“Is that why we’re in Dante Street today? Bit of resonance there? It’s all going to stick to you now. Everyone’s heard everything.”
Here we are: the end of Transmetropolitan. “One More Time” is the culmination of the work Spider has been doing for the entire series, where all the threads come together into a web that can pull down the President. It also deals with the aftermath and how Channon, Yelena and Spider are living after the big job is done. I love “One More Time.” It’s not one of the funniest volumes—I’d say its probably the most serious, actually—but it’s definitely making a lot of historical references and political points. Not to mention the intensity of the climax as Callahan and Spider come head to head.
Ahead: final showdowns, police state violence, outlaw journalism and people standing up for their freedom.
“One More Time” opens exactly where the last volume ended: Spider has just released the story about the President hiring Transient prostitutes and Callahan has declared martial law. Liesl, the girl who the story came from, won’t go with Spider & co. when they evacuate the premises. She ends up being a decoy for the police attention while the rest escape, something that doesn’t please Spider but can’t be helped. They go to Yelena’s father’s house again and the interview Spider did with Callahan’s late wife airs—he admits he never used it before because she seemed too sad. Monitoring the feeds, Qi comes across a live video from a campus that is being cordoned off by troops and penned in. The students begin a peaceful protest but the troops open fire (without an order to fire, which means it was already authorized) on them. The Hole is the only feedsite playing the footage. Mary, at a phone booth, sends Spider pictures she took of Schacht and another Revival, discussing the assassination of Vita Severn. Qi and Oscar, Yelena’s father, stay behind to be arrested while Spider and the Filthy Assistants escape.
And, despite the troops in their offices and stations, the other channels begin picking up the massacre footage and telling the story of what’s happening to the City, one by one. The President is caught in his own shitstorm. He boards a helicopter bound for the City. Spider, Channon and Yelena lead a crowd behind them to Dante Street, where Spider goes in alone to confront the now-disgraced Callahan. They talk for awhile but Callahan forgets Spider’s first trick: he’s soaked in source-gas, so the media crowd outside has heard him confess to the murders of his wife and Vita. When he attempts to kill Spider, Detective Newton comes in and arrests him (after a judicious fist to the face). The game is over.
The series ends with Spider and his crew up the mountain again, where he can garden and relax. Callahan has managed to stay out of prison with his money but is no longer president, and his VP won’t grant him a pardon. Royce learns that in all but two percent of cases, Spider’s disease will render him a vegetable. As soon as they all walk inside (Yelena about to leave for her column writing gig in the City for a few weeks), Spider whips out a gun and points it at himself—but it’s actually a lighter. He lights his own cigarette, twirls the gun (something he could not do if his motor skills were as impaired as he’s playing), and says “One percent” then begins cackling.
So the ending is a triumph and a relief. He has some brain damage, yes, but it won’t get worse—he’s part of the one percent. Spider lives on.
The Part Where I Talk
And here, it ends. I love that the culmination of the adventure we’ve been on with Spider and his crew is a face-to-face meeting between Spider and the Smiler. It’s a matter of coming full circle—their first real meeting was when Spider realized what was wrong with Callahan. It’s only fair that the end of the story will be just as personal. Callahan’s take on the whole thing is interesting: “What has your mission: fuckwithme gotten you? Your brain’s rotting. You’ve got no fucking job, nowhere to live, and you’re now trapped in a room with me and two of my agents.” He just doesn’t get it. Spider doesn’t care about all of that. He cares about finishing the chase and taking him down for the good of the people and the City he loves.
The Nixon references are one of the more entertaining parts of the ending, in a weird way, for me. The idea of “when the president does it, it’s not illegal” has been bandied about several times in Transmetropolitan and usually to great effect. The point of the comic seems to be, despite two presidents in a row using the quote, that it’s not true. The law is the law, and we need things like journalism to keep those people in power from breaking the law whenever we can. Ellis has been painting parallels with our own history throughout Transmetropolitan, but I think one of the strongest is the Kent State reference in “One More Time.” The re-imagined famous photo, starkly similar in posing but with different jewelry/clothes, is a kicker. Robertson and Ellis find ways to retell us our history in Transmetropolitan. It’s a serious level under the surface and is one of the things I love about this comic. The humor is nice, and it’s uproariously funny at times, but underneath that there is this story: when someone does wrong, especially someone in power, it cannot be ignored.
