Tag Archives: Trans-gender

Transmet Volume 1 gives us its mission statement at the point of a gun

WARNING: This post contains vulgarity in quotes from the source material. Some of Spider’s more colorful metaphors have been omitted, but conventional swear words (S, F, etc.) are depicted as originally written. Also since this is a post about a comic that started in 1997, I’m not especially careful for the spoiler sensitive, as a discussion of the plot is necessary in many places.

Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right and you can blow a kneecap off the world.” ~ Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #3)

I got into this marathon diary of Transmetropolitan (Transmet) because somehow binging The West Wing didn’t seem to be the appropriate tone for our current election season. But in truth Transmet bumps up against another Sorkin property, The Newsroom. The first half of volume 1 is focused on outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem’s version of Will McAvoy’s “What Makes America Great” rant from the first episode of The Newsroom:

To back up, for the last five years Spider has been “up the mountain” after fame has made it impossible for him to write in the city. Spider is content to spend the rest of his days isolated from the rest of the world, but for a nagging editor who demands he write the final two books of a five book contract he signed years ago, or face being sued into destitution. The first issue is largely spent showing the contrast between these worlds, and these two Spiders. Spider begins as an isolationist, army jacket wearing, hair down past his butt, hillbilly, but by the end of the issue has assumed his city persona (in part due to an accident with the shower singeing off all his hair):

Spider up the mountain

Spider up the mountain

Spider fully formed

Spider fully formed

Spider takes a job at The Word, the city’s most prominent newspaper, under the direction of his old friend and editor Mitchell Royce. His first column focuses on the transients, a group of humans who have chosen to change their DNA with that of an alien species (who look like the typical “grays” we see in sci-fi). They are no longer content in their human bodies, and wish instead to become their true identity, in this case an alien species. The transients have specific needs that the Civic Center is unwilling to provide, and so the transients (under the direction of a former band manager, Fred Christ), congregate in the Angels 8 district and declare their desire to secede from the city. The non-violent movement is quickly marred when someone pays off a few transients to start a riot, which gives the Civic Center the excuse they need to respond with deadly force, with Spider caught in the middle beaming the story out to the public from the roof of a strip club.

This situation has parallels with trans-gendered rights. The transients want equal treatment by the Civic Center, opportunities to get jobs, accommodation for changing dietary needs, basic “human” rights and equal treatment. Trans-gendered Americans have faced discrimination in the workplace, in the military, from businesses, and even from using the bathroom of their gender. But in the case of the transients, it’s the case of a civil rights battle gone wrong, escalating tensions between protesters and police.

Admittedly, Transmet is written from a strongly anti-authority viewpoint, as we see both in Spider’s behavior toward people in authority, and the cop’s eager enthusiasm to use violence. The acts of violence that happen in the police shootings of today and in the riot response of Transmet may both come from a place of fear for a cop’s safety. But in Transmet there is an enjoyment of violent behavior by the cops, an animistic jungle mentality, as if they were looking for an excuse rather than acting for their own protection. But given the number and character of police involved shootings in the world today, it is important to consider if implicit bias, or even an inclination toward violent behavior is involved.

Spider’s McAvoy moment is in his account of the violence below. Unbeknown to Spider, his editor has sold the live feed of his column (equivalent to a live tweet session being re-tweeted today), putting Spider’s words on screens around the city. While Spider recounts the violence and how it came to be, he turns the situation back on the reader and raises the issue of their accountability in the situation:

Enjoying this? You like the way I describe disgusting shit happening to people you probably walked past in the street last week? Good. You earned it. With your silence.”

I’m sorry. Is that too harsh an observation for you? Does that sound too much like the Truth? Fuck you. If anyone in this shithole city gave [a damn, though stated far more colorfully] about Truth, this wouldn’t be happening.” ~ Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #3)

Spider’s live feed actually affects the real world, forcing the Civic Center to recall the cops. This is the thesis of Transmet, that someone getting the truth out there can change the world. And that our own desire not to listen to the truth is what is responsible for a lot of the awful things that happen in the world.

Personally, I find myself more in the camp of not listening to the truth, not out of a desire to live in my own reality, but more born of the need to live my life on a day-to-day basis at all. The majority of the time spent not with wife or work is spent on writing my next non-fiction book, which requires a lot of heavy math research and programming time. I don’t make a lot of room in my head for the terrible things happening in the world, and I certainly don’t do a lot to go out into the world and try to change them. Individually this isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but when all of us do it then the world becomes a darker place. It’s the old saw of “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Spider’s no saint, and he certainly isn’t politically correct. He doesn’t see the transient movement so much as a matter of identity, but more as fashion choice. He uses violence when he feels it appropriate to get to the heart of a story, beating his way past barricades. But the motive for much of his seemingly abhorrent actions seems to be to get this movement to take what they’re doing seriously, to warn them of the consequences of their actions and how others will perceive them. If the Trump campaign has taught us nothing it has taught us that we are not as tolerant as we think we are. People are still scared and are looking for someone to blame, and in this story the transient movement just made themselves easy targets for that blame.

