Tag Archives: Warren Ellis

Transmetropolitan and sticking the landing

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Transmetropolitan is a difficult series to recommend and yet it’s one of the best things I’ve read in comics. There’s a lot of bad language, violence, sex, drug use, technological fetishism, bowel disruptors, two-headed cats and journalism. The main character is a bastard, and is also a deeply compassionate human being. If you stick with him, he’ll make you smile, then cringe, then smile again.

I’m a big fan of 50-60 issue series, long enough to develop a world, have notable side issues, and mysteries that are revealed gradually but not glacially. Transmetropolitan has a five year arc told over five years of comics from 1997-2002. In some ways it is very of its time, while in others it was quite prescient. But more than anything it’s a story that unfolds gradually, and that comes together to a satisfying ending, something difficult for any author, but doubly difficult in a monthly medium like comics.

Transmetropolitan tells the story of Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo style journalist in a 23rd century cyberpunk trans-humanist future. After five years away, Spider is called back to “the city” to fulfill the last two books of a five book publishing deal. The city is a mash of cultures, fetishes, technologies and architectures, constantly evolving and living in an ever present “now” with little memory of the past. Spider first decides to cover a transient movement in the Angels 8 district, a story that ultimately leads to his live coverage of police brutality bringing the riots to a stop. This earns him both fame from the public and the ire of city officials.

But the majority of the book’s arc has to do with two presidential administrations, the Beast and the Smiler, and Spider’s adversarial relationship with each. The Beast is a pragmatist who will only do the bare minimum necessary to keep at least 51% of the people happy and alive, and the Smiler is a man who wants power only so that he can use it for his own whims.

I don’t want to say a whole lot about the particulars of the conflict, but suffice it to say there are highs, lows, conspiracies and satisfying showdowns throughout. The best part is that ideas and concepts introduced in early issues are important and relevant to the conclusion. Everything feels like it has unfolded organically and inevitably to the conclusion Ellis and Robertson planned.

I’m not going to lie. It took me two reads of the first volume before I decided to go any further, with about six months between those readings. It took a deep discount and coke rewards points for me to buy the second volume, even after liking the first volume much better on a second read. There’s a lot of early world building. And the language and “colorful metaphors” (as Spock would say) are a barrier (though weirdly satisfying in later moments). This series is not for everyone, probably not even for most people. But you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try if it sounds the least bit interesting.

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Review: Supreme – Blue Rose, Stylish but lacks substance

Supreme: Blue Rose

Writer – Warren Ellis, Artist – Tula Lotay

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Diana Dane is an unemployed investigative reporter tasked by the mysterious information broker Darius Dax to uncover the mystery behind a golden arch that fell on the town of Littlehaven. What is the meaning of the word “Supreme” emblazoned on the arch, and who is Ethan Crane? And should Diana Dane trust Dax or the warnings she hears in her dreams?

This is a reboot of a reboot of a rebooted super-hero series. Yes, superhero. A little Wikipedia research reveals Supreme (a la Ethan Crane) to be a Superman analog first created by Rob Lefield and rebooted by Alan Moore. Diana Dane = Lois Lane, Darius Dax = Lex Luthor, etc. Moore introduced a meta element to the comic involving “revisions” that reset reality, in part to account for the different styles and approaches of the writers working on the title. There are many versions of Supreme, Dax, and Diana Dane. Some memories seep through to the current version, and some retired versions are taken to the Supremacy outside time.

Ellis maintains this conceit, revising the world into a much less heroic version (possibly a side-effect of Erik Larsen’s despised run of the comic). The latest revision has destabilized the boundaries between reality and powers from the distant future are trying to repair the damage either by triggering another revision, or removing key people into the safe future. The plot is largely disconnected and highly stylized, interspersed with scenes from a television show called Professor Night that somehow is connected to the revisions.

I’m okay with having to work to make sense of what’s going on. As a fan of Finder, I’m used to not all information being provided to me at once (though Carla does make use of extensive footnotes that do clear a lot up). You can do a stylized story as long as it crystallizes into something magical at the end. What we get from Ellis is a data-dump explanation and an abrupt unsatisfying and inconclusive ending.

Tula Lotay’s artwork is the highlight of the book, giving an ethereal sense to both reality and dreams. She draws a lot of ribbons and shapes interspersed with the story, like an old photograph with scratches or blurs. It’s really unique and gorgeous to look at. It reminds me a lot of the best parts of Fatale.

Ultimately this story fails to engage new readers to be part of the Supreme mythos. In a world where we can keep hitting the reset button, why should we care about these particular versions of the characters? But it’s Ellis’ execution that fails to captivate most, evoking a sense of the mysterious but lacking any real mystery.

(3 Stars | Hopefully Tula’s artwork can be applied to a better story)

Sidebar: My Wikipedia research did uncover a villain by the name of Televillain who apparently can enter the reality of television shows. He kills Monica Gellar in “The One Where Monica Gets Shot” and then is accosted in real life. Now that would be an interesting comic to read (Images from ComicVine).

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