The banding together of the news organizations and the fact that they were the machinery that really sealed the deal—that’s a nice touch. It’s not all the lone gunmen, Spider and his assistants. It’s also the corporations and the news anchors who decide that they will not be told to shut up. They’ll put out the important stories when they need to be told because they have a responsibility to the people. (The cynical side of me scoffs a bit at the whole thing—I just can’t imagine any of the current US news stations being capable of this kind of willingness to challenge the Message. But I’d like to believe it.)
The end for the Transients is one of the bitter parts of the story. They’re ready to stand up again and really mean it this time, but it turns out, no news stations are covering their area because it’s poor and decrepit already. There are no journalists to record their deaths, no cameras to freeze the images of the brutality the troops dish out to them. I’m not sure what the message is there—partially, I’m sure, it’s about ending Fred Christ. But otherwise it might be a point about how the news treats poverty areas. When they have a campus massacre to cover, they aren’t going to be in the slums looking at the murders occurring there.
The theme of Spider-is-kind-of-a-dick has two sides in “One More Time.” On the one hand, what he does to Liesl is the kind of behavior I’ve discussed before—he isn’t terribly concerned with who he hurts when he gets his stories, because he feels they’re for the greater good. He uses her for what he needs and she knows it. Then again, we have the late Mrs. Callahan, whose interview he chose not to use while she was alive because he was aware of the effect it would have. “If I’d used that sequence back then, I’d’ve shat on what was left of her life. I’ve done that a lot. I don’t want to do it all the time.” I’m not sure if that awareness of his own flaws can balance out the bad things he’s done to people over the course of the series, but at least he’s not so consumed in his own ego that he doesn’t realize the kind of damage he doles out to people who don’t deserve it.
The last few pages are especially strong. Endings can be hard to manage. Ellis gives us one that at once updates us on “where are our heroes now?” and gives closure to the story as a whole. Channon is writing books, Yelena is the “new Spider/old Yelena” writing columns. She’s got another tattoo now, the female symbol with spider-legs, on her shoulder. She’s really developed into her own, if we believe Channon and Royce, which I suspect we should. She and Spider are also confirmed at this point to be in a relationship. (I still wonder when that really started. Obviously not right after the one-night-stand they had together, but at some point, things changed for the romantic.) And then there’s Spider.
He’s earned his vacation, and he knows it. I wonder if he’s let Channon and Yelena know that he’s part of the one percent who don’t get worse from I-pollen damage. Obviously, he’s not telling Royce, but I do wonder if they know. It sounds like they don’t, but it might just be that they’re also helping him lie to Royce. I’m not sure. It seems a little skeezy for him to lie to his Filthy Assistants, considering that they all seem to live together and are very close, but he might be planning on enjoying a little vacation first. After all, they’ll eventually figure out that he isn’t degenerating. Then it’ll be a nice surprise.
I had a good time with these guys, and talking about them with you. Re-reading Transmetropolitan is always worthwhile. Spider’s time in the limelight might finally be over, but there’s still Channon and Yelena to do his old job, and in my head the story’s not quite over. That’s the best kind of ending; the sort where you can imagine what happens next.
“One More Time” is a strong volume, art-wise. The gore is handled with the same intensity and realism that we’re used to, the facial expressions are absolutely top-notch (especially the interview with Callahan’s wife and the things her eyes and hands do to communicate her feelings), and the backgrounds are gorgeous while retaining their complicated stream of information. I think that my favorite part has to be the very last few pages, though, where Royce goes up the mountain. The green life everywhere is so lovely, and the way Spider, Channon and Yelena have changed their looks is also interesting. I like that Yelena has a small gut in her sports-bra-and-shorts (or is that a skirt?) outfit; she’s not rail-thin anymore, which fits in with how much more healthy their new lifestyle is. Lots of good food, no more drugs and plenty of sleep, at least, can do wonders for gaining some much-needed weight. I like farmer!Spider, too—he looks much more at-peace than he ever did in the series, even the first time he was up the mountain in his filthy liquor-stained abode. Now, with his Filthy Assistants and some companionship, he seems to be settling down for a long rest. He’s earned it. (Though of course, since he is part of the one percent, that may mean he’ll eventually decide to write again. Maybe. He at least has the option.)
Show’s Over—For Now
This has been fun. Next on my agenda for the comic posts is a Hugo Special week to talk about the five nominees for this year’s Best Graphic Story Award. (Check out nominees here.) After that, we’ll see what’s up—there are a lot of series left to potentially do read-alongs for, but it all depends on interest level. Feel free to suggest below things you’d like to see written about, or things you’d like changed in the format, or anything like that. Tell me what you want to tell me about how these read-along posts went for you.
If you want to check out all the old posts, go here.