Saturday, April 7, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Transmetropolitan Vol. 2 Lust for Life and Vol. 3 Year of the Bastard

My exploration into Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan series got off to a decent, but not stellar, start last September.  However, there was enough quality to the first volume to interest me in reading and exploring more, and my most recent finals week at university provided the perfect window for some comics reading that would provide an entertaining distraction.

In the second volume, Lust for Life rebel journalist Spider Jerusalem is up to his usual antics, causing trouble and cranking out scathing columns for his newspaper overlords.  In this one he manages to piss off a powerful politician, nearly overdoses on television, and raids a religion convention...and that's all in the first third of the book!  From there the surreal future that Warren Ellis has created rolls on to weirder and more wild places.

For example: There's people who get their consciousness downloaded into tiny machines and become sentient pink fog, Spider's cryogenically frozen ex-wife also makes a an appearance in this one, with a team of assassins  bent on taking out our favorite journalist, and a talking police dog with a crazy personal vendetta against, well you can probably guess who...

Things definitely got pretty weird in this second volume, and I gotta say, I'm pretty glad I'm reading this in collected format because I'm not so sure I'd be able to hang with this comic if I was reading it in single issues.  I definitely think this is a comic that benefits from binge style reading sessions, rather than small doses.  Everything about this comic is intense and a bit overwhelming, and I think it is better to just go all in for a while, then come up for air after a good stretch.

Ellis' writing, which has a very freewheeling/loose cannon feel to it seems to mirror his protagonist's personality.  It almost seems like story lines or maybe more accurately, "focal points" in this comic are picked up and abandoned at a whim as Ellis just plows through one aspect of popular culture after another.  That's not a bad thing, it certainly makes for a comic with a frantic pace and unique personality, but if you are expecting a comic that follows the normal rules and trends you commonly see in comic series, this may give you some surprises.  Instead of 5-6 issue story arcs with clear beginnings, middles and ends, Transmetropolitan is more of a stream of conscious rant or exploration of whatever suits Ellis' fancy.  Ellis will see his ideas through to the end, but they often aren't your typical endings, and they can be a bit cynical too.

Still, this is some incredibly entertaining, insightful, and intelligent stuff.  Pretty tough to get all that in one package, but here it is.

Grade: B+

Since I needed lots of distractions during finals week, I decided to stay aboard the Transmetropolitan train and immediately followed up Lust for Life with volume 3, Year of the Bastard.  This one proved to be the most coherent volume yet, as the whole thing focuses on the presidential election, and what Spider is doing, or more accurately not doing to cover the biggest story of the year.

Instead of getting out there and asking hard questions, getting interviews, and endorsing a candidate, Spider has sunken into bitter rut of pills and apathy.  When he finally gets his shit together enough to get out there and cover the debates, he finds the political situation to be quite an ugly one with two very shitty candidates.

Year of the Bastard is an interesting look at how the political machine works, and I found it especially interesting given the fact that it's an election year.  Ellis puts his usual stamp on the bullshit, the backstabs, the drama that always seem to follow a high profile election.

As I said earlier, this is the most coherent volume yet, and I appreciated the tighter focus on one distinct story line.  Unlike the previous two volumes, this has a more familiar comic story arc feel to it, but with all the weirdness, cynicism and dark humor that are the hallmarks of this series.

I felt like maybe Ellis has hit his stride here in this third volume, and has figured out a direction for the series rather than have it be a loosely focused series of rants and futuristic speculations. From a story standpoint that would be a positive, as I feel like this is a comic that so far has sorta gone the way of Sienfeld  and been  a story about nothing, while covering, well, everything.  Time, and the fourth volume will tell.

The Year of the Bastard also has a pretty great shock ending.  One I was nearly deprived of since my copy was missing the last five pages or so.  Thanks printers.  The ending seemed a little abrupt to me, so on my next trip to the comic shop I glanced through another copy of this same volume, and sure enough: the rest of the story.  I'm very glad I checked because I nearly missed out on a great conclusion to this story arc.  

All told, The Year of the Bastard is the best Transmetropolitan volume yet.  I'll be checking back in with this series before too long.

Grade: A-

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