Transmetropolitan Reread

The Great Comics Read-Along: Transmetropolitan v. 8, “Dirge”

“Okay. Brain sick. Crack on head. Pass out. Stuck in my own head without cigarettes. You’d think being a journalist would train you for this sort of situation.”

While Spider has spent the past several volumes preparing his case against the Smiler, Callahan has spent it setting up a way to destroy him utterly, step by step, starting with the evidence Spider has gathered. The wealth of power behind the President’s position is revealed in “Dirge,” from organizing a near-superstorm to declaring a “blue flue” and killing as many people as he needs to kill.

“Dirge” is less about humor and more about the struggle Spider and co. are facing. Yelena’s father comes on scene and proves himself to be an interesting man—which also makes a point about Spider’s age, because they were both involved in the same previous political campaign.

This time around: brain sickness, running from the president, Callahan on the move and more about Yelena.

What Happens

A sniper in a blur suit empties out the print district. Spider and co. are out investigating the strangeness, because there aren’t enough police, so they go to Dante Street Precinct. They talk to Detective Newton again, who is actually still at work because she cares about her job, and they verify with her that it’s a “blue flu.” The civic center has told the cops to call in that day in mass because there’s something bad about to go down. Spider and the filthy assistants find out why while they’re out and about: a light ruinstorm is blowing in, despite the fact that it shouldn’t be able to happen with the climate control systems. They end up in a bar, where Spider gets a window blown up in his face and is knocked out. Yelena writes his column. He wakes up back at her father’s house with a doctor looking him over.

She tells him that he has I-pollen related cognition damage. It’s degenerative. He talks to Yelena’s father (one of the more amusing lines is his about his daughter: “So like her mother. She was an awkward bitch too, you understand.”) and the man offers them his home as a command center.

In the meantime, Callahan has declared the city a disaster area and has come to visit. Spider meets him at the press conference and hands out discs of info to the other journalists on the assassination of Vita Severn. The volume ends with them finding out that not only has Callahan wiped the data in the print district so their evidence is going, but he’s killed his family in another sympathy ploy.

The Part Where I Talk

Yelena’s one of the main focus points of “Dirge.” It opens with her waking in a way that’s pretty familiar: growling for cigarettes, squinty and pissed-off. It reminds me of Spider, which I suspect is the point. Then, as she’s scratching herself, her shorts ride up to reveal a tattoo—the same black stylized spider that’s on Spider’s head. It’s interesting. Their relationship is never truly clarified, but it’s because of that that I find it so awesome. Ellis doesn’t feel the need to tell the reader whether or not they’re still sleeping together or if they’re just best friends, like Spider and Channon. (Alternately, one can’t really be sure that the three of them don’t have an arrangement, but the vibe I always got from Spider and Channon, especially in this volume, is one of very close friendship.) Either way, I love that it’s not considered a focus of her character—she isn’t defined as a Girlfriend, but as a vital part of the team, as shown by the fact that she writes Spider’s story for him under his name and he kisses her on the forehead for it.

There’s a lot of emotional intensity going on in this volume once we find out that Spider has I-pollen damage that, in all but two percent of cases, will progress like a quick Alzheimer’s disease. He’s dealing with it better than Channon and Yelena, probably because he’s suspected for some time that he was ill, or because he knows he has to keep going strong until he finishes his task. He has to take down Callahan, no matter what, and he can’t let himself go until then. It’s not really death, but as he says, “I won’t be able to retain or process information. Sounds like dying to me.” It kills me when they hand him his new pair of signature glasses and his response is so small and sweet—“Shit. Um. Thank you. Damn. I hope I remember this. You know.” Channon just about starts crying, and I know it makes my eyes burn a little. They’re all such real people, especially in this volume, because of the intensity of feeling Ellis writes for them.

Even Callahan has that depth of passion. It’s just that it’s devoted to, well, cruelty and violence and evil. It’s amazing how much time he’s willing to put into cornering, capturing and destroying Spider. He’s not content to just have him killed. He has to make him suffer. (Which, ironically, is probably the only reason Spider lives to finish his mission—Callahan’s own arrogance.) He must disgrace him as a journalist, as a person, and ruin his life to be satisfied because Spider made it so personal. That’s why he causes a near-superstorm: it’s because he needs to be able to declare the City a disaster area under martial law, and it’s because he needs to break into the print district and erase all of Spider’s databank of evidence. Without evidence to back up Spider’s claims, and with all of the informants dead, Callahan can say he’s a brain-damaged drug addled lunatic and do away with him quietly.

The ending is pretty shocking, can’t wait to talk about the fall-out next time: Callahan murdering his wife is definitely a jaw-dropper. The first time I read it, it shocked me, even though he’d killed Vita early on. It just doesn’t seem like he’d be willing to kill his family, but he was, and it’s what makes Spider even angrier. “I’m going to make the grinning bastard suffer,” is the last line of “Dirge.” And I can’t wait to see it.

The Art

So, there are a few panels in this volume that I’m not terribly fond of—like the one where, for no conceivable reason, Channon flashes her breasts at the reader. It’s especially out of place considering how well the nudity in the rest of the series is handled and how natural it feels (like, it took me two or three reads to realize that at the election party Channon’s dress is baring one nipple).

On the other hand, it also has some panels I absolutely adore. The section where Spider is unconscious and trapped in his head, all black with only some of his body outlined, is lovely. Yelena’s father’s house is interesting, too, because of the stark white coloring. Also, the panel at the beginning where Yelena is smoking and the smoke obscures her mouth—it’s nifty.

That’s it for today’s Tuesday comics jam. Join me next week for volume 9, “The Cure.” If you want to catch up on previous weeks, go here.



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


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