Transmetropolitan Volume 4: The New Scum by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (graphic novel review).
The fourth volume of ‘Transmetropolitan’, ‘The New Scum’, continues the satire, brilliance and general nastiness of its predecessors whilst still managing to ramp up the stakes. Following a brutal and unexpected ending to the last volume, ‘Year Of The Bastard’, leading man Spider Jerusalem is in a dark spot. Well, a slightly darker place than normal. He’s reeling from loss, not just the loss of a friend, but from his solitary high horse, his place in the thick of the city life. Now, he’s become a super-star, his face is on every holoboard and everyone is telling him how much they love him.
It is not helping. The recognition and, in turn, the money he generates, means that Spider is an asset to The Word, the paper he writes for. As such, they’ve moved him to a penthouse at top of a skyscraper. It is literally miles above the streets that he needs to be immersed in to write.
So Spider is in a bad place, but you really wouldn’t want it to be any other way. He’s paranoid, lost and, most importantly, angry! Whilst Spider’s anger is integral to the whole plot, it’s nice to see him take something personally when it actually is personal and not his social conscience.
The majority of this volume, interceded with fantastic vignettes giving a background to the City, is Spider interviewing the two presidential candidates, the Current President, labelled the Beast by Spider, and the challenger, the Smiler, a terrifyingly numb candidate who may have orchestrated the assassination of one of his own in order to gain the sympathy vote.
The two candidates are two different parallels of evil. The current president, the Beast, feels that he does his job if 51% of the population eats in a day. He has morals but they are dubious, but he has a few nonetheless. Based upon Richard Nixon, visually and politically, the Beast is a fantastic, vicious character, a great foil to Spider’s moral high ground.
Then there’s the Smiler, who believes in nothing, but still comes across as the caring, liberal family man. He is a void and, in an almost oxymoronic character move, he’s an evil void. He wants to be president because he believes he should be allowed to screw with people’s lives. The moral ambiguity that Ellis pervades this tale with is done so well, it pendulums between stark horror and gleeful mischief but always manages to be evocative. There is no other comicbook that makes you cringe and smile in such quick measure. Also, the fact that Ellis introduced a character in the previous volume, imbued them with personality, then promptly murdered them showed not only that Ellis is doing something different in this comicbook but that he is willing to stand up to the ridiculous tropes that the comic industry rehash constantly. The writing is so well-handled by Ellis, it’s politically scathing but never to an extent that feels hackneyed.
After this volume, SPOILERS, the tables are turned and Spider finds himself up against the Smiler. Whilst the Beast was predictable, borderline honourable in that he let Spider have his digs, the Smiler is pure crazy and his vendetta against Spider will fuel the plot of the next few volumes. The re-appearance of the woman from our time who was cryogenically frozen and dumped into the future is a nice touch and gives a good sense of Spider’s inner self and the care he has for the unfortunate. The fact Ellis and Robertson make us care about characters after a single issue and make us smile at their return speaks volumes.
Every time I write about ‘Transmetropolitan’, I find myself having to write about Darick Robertson again. I have no problem with this but I’ve run out of good things to say about him. His art is visceral, dark and exemplary. The scene, a small one, of Spider and Yelena awaiting the election results, her placing her hand on his shoulder, evokes such a depth of feeling, that it quite literally sucks you into the page, the characters, and the horrors they are going through. The neon palate, the severity of the City’s actions and the dystopian horror are portrayed perfectly. The unflinching ugliness that Robertson imbues his characters with still manages to be endearing and, in the end, with the comic industry westernising its characters with hyper-beauty, ends up making the whole thing more realistic.
‘Transmetropolitan’ is a mirror, a ridiculous commentary on the decadence of our society, the horrors we put ourselves through, the love that can still flourish and the complete necessity and uselessness of moral choices. ‘Transmetropolitan’ is the definitive Science Fiction dystopian comicbook.
(pub: DC Comics. 160 page graphic novel. Price: £ 7.99 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-40122-490-5)
check out website: www.dccomics.com