Tue
Apr 6 2010 12:26pm
The Great Comics Read-Along: Transmetropolitan v. 5, “Lonely City”

“What next?” - Channon

“Some actual journalism, I think.” - Spider

“Actual journalism? Is that when you don’t commit crimes?” - Yelena

“Hell, no. It’s when we commit really good crimes.” - Spider

The fifth volume of Transmetropolitan, “Lonely City,” is a collection of columns and short stories much like “Lust for Life.” The difference is that the overarching story—what happened to Vita, Callahan’s presidency, and who’s pocket the police are in—informs everything Spider is doing and writing. Some of it is funny, of course. The monstering outing is pretty great. But it’s all leading up to and pulling in pieces that are integral to Spider’s case against Callahan. The volume ends with a three-chapter story by the same name as the collection: “Lonely City.” It’s where things start to get ugly.

Ahead: Callahan, a few riots, the Filthy Assistants kicking ass, and a general feeling of unease.


What Happens

 

The first chapter, “Here to Go,” is a set of stories Spider tells about death and dying. “21 Days in the City” is just what it sounds like: a set of columns about the City and City life, from the good to the bad to the downright awful. The next chapter is “Monstering!” and it’s, yet again, pretty much just what it sounds like: Spider and his filthy assistants harass, beleaguer, and drive totally crazy a City politician who’s been caught up in a porn/sex scandal. Spider’s playing hard in this story. He breaks the ethical secret-sources code on one of his informants for the purpose of fucking over the politician. When the man snarls at him, he says that the truth is all he needs, implying that it’s over and done with for his journalist’s pretty ethical standards. (This, too, comes up later.)

The final three chapters form the “Lonely City” arc. The police attempt to sweep under the rug a genetically motivated hate crime: the murder of a young man. The police have video of the attack (enough to know four men did it) but won’t release it to the media. Spider calls them out, forcing them to make the arrest and release the tapes. It’s clear from the recordings that there was a police car in range of vision from the attack—and they had just watched instead of stopping it. So, the civic center and the police arrange to release the four culprits into a crowd of protesters including the parents of the dead boy. It’s a ready-made riot. Even more damning is the fact that they cordoned off Dante Street first, before a punch was thrown, and the police refused to let Spider & the assistants leave. They escape by force and later find out that the police massacred every single person on Dante Street. They were meant to be in the crowd. When Spider writes his column about the truth and sends it to Royce, he gets another ugly shock. The president has invented the D-notice. It’s a way of blocking any news that he feels is harmful. He’s choke-collared the press.


The Part Where I Talk

“He knew we were there and he knew our bodies weren’t found. This is the start of something fucking disgusting.” The expression in Spider’s eyes, the only thing we see in this panel, is one of something between shock and terror. Callahan is a murderer; we know that, thanks to Vita. It’s another thing entirely to know that he’s willing to kill a crowd of innocent people in a setup designed to assassinate Spider, Channon and Yelena. It’s yet one more step into fear and loathing to realize that the police were not only in on it but were the main vehicle for the plot.

The cops are an interesting dilemma in Transmetropolitan, one that I feel Ellis addresses and tries to mitigate. They’re represented through most of the story as a head-stomping, ego maniacal, beyond-reproach group of crazies with badges, guns and batons who exist solely to piss on everyone else and then jerk off afterwards. It’s not a pretty picture. Then again—they’re part of the machine in the City, given too much power and filled with corruption, just like politics. The police aren’t the only devils. They’re just one set in a huge ballroom full of evil bastards. (Perhaps a comment on the absolute-power-corrupts-absolutely idea?) The potential problem with presenting the cops as so outright evil is eased by the introduction of Detective Newton. She isn’t. She’s a little fond of force like the rest of her brethren but she also has a legitimate concern for the people of the City and, while there’s only so much she can do in the end, she’s the reason Spider and the Assistants get away with their lives and aren’t prosecuted for assaulting several police officers. She can’t go against her superior’s orders or she’ll lose her job, even though she knows that the orders are just plain Wrong. But she can do a little: “My back was turned slightly too long to see or catch you. Desk sergeant’s fault for detailing me here because he’d run out of warm bodies, which is why my back was turned. Running my case-load by phone… Get out of here. Go write a story. Leave me out of it.” Newton, going on with my point about the women of Transmetropolitan from last time, is a hard-edged supporter for Spider, though her support is the most backhanded.

