“This isn’t a job anymore. It’s a mission. We’re going to bring down the presidency.”
The seventh volume of Transmetropolitan, “Spider’s Thrash,” is part of the final run to the end. There’s only one unconnected short within it, a story about child prostitutes that definitely gets under my skin (and, judging from early comments on this read-along, other people’s too). The rest is setting up a place to work, doing research, and effectively loading that journalistic gun for one more big shot at the kneecap the Callahan administration still has left.
The energy and danger in this volume is palpable. The clues that something is going wrong with Spider’s health are starting to fall faster and harder; blackouts, nosebleeds, time-losses. It’s not good. As Spider himself comments, this race to take down the president may be a race against time, and he might not be around for the ending.
Ahead: running, researching, a couple of assassination attempts, and a view into the City’s other news organizations.
“Spider’s Thrash” has the usual six issues, one of which is a short story. (I don’t count the last two because they are technically investigation even if they have the shape of a two-parter.) The first arc, “Back to the Basics,” opens with other journalists and news anchors weighing in on Spider’s disappearance. Immediately after that, it cuts to the desk clerk/pimp from the hotel who supplied Callahan’s hookers being murdered by a man who then climbs into a police car. Spider and the Assistants meet up with the two people who run The Hole (John Nkruma and Lau Qi) and join up to publish his columns for free on their untraceable server system. Afterwards, when they’re at a bar, two men in blur suits attempt to kill Spider—but he manages to joke them into a false sense of security, then takes one’s gun and kills him. Later, at the hotel, Yelena and Spider discuss killing. The end of the arc is everyone else’s reactions to the new free column at The Hole. The short comes next; it’s the one on child-homes and the child prostitution and drug problems. The rest of the volume is tales from the mentally ill who’ve been turned out onto the streets thanks to the Smiler’s new policies. Spider interviews them for a story but he also manages to find a woman who witnessed Alan Schacht shopping around the Revivals for Vita’s assassin. Then, the final pages: Callahan picking the legs off a spider.
The Part Where I Talk
My favorite part of this volume is the conversation between Yelena and Spider after the incident at the bar, where he has to kill someone else to save his own life (again). Their dynamic is developing in such interesting ways. She asks him how many people he’s killed—sixteen—and he says that only one wasn’t in self defense. Her resemblance to Spider comes shining through right there, because she kneels down next to his chair with an intense look on her face and says, “Tell me.” Of course, he gets up and walks out of the hotel, but for that moment it was all about the story for Yelena. The next bit of text after that is her first section of “writing” in the comic. She says he’d be pleased if he knew she was writing again, but he’d want to see it, and she’s not ready for that.
Channon gave up the writing part of journalism, for all intents and purposes. Yelena has it burning in her. I think that’s what ties her to Spider (and, really, Spider to her). Ellis mixes in these small personal details and relationships with such a delicate touch during the crazy drama going on all around his characters. It’s part of what makes them real and not just caricatures, the same way their reactions to violence turn it into something more than just comical or off-hand. Transmetropolitan might seem entirely plot driven sometimes but these scenes remind me that everything is about the characters.
That cast is growing in “Spider’s Thrash,” also. The introduction of the other news-workers of the city as more than just people on TV is deeply cool. Robert McX and his team especially interest me (though, this is perhaps influenced by the last couple of volumes): they seem to be a crack-team of their own type, two drug-intensified and occasionally apathetic assistants and a tough journalist/newsperson at the head of the ship. His reaction to Spider’s column popping up on The Hole is also rather telling for what comes later—he grins, the expression a little feral on his scarred face, and says “Well, well… You wee bastard…” You can tell he’s pleased as hell that Spider has found a way to speak to the masses. So’s Royce, when he finds it. The only person who isn’t happy seems to be Callahan.
Callahan… What a guy. No, really. He is a truly unpleasant, nasty individual. I don’t doubt people like this exist. I often suspect them of being part of my political system, actually—deep down, they just want to fuck with us. That is their plan. (Sometimes I also suspect I’m a little paranoid, but that’s just full disclosure.) The last few pages of this volume are shiver-inducing, and I’m arachnophobic. I have killed more spiders than I can count (or had them killed for me in fits of terror). But watching the Smiler methodically torture one poor little arachnid makes my heart clench, both for the casual pleasure he takes in the cruelty and the symbolism of it. (In addition to all the people he’s had murdered over the past two volumes. Picking off Spider’s sources for what he’s said; picking off his proverbial legs.)
And it’s impossible to end talking about this volume without mentioning the other plot point that’s begun to rear its ugly head. Spider’s health is declining so fast that he’s begun to notice by the end. Like Yelena says in her little block of writing: “Now… I’m starting to wonder if he’s ill. Because he’s starting to forget things. And he wasn’t dozing when Channon left the room.” The nosebleeds, hallucinations and blackouts are increasing in frequency and intensity. Something is very obviously wrong, more wrong than it’s ever been before. Spider’s lines really slam that point home, as he’s staring up at the “viewer” with blood running down his lip and on his fingers. “You know, if there’s one thing that genuinely frightens me… It’s that I won’t get to finish this.” He later starts a recording for Channon and Yelena, instructions if he dies before it’s over. He knows something’s up and it’s not good, but he won’t see a doctor. He won’t even acknowledge it out loud to his assistants because it seems to terrify him, the thought that he is dying and he can’t stop it. Juxtaposed with that other story about death and dying that came a few volumes back, it’s strange to see how Spider reacts to it. I don’t think he’s so much afraid of death as afraid of being unable to finish the things he’s started. It’s not a finite end that frightens him. It’s abandoning the people who need him.
That’s pretty awesome, despite some of the other things he may do that aren’t.
I feel as if I should comment on the child prostitution short, but as somebody said way back at the first volume post, it’s enough on its own. It’s dark, it’s graphic, it’s inherently depressing. But it’s also great. It’s one of the most real and ugly things in the entire comic, because it is in no way removed from our real life. There’s no way to brush by that story and not be bothered, and that’s a good thing, because it should be disturbing. I can’t think of anything more to say beyond what Spider says himself. It’s not entertaining; it won’t make you laugh. It’s just important and deeply sad.
If there’s one thing I absolutely fucking love in this volume it’s the way Robertson plays with the backgrounds and setting. Plain white backgrounds, the shifting hallucinatory bathroom scene, slabs of plain soft color instead of the riot of City life—he’s making different moods with his backgrounds, drawing our eyes to the people in the illustration instead of the text behind them. While that mass of text and color is what makes Transmet so awesome, isolating his gorgeous, emotive and unique character illustrations so the reader must see them as they are without distraction… Well, that’s brilliant. I love it. It’s just the way it looks and the depth of moment it gives those scenes, like the confession in the hotel between Spider and Yelena or Callahan torturing the spider.
There’s beauty in simplicity, too, and I’m glad Robertson includes that style along with the rampant madness of the rest of the City and the comic.
That’s it for today’s comics jam. Join me next week for volume 8, “Dirge.” If you want to catch up on previous weeks, go here.