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"Good Read" Column for March 6, 1998

back on the street

By Warren Ellis and Darick Robinson
72 pages, DC Comics, $7.95

(of a possible five)


Well, once again we have something that the industry calls a "graphic novel" that is more like a novelette, or novella, or whatever those things that are too short to be novels are called. This collects only the first three issues of the magazine TRANSMETROPOLITAN, which makes it one of the shortest such collections I've seen.

I can't even say it's a reasonable price for such a small package - $7.95 is cheap as trade paperback editions of comics go, but it's still more than the cover price of three very recent comics. Reprinting the comics and keeping them available, like many of the small publishers do, would be much more reader-friendly. Do a collection when there are enough that you can take advantage of the cost benefits of doing a collection and charge LESS for it than the individual comic magazines. But hey, what do I know?
Despite these drawbacks, I heartily recommend this book. Why? Well, mainly because it's good. It's also hot, apparently - the first thing from DC's Helix line of science fiction to really do well, and it's done so well that we have a TPB of the first three issues less than a year after the series made its debut. That's unusual, and one reason why this book is worth it is that your chances of finding the first three issues for cover price in the back issue bins are basically nil.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN: back on the street tells the story of future gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem, who took early retirement to vegetate in an isolated house "up a goddamn mountain" (to quote the first three words of the book). Unfortunately, he left with a contract unfulfilled, and now his old boss is threatening to sue him if he doesn't come back to the city and write some more. In the first issue, he is transformed from a hairy tattooed mountain man to a skinhead tattooed punk with a pair of shads that has one round red lens and one rectangular green one (courtesy of his "maker," a handy unit similar to the "replicators" of Star Trek, that makes anything one asks for. Unfortunately for Spider, his is on drugs ("Tripwire 7.0 - I know what this is. This is a hallucinogen simulator for live machinery, isn't it?")

Trying to find an angle on a story, Spider goes to visit an old friend, who it turns out is in the process of turning himself into an alien. He's got a whole neighborhood of followers, and they've announced that they're seceding from the city.

That would be a mildly interesting story, but during Spider's trip through the neighborhood, he notices a couple of disturbing things, things he doesn't really understand until the next day, when the peaceful insurrection breaks out into a full-blown riot.

The riot, it turns out, is a set-up, and Spider provides on-the-air proof of that along with live coverage of the riot in progess, a riot that is more than a bit reminiscent of the "police riot" (as described not by the protesters but by a presidential commission set up to investigate it) in Chicago in 1968.

Garth Ennis provides the introduction, which is mildly appropriate. Ellis has Ennis' wicked sense of humor without the over-the-top vulgarity Ennis displays in Preacher and other comics. Ellis also has an overt message that he is able to display proudly without veering over the edge into boring didacticism. Darick Robertson's art is a perfect match for the whacky story - somehow suggesting the cartoony while providing fairly realistic rendering.

This is the best new series I've seen in a long, long time. Buy this book, then get the rest of the magazines, if you can.

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