The character development running through “Lonely City” is strong, too, especially in the last issue. I love seeing Spider’s way of showing his care for Channon and Yelena. It’s intense. Once they’re home, he’s gripping their hands so hard it hurts kneeling in front of them, begging them to get guns immediately and not go without them. He loves them both, I think. They’re his friends, and for Spider, that seems to be pretty rare. Channon and Yelena are just as shaken—Channon had to assault several police officers, which definitely bothered her, and Yelena blames herself for the death of the entire crowd of people because it was their journalism that set it up. Spider’s hands are shaking while he tries to light his cigarette. He has to grip the lighter with both. That’s something that carries on from another discussion post, too: violence in Transmetropolitan isn’t goofy and passed-off when it’s serious business. Spider and co. are normal people in the sense that they haven’t seen (much) combat, they aren’t prepared to have to hurt people, and they really aren’t prepared to have to kill to protect themselves. Especially Yelena, who is alarmed and frightened by the entire situation and the fact that she has to buy a gun at all. When they have to do these things, they’re bothered, even Spider.

But he’s angry. He’s ready to fight back, because he has a City to protect on the large end and his filthy assistants on the small one. He’s the one who dragged them into this, and now they could die, because of him. He knows it. It scares him. Seeing Spider scared is interesting. He channels it straight to rage, but it’s there under the surface. He’s frightened. Who wouldn’t be, faced with the force of the President and the police trying to kill you?

On a slightly less intense and scary note (though I love how tight the story is getting), “Monstering!” is an awesome, awesome short. The not-so-subtle Princess Diana joke got a snort out of me, but the variety and heinousness of the things Spider finds to do to Sweeney will have you in stitches. The floating head in the toilet is probably my favorite. Or the part where Channon and Yelena wear fake vampire fangs while screaming for Sweeney to whip his cock out and show it to the press to prove he wasn’t in any porn films. On a more serious note, this story plays back into Spider’s journalistic theories—nobody does investigative journalism anymore, so when he goes for it, it has an effect.

“21 Days in the City” has more column-writing, and we already know how much I adore that, right? Favorite: the page on Spider’s home block, a slum that was even nastier when he was a child there. I like the small tidbits of his childhood that we receive over the series. He grew up in deadly poverty, but his parents seemed to genuinely care about him. That’s better than many of the children he tells stories about, including the abused girl he talks about in “Here to Go.” (That one makes my eyes burn a little every time.)

“Lonely City” is a hybrid volume. It’s part short story collection, part main arc. The final pages definitely ramp up the anxiety for Spider & co., as well as the readers.

The Art

The final issue of “Lonely City” is a wealth of gorgeous facial expressions. Robertson’s attention to drawing eyes and eyeballs, which might seem like a small detail, truly makes the images pop. The more exhausted and more drugged-out Spider gets, the more veins in his eyes, the wider they open, the crazier they look. It's a level of detail that you don't see very often.

The CPD’s outfits are another interesting part of the illustrations in this volume. The street-soldiers who commit the crimes and do the dirty work are all clothed anonymously; their faces are covered and from head to toe they have body armor. That anonymity seems to lend itself to the machine of harmful power the police have become in the City. In contrast, Detective Newton is drawn with exquisite detail. It's just interesting to think about how the art affects the reading: we see the anonymous, armored and dangerous looking CPD as enemies. Newton, a person with a face we can identify with, is a companion. It plays on the fear of the “men in black.” I like it.

So, I’ll see you here next Tuesday for volume 6, “Gouge Away.” If you want to catch up on the other read-along posts, go here.

 


« Vol 4: The New Scum | Index | Vol 6: Gouge Away »


Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and L

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3 comments
Tim Nolan
1. Dr_Fidelius
You make a good point about the eyeballs. I'd never realised before, but so much of the humour and sickness and tragedy in Transmetropolitan is all there in those squishy bits of white stuff. Bloodshot, glaring, weeping, punctured with lit cigarettes; Robertson's art is a perfect match for Ellis's writing. He takes the things that make you especially uncomfortable and throws them at you from a new angle to make a point. Or make you laugh, or (frequently) both.

It would be so easy to write a series like this without the consequences. It's great fun to watch Spidey and the gang torment hypocritical politicians and run around breaking the rules. Ellis elevates it from a good comic to a great comic by reminding us that nobody can do this with impunity. More to the point, he makes it clear over and over again that simply enjoying the columns of Spider Jerusalem is not enough. If our only response is to laugh, or to look for a pair of red and green shades, we have missed the point entirely. Journalism, however good, is not an end in itself - it's supposed to lead to action.
Brit Mandelo
2. BritMandelo
@Dr_Fidelius

I also love the consequences they end up running into--even if that sounds a little cruel? It's what makes it a sobering look at journalism and politics instead of just some Ellis-style craziness.
psychicscubadiver
3. psychicscubadiver
About the police, being anonymous would also allow them to use their power more freely. Not only would it be difficult for a cilivian to tell which officer had done something, but the police themselves would feel a psychological release from the consquences of their actions if their identities aren't known. That's why so many people act like assholes on the internet.

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