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Transmetropolitan: Gouge Away By Christian Farrell
The monster in Transmetropolitan: Gouge Away (Writer- Warren Ellis/Pencils - Darick Robertson/ Inker - Rodney Ramos) is the pink fuzzy bunny called known as Fame. The protagonist, journalist Spider Jerusalem, has become so popular that people no longer take him seriously, and the established powers no longer consider him a threat. As a pop-culture icon, Spider less resembles a journalist than an entertainer, and as such, his columns, no matter how much Truth they may speak, lose any significance. This makes Spider very angry.
That last statement is important. The character of Spider Jerusalem is loosely based on gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson during the ‘80s. In fact, the first issues of Transmetropolitan, when Spider returns from the mountains to the City, parallel Thompson’s return to writing for the San Francisco Chronicle (although he continued to live in Aspen). In Thompson’s columns, although he never covered a riot amongst half-aliens, he did bare his fangs with vicious attacks on Reaganism, Republicans, and yuppies. He proved to be a great journalist. And a star.
By the mid- to late-‘80s, things were different. While Thompson’s columns remained as bilious as ever, his journalistic abilities were eclipsed by his star-power. It became less important to actually read his column than to say you read his column. People used his as a poster-boy for mindless drug use and Las Vegas. Thompson was considered safe enough and non-threatening enough to lead a successful political campaign in Aspen (and get arrested for a DWI right after Election Day), and, among other things, become a model for a comic-book character published by a subsidiary of AOL-Time Warner. Sadly, Thompson himself bought into his mainstream status, and his current columns read more like attempts to set a record for celebrity name-dropping (watched Olympics with Ed Bradley, traveled to Hawaii with Sean Penn, etc.).
Gouge Away throws Spider Jerusalem this same enemy that vanquished his real-life counterpart, but unlike Thompson, Spider battles back. The scene is set with the opening volume of the anthology, “Nobody Loves Me.” In this story, Spider discovers television programs about his life and after watching them, he realizes that his talons have been replaced by teddy bear claws - that he is safe. This story really distinguishes itself through these television shows, because each show Spider watches, and his subsequent dreams, are drawn by different artists, including Kieron Dwyer’s Stone Cold version of Spider, and Bryan Hitch’s porno version. Warren Ellis’ writing is brilliant in this issue - the different art styles make the story fun, but at the end of the issue, through nimble writing and great subtlety, the entire Transmetropolitan continuum has changed. (If you look carefully, there are also clues leading to the current Transmetropolitan storylines, such as when Filthy Assistant Yelena stands over Spider’s drug-addled body and says “…sooner or later his body’s gonna stop soaking up the punishment.”).
The next story, “The Walk,” reinforces Spider’s new non-threatening status in the very first panel, when a random woman on the street bumps into Spider and says, “You’re in the way, Spider-boy.” Again, smart writing by Ellis - nothing extreme, just a simple act to remind us that everything is different now. The story progresses to the point of Spider breaking the law to temporarily return to being a danger, at least a danger enough for a hit to be placed on the lives of his Filthy Assistants Yelena and Channon in the next story, “Dancing in the Here and Now.”
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In “The Walk,” a distraught Spider tells himself to, “Get the City under my feet,” and that is very fortunate, because it is in the City scenes that Darick Robertson’s pencils and Rodney Ramos’ inking are at their best. With their creativity, attention to detail, and bawdy sense of humour, plus Nathan Eyring’s use of “painting on the side of a ‘70s van” colors, their Cityscapes melt together Key West, Beirut, and Bangkok, drizzle it over San Francisco, and beat it 50 years into the future.
“Gouge Away” is the three-part story that ends the book. Unlike Hunter S. Thompson, who eventually succumbed to his fame, Spider acts to permanently regain his outlaw status by writing his most unsettling column. Ellis makes Spider’s frustration very clear by showing us an uncharacteristically violent Spider, a Spider who uses his bowel disruptor gun as many times in one issue as he had in the entire 33 previous ones. As the book closes, Spider writes his most important column since the transient riots. But while the outcome of the transient column was beneficial, the effect of this column is more dire.
As important as Gouge Away is to the Transmetropolitan continuum, the one problem with this book is its pure entertainment value. Despite Warren Ellis’ intelligent writing and Darick Robertson’s/Rodney Ramos/Nathan Eyring’s buffed-chrome Cityscapes, compared to earlier volumes this story falls flat. Granted, that is no easy mantle to grasp, considering that Transmetropolitan is one of the best comic books published today, but if there were one volume in the book’s five-year plan that could be considered a throwaway, this would be it.
But ultimately, this book is well worth the $14.95 cover price. Gouge Away earns 3.5 out of 5 Slushies for its vibrant art, very good writing, and its ability to imagine Hunter S. Thompson following Spider’s example.