The rest of the volume centers around stories designed to introduce us to the world of the city, something that will continue into volume 2. In a moment mirroring Hunter Thompson’s (on whom Spider is partly based) encounter with George McGovern in a bathroom, Spider finds the President (who he refers to as “the beast”) in a bathroom as well.

thebeastandspider

“The Beast” is clearly patterned after Richard Nixon, an enemy of Thompson, and Spider has a rather unique way of speaking truth to power during the encounter (through the use of a bowel disrupter, a favored weapon of Spider’s).   We’ll get into “The Beast’s” philosophy of governance when we cover volume 4, but this little tidbit from earlier in the story caught my eye on a second read:

payoffdebts

Candidate Trump has been similarly accused of using funds from the Trump Foundation to buy paintings of himself and to settle legal disputes to the point that the New York attorney general ordered the foundation to cease soliciting funds. Trump is hardly alone in this, and one does wonder if at some point the distinction between money for the campaign and money for the candidate will be as finely drawn as it is now. Trump’s a little more despicable in that these were charitable donations, but the song’s basically the same, just the lyrics are different.

Issue 5 finds Spider spending the day watching TV, buying “Air Jesus” sneakers, calling into talk shows, and being hit with a subliminal “ad bomb.” Commercials in our dreams is a truly frightening notion. Issue 6 is the weakest of the volume in my opinion, as Spider has his own “Jesus in the temple” moment at a convention for new religions. Transmet doesn’t have much to offer on religion other than seeing it as another area to distrust authority, but thankfully it isn’t really the focus of many issues.

To be honest, the Spider of early Transmet is more cartoon than person. There are glimpses of the Spider who we come to know and love by Volume 3, the moment on the roof is a defining one for the rest of the series. But I found myself having a difficult time deciding whether or not I should go forward after this point. I read the first volume, put it down for about six months, read it again, then devoured the rest of the series in short order. It has a lot of things running against in content and violence at first, but as Warren Ellis (the author) got a better handle on Spider’s character rather than caricature, we begin to see a driven man willing to do whatever it takes to get the truth out to people. And we see the best of what sci-fi has to offer in dealing with the issues of today in a future setting. That’s why this series is one of my favorites, but not one I keep on my shelves instead living only in the digital recesses of my Kindle.

Hell, Patrick Stewart liked it so much he wanted to play Spider in a TV/Film adaptation (sadly never to be), and he wrote the intro to Volume 5. If it’s good enough for Picard, it’s good enough for me.

We’ll continue with the marathon probably Tuesday with Volume 2, Lust For Life.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Recurring

Reviews: Starbucks Marathon

Sitting here in Starbucks typing this into a text editor since Opera refuses to accept any of the security certificates Starbucks is laying down. Still, I can get through a couple of reviews and post them later. This post in particular has some eclectic material so their should be something for everyone (if not always me).

Bang! Tango
Writer – Joe Kelly, Artist – Adrian Sibar

coverImage recently reissued this apparently classic work from Joe Kelly for wider distribution recently. I’ll start up front by saying that my interest in crime stories has been waning over the years. I really liked gangster movies and shows like The Sopranos more in my teen years, but by the time I was maybe mid-way through college my interest waned (though works like Road to Perdition can still grab me). So, I’m probably not the primary audience for this story.

Vincente Ponticello has built a new life for himself, away from the dark streets of San Francisco. But when Autumn breezes back into his life asking for his help, Vicente must find a way to put his old life finally behind him while preparing for dance competitions with his demanding partner Mel. Autumn’s the woman who ruined his life back in New York, when he found out she wasn’t really a she, at least biologically.

Perhaps the playful cover here makes a little more sense to you now.

This is a “sexy” book, with a lot of betrayals, lust, lies, money, and deviant behavior (not Autumn, but more the predilections of a mob boss who prefers pointed objects instead of his own member). As might be apparent, the story didn’t do a lot for me. It’s violent, and doesn’t really end well for anyone involved. The trajectories of most characters have been determined from the beginning and it can be a little difficult to tell if Kelly is really sympathetic to the trans community or is using it for shock value. The reactions of a prideful man like Vincente ring true, but are they really a perspective I want to read about?

I’d love to see Sibar’s work on a better piece. Each page uses a different color as the main motif, giving it a gray-scale quality while conveying mood. He also does a great job with illustrating the music of each tango, showing the words instead of the notes on the stanza flowing throughout the dancing action.

