Author: Jed McPherson World construction is challenging. Your surroundings will feel hollow and empty if you cut corners. If you go too far, your writing resembles that of a Dungeons and Dragons source book. Now, if you’re working on a series that is realistically based, you can slightly cheat. We all reside in the real world, which is known to us all. The labour is required for fantasy and science fiction, though.
Today, I want to examine Transmetropolitan by Darick Robertson and Warren Ellis to see how it manages this tricky balancing act.
Transmet’s first issue is complicated. It is brimming with concepts, ideas, and more concepts. It does not, however, bash you over the head with them. Instead, Spider’s character development and the establishment of the book’s status quo take up the majority of this issue.
Spider returns to the city, accepts a position at The Word, and chooses the topic for his debut piece. Yes, there are plenty of other things as well. For instance, Spider uses a bazooka to blow up his favourite bar. However, those are the signal’s major beats.
But the bulk of the world-building takes place in the background. Although, as you’ll see later, Robertson’s backdrops do a lot of the heavy lifting, I don’t mean that literally. Just that the book’s background noise, the less important information that can be viewed as filler or fluff, actually contributes to creating a sense of location and foreshadowing other stories.
Before he finds the one about Fred Christ that attracts his eye, Spider scans a few news articles. This accomplishes two tasks now. It first adds authenticity. In light of this, it would be somewhat coincidental if Spider turned on the TV and immediately received the information he need. But it also introduces a number of ideas and concepts without overwhelming you. That noise is it. Although it might appear unimportant, everything returns later in the series.
Consider the revivals, for instance. We repeatedly refer back to them at significant turning points in the plot.
In issue eight (“Another Cold Morning”), Mary gives us a good introduction to the revivals. In the entire run, it ranks among the top single issues. A stunning short story that perfectly captures one of the book’s major topics. You can have all the technology in the world, but without empathy, compassion, and care, it will only serve as another avenue for brutality and neglect.
The assassination that results in the election of the Smiler, the main antagonist of the series, was carried out by a resurrection, we later learn. The activities of a revival drive the whole second act of the series. And Mary is the one who supplies the crucial proof that reveals the murder and brings down The Smiler.
Beginning. Middle. then conclude. For everyone of them, there is a resurgence there. All of this stems from a passing reference in the first issue. Many comics could take inspiration from its dedication to world building and foreshadowing.
It’s not the only detail, either. the reserving. the mists. All of them—including Fred Christ, the Alien Sex Messiah himself—are in the first issue and keep returning. It makes you wonder if a whole arc involving sex werewolves was ever written but removed for length or propriety.
It’s not only Ellis’ speech either. Robertson incorporates a huge amount of sight gags and Easter eggs into his backgrounds across the entire series. This level of specificity merits close inspection. When it’s busy, it can resemble a scene from a Where’s Wally book (or Waldo for all our American readers).
If that comes off as criticism, it is not intended to be one. Robertson’s background highlights how hectic, bustling, and loud the environment of Transmet is. But he doesn’t just add pointless noise to the surroundings. No, he is continuously establishing new plot points and reiterating the concepts from Ellis’ background speech.
Little hints about the reservations, Angels 8, and foglets can be found throughout the first issue, tucked away in the background. The smallest poster, which features a politician grinning and has the words “I Love You” written below it in large, amiable letters, is arguably the most intriguing. At first sight, this might not seem like much, but upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the Smiler—the final series villain who doesn’t emerge in full until a good few volumes—is intended to be this.
Only the first issue contains all of that. If we enlarge the scope of our analysis, we discover that Ellis and Robertson even employ this strategy when creating new characters. In issue 3, during the Angels 8 riot, Channon (the first of Spider’s Filthy helpers) is introduced to us. Simply a name among the crowd, she is. Unimportant character. surrounding noise
We have learned to know her by the time she is reintroduced a few issues later, so her introduction has greater impact than if she had been created out of thin air.
This dual purpose, which allows something to presage themes or ideas while also creating a sense of place or developing a character, provides Ellis and Robertson the freedom to experiment. They can go off on tangents and add ideas whenever they want without it ever seeming pointless or, worse, indulgent.
Since journalism is all about the details, Transmet is first and foremost a book about journalism. Most of Spider’s columns are irate rants with plenty of foul language and run-on phrases. Although they are enjoyable, he performs best when he slows down and concentrates on his surroundings and the people in them. as he transitions from being Spider to being a journalist.
The three-issue series (numbers 40-42) near the back of the book, where Spider covers the city’s history, its mental health crisis, and (in what is possibly its most terrible issue), child prostitution, is in addition to the aforementioned “Another Cold Morning. Now, in the hands of a less talented creative team, these three themes can come across as superfluous or, at their worst, preachy. However, Ellis and Robertson weave significant narrative threads into their societal analysis.
Back to the dual nature of purpose we go. Ellis is eager to share information with you about our world, but he also understands the value of entertaining you. so as to amuse you. so as to affect you. Pretty amazing for a comic book where the main weapon makes people spit themselves.
In a scene from Issue #4, Spider orders Channon, his brand-new helper, to grab the group some monkey burgers. She initially objects because, well, she doesn’t want to be a glorified gofer; she wants to be a journalist. Spider, however, stops her and instructs her that she must tell him everything she saw on the way in addition to getting them lunch because “if you’re going to be a genuine journalist, you’re going to need to learn how to look,” he says.
It appears as though Ellis is currently instructing us on how to read a comic book (and comics in general). He is exhorting us to pay attention and maintain an alert state. Because every little detail counts.