Hans Moravec is a real person who says some interesting things on the topic; you should also check out Greg Egan if you have any interest at all in the idea of downloading.

All in all a really lovely, touching issue. Warren writes brilliant cynicism, which makes it easy to forget that he can also write about people who care about each other. The man is a poet; he understands compassion.

Oh, and one final note: the colors and effects on page 20 are gorgeous. Nathan Eyring did them; it is as always important to remember that the entire Transmetropolitan team is working at the same brilliant level as Warren and Darick.

Issue #8: Another Cold Morning

Inks: Rodney Ramos
Cover: Darick Robertson

Warren Ellis shifts narrative gears, and produces yet another masterpiece.

This issue is all about Mary; she's a photojournalist from the 20th century who elects to be cryogenically frozen when she dies. By Spider's era, it's possible to revive people like her, so they do as a matter of course. Mary, like most of her compatriots, fails to adjust to the stark changes in the world. Who can blame them, given the lack of compassion shown by the adjustment counsellor Mary meets?

(Darick's work on visualizing the City really pays off in this issue. His wordless pages of foglets, fornicating dogs, cyborged women, transients, cannabalistic advertisements, and more really bring Mary's shock home to us. It's particularly effective in comparison to the splash page that opens the issue: the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, our time.)

She's sent to the Revival Hostel, where her kind is permitted to live for free. Without the ability to adjust to the new world, she can't get a job, so as is typical for Revivals she spends her days sitting in alleys. Spider finds her there, and listens to the stories she has to tell -- and I use "has" here both to mean "possesses" and "must."

The story ends with three wordless pages of Spider turning off his word processor, and wandering out to look over the City: a place paradoxical, chilled by its own heartlessness and warmed by its own passion.

* * * * *

The really interesting thing about this issue, for me, is that the story is told from the point of view of Spider's column; with the exception of four lines of dialogue smack dab in the middle of the issue there's nothing but captions all the way through. We've seen this before, in issue #3; it's just as effective here as it was there.

The four lines in the middle are more relevant than they might appear at first, too. Warren thinks hard about structure, and it can't be an accident that Mary's most direct human contact in the entire issue is in the exact middle. He builds up through the revival process, giving us hope, and culminating in the interview with the counsellor -- which is an anticlimax of immense proportions. We've reached the future, and all it wants to do is fuck us.

It should be noted that Mary gets contact with Spider, too. There's a panel towards the end where he's talking to her, kissing her forehead. But without the element of dialogue, we the readers see it once removed; we're reading an illustrated newspaper column, and are not completely drawn into the story. We don't really get the full impact of Spider's compassion (yup, more of that) until we're directly observing again, in the closing three pages.

Which are, by the by, just about perfect. Warren has been letting Darick carry a lot of the pacing of the story with these extended silent openings and closings, and I think it's quite effective. One's always had to get used to unusual pacing in an Ellis comic, but it's usually in the form of the familiar abrupt endings. These wordless art pages are new, and if Darick wasn't so good at conveying moods they wouldn't work -- but his understanding of Warren's characters and city is strong enough so that they do, probably because Warren's giving him so much of a hand in creating the Transmetropolitan world.

Returning to the narrative structure: remembering that Mary was a photojournalist, consider that the issue could be seen as a collaboration between Spider and Mary. It's his words, and while the "photographs" can't be taken by Mary, there is the line "She's made a still documentary of her new life, up in her chilled head." It's pretty clear that this issue is that same documentary, given voice by Spider. Multiple levels, here; it's really an excellent issue.

It remains to be seen whether the events of this issue will have lasting resonance. My guess is that they will; in the final panel, I think we're seeing Spider remember some of the reasons why he left the City in the first place. I don't think we're going to see Mary go through redemption and become a functional member of society, as has been conjectured by some -- it would greatly lessen the impact of this story. However, Ellis tends to use this kind of standalone story to lay the groundwork for arcs to come.

I should comment briefly on the question of whether it's realistic for Mary to have such strong culture shock. The answer for me is simply that it's not relevant. Transmetropolitan is using science fiction as a vehicle for social commentary and satire; we should not mistake it for hard science. Mary's condition is an exaggerated version of the condition of all the homeless people you pass every day; she's the archetype of the human being who is unable to function in society.

My only gripe on the issue (just to keep you all from thinking I'm a complete fanboy) is the cover; I liked Darick's cover last issue, but this one is just a little over-inked. The dark circles around everyone's eyes give it a bit of R. Crumb feel that I'm not too fond of.

But hey; otherwise, issue #8 was perfect.

Issue #9: Wild in the Country

Inks: Rodney Ramos
Cover: Darick Robertson

After the emotional power of the last two issues, it's nice to have a quieter story; that's what Warren gives us here.

Story might actually be too strong a word, to be honest. There isn't a lot of plot in this issue, and none of it is about body modification, no matter what Previews might have said. In short, the issue goes something like this: Spider gets permission to visit the Reservations, places where old cultures are hermetically preserved. He visits a lot of them, but we don't see any of them too deeply. In between, he asks women out with no success. The last Reservation he visits is the Farsight Community, which isn't dedicated to preserving the past -- it's a place where technology runs wild, dedicated to learning how to be human in the future.

Oh, and on the last page, Channon tells Spider that she's going to go join a religious cult led by Fred Christ.

* * * * *

As I said, it was nice to have a quiet story as relief from the last two. I wouldn't want something this low-key all the time, and it'd be a pretty bad first issue for anyone to read, but as a change of pace I can't object. It was also funny as all hell for us long-term readers.

Mostly, though, I think this story was setup for the next bunch of issues. I counted three plot hooks, with my foreknowledge of upcoming stories (which you can have too, if you'd take the time to read the News page, so stop whining).

First off, and most obvious, you've got Channon's declaration that she's going off to join Fred Christ. Nice bombshell, Warren. Second, there're a few bits here and there that point towards why Spider left the City in the first place; the end of page 7 comes to mind, as do his comments to Royce. That's important after the unrestrained compassion of the last two issues. (By the way, that's Warren and Darick there in the bar, except only visually, since as far as I know Warren doesn't have a son old enough to be concerned with the way women react to his penis.) Third, also in the bar sequence, did you catch the mention of the Election? Gonna be important, you betcha.

OK, so the latter two are kind of subtle and minor, but without much plot to analyze I figured I'd take some time to point out how damned good Warren is at foreshadowing.

Hm, what else? I should point out that if you liked the concept of the Reservations, you can find a less pure form of the same in John Varley's Steel Beach. The art is lovely, as always, although maybe inked a bit flat in places. The cover is maybe the best yet; way to capture the essence of Spider. And that about covers my comments for this issue; not an incredibly mindblowing story, but a pleasant one.

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