This is probably a story that will appeal to some of you. It’s well-paced, action packed, and well illustrated. But personally I found it a little too grimy for my taste.

(2 stars | Rounded down from 2.5)

Bad Machinery Volume 3
Writer and Artist – John Allison

coverAnd now for something completely different. John Allison is a master of the web-comic, writing series since 1998, and author of previous series Boom and Scary Go Round. Bad Machinery seems to have kicked it up a notch in terms of the quality of the art and the story-telling. It’s worth noting that there are some jokes that are set up in the beginning of the book that aren’t paid off until almost the end, which is several months in real time.

Though this is Volume 3, it’s pretty accessible to someone who hasn’t read the material before. Allison organizes his run of the comic into cases which run for a few months to nearly a year, then he takes a few months off before the next one. The structure seems to be less about the case, which in this case involves a series of fires set off in old buildings, and whether or not a mysterious and simple man who lives in the woods might be responsible, and more about the lives of three main boys and three main girls in the UK city of Tackleford.

There’s a lot of UK specific phrases and humor here, but there’s a handy guide at the back for anyone who might not pick up everything. I’m a fan of this sort of humor, so this kind of thing just speaks to me. Allison seems to have mastered one of the difficult skills of long-form web-comic story-telling which is to have each page feel like it can be self-contained without always having an obvious punch-line. The book version of this story-line seems to rearrange some of the on-line material, inserting some new pages, so this is probably the best and most definitive way to read the story, though I’ve pulled down the rest of the on-line material (which is about 8 cases now) for my own amusement.

The story is pretty silly and fanciful, but it fits the overall tone of the work. This book is worth it alone for the phrase “swit-swoo” and an embroidery of a tank.

(4 stars | More like 4.5, wish the dimensions of the book fit better on my tablet, but that’s web-comics for you)

Wizzywig

Writer and Artist – Ed Piskor

PrintThough published as a single graphic novel, this story bears some structural relationship to a web-comic. There are longer sequences, but many of the jokes and stories are told in two page comics.

Kevin (a.k.a Boing-Thump) is a burgeoning computer hacker and phone-freak in the early days of computers. He starts from using his perfect pitch to make long-distance calls, to pirating software to floppy disk, to inadvertently unleashing the Boing-Thump virus. The story is told through chapters corresponding roughly to a year of Kevin’s eventual incarceration, and flashbacks to his evolution as a hacker, and the lengths he would go to learn about machines and to evade the law. Most of the present day material is told by his best friend who broadcasts over the air to get Kevin out of prison, or at least for the FBI to come up with the charges to give him a trial.

The era of hacking portrayed here doesn’t really exist anymore. It was a time when anyone who was mechanically inclined, and could string together a few lines of code could get into some surprising places. As evidenced by recent data-hacks, security is something that lags behind a lot in the corporate world, particularly in the 1980s. Boing-Thump serves as an amalgamation of some of the more famous hacks and perceptions of hackers from that period. For us techies it’s great nostalgia, and for others it can even be slightly educational.

There’s some language and crude humor. Piskor’s drawing style renders Kevin as having an almost child-like cartoonish face, but the rest of the world around him is much grimier. Still the humor doesn’t feel artificial in this environment, as anyone who’s been on a few message boards or seen internet comments can attest. And the origin of the moniker “boing-thump” is pretty funny.

This is a long work, and it took me setting it down and coming back to it to get all the way through. I probably liked the early sections best before Kevin delves into helping real criminals, back when it was just about finding out how things worked. But the ending was worth the slog and even gets into a bit of a discussion of WikiLeaks and some of the issues that would lead to Edward Snowden.

Interesting side-note, this is one of the few graphic novels I can check out from my digital library. They may not have any DC or Marvel digitally available, but there are some gems to be found if you look.

(4 stars | At least read maybe the first 80 pages to see if you like it)

Incredible Change-Bots Two Point Something Something
Writer and Artist – Jeffrey Brown

coverThe copy of this from NetGalley was pretty lo-res, so I wasn’t really able to read one of the main story-lines, but this volume seems largely made up of miscellaneous material from a (web-comic?, indie?) parody of Transformers. If I was someone who’d followed the 1980s cartoon series, the jokes might have landed a little better for me. The art is imaginative, I personally like the golf-cart and microwave machines. A lot of what you’re getting here could come out of an artistically inclined sixth-grader who doodles in class, with writing to match. There are some romantic lines explored between a police car and a pick-up truck, mostly for some bad jokes about rust and dating.

Good for maybe a chuckle or two, especially if you like Transformers.

(3 stars | Rounded up from 2.5, wish I could’ve read it better)

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews