He’s Nobody’s Cartoon, That’s Who
Welcome back, folks! Today we’re handling our very first character from Vertigo comics at the behest of u/SirLaxer on reddit! Hopefully this article doesn’t cut into you Lax time too much, brah. Gotta, uh… I don’t know any other Lacrosse terms. Moving on!
Spider Jerusalem is the protagonist of the series Transmetropolitan, a tale of journalism in the far off future. In many ways, it’s a familiar story: crazy drugged up journalist and friends take on a political regime. It’s unique in a lot of other ways, but we’ll get to that later on. Spider is also one of the more instantly recognizable of the Vertigo characters, what with the tattoos and crazy glasses and all. I’m going to go ahead and warn you all, by the way, that the following article obviously contains spoilers for Transmetropolitan, so read at your own risk. Now, without further ado, let’s fake an education in comics!
Ironically, I can’t Think of Any Dumb Headings for the Article About the Writer
SCENARIO: You know, I can never come up with good ones for these anymore, but I really don’t have the heart to ever get rid of this section. So uh, just pretend I said the usual shit here and we’ll both go our separate ways, yeah? Alright then.
Step One: With Great Journalistic Power, Comes Great Tolerance to Drugs
Spider Jerusalem, born Spider Django Heraclitus Jerusalem(no, seriously), is basically what would happen if Hunter S. Thompson were born in the future. Paranoia? Check. Funky glasses? Check. Kind of a huge prick? Check. Huge fan of illicit substances? Check fucking plus. Actually, Mr. Thompson was largely the inspiration for the character of Spider, so that’s all pretty spot on, save for his physical appearance, which was largely based off of artist Darick Robertson’s friend Andre Ricciardi. And frankly, that whole mix created a fascinating character. At the beginning of the series, he’s almost pitiable. Alone, broke, and driven half-mad by his addiction to basically every sort of substance. Even when he goes back into the creatively named City, he’s still a sort of caricature, an edgelord spouting about truth and how dirty the world is. Basically, a watered down copy of every other Vertigo character. But then, as the series develops and Spider finds an actual direction, we see more than that. We see a man tired of being ground into the dirt by a society that has evolved to care for nothing. We see a champion of the people, a man who would rather die than go a day without giving the civilians what they need: The Truth. Shit, that’s literally his motto: “The Truth. No matter what.”
A true muck-raker at heart (hell, I’m pretty sure he used a program called “muck-raker 2000), Spider will dig down as deep as he has to to get to the core of a story, dredging up all manner of dirt on anyone he feels is short-changing the people of The City. It begins with his coverage of the Transient Movement, a group of people who wish to transcend their own species. It’s the first really important bit of work that Spider does in the series, leading to him adopting the symbol of the movement as his own after it’s swallowed up in a riot orchestrated by officials within The City. Yeah, it’s… turns out the future’s a pretty fucked up place.
But, thanks to the efforts of Spider writing/recording/live streaming (???) his column, the word about the riots got out and they slowly dissipated, leading to two things: One, Spider was on his way to being rich (again), and Two, he had just made enemies of some very powerful people (again). Of course, they wouldn’t take action against him yet. Not until the election season, at least.
Step Two: The Shiniest of Two Turds
After about a year of, frankly, not doing all that much, Transmetropolitan decides to start shifting things into high gear. As election season swings around (the very thing that both gave Spider his fame and drove him out of The City in the first place), Spider finds himself once again dedicated to political columns, struggling to pick a side between the current president and the challenger. The current president is frequently known as The Beast, and is an allegory for Richard Nixon. That’s pretty much the easiest way to tell you all that he’s kind of an asshole. The challenger, the seemingly benign Gary “The Smiler” Callahan, is an allegory for JFK. So, if you’re say, most Americans, you’d pick Kennedy over Nixon. And in this instance, you’d probably rather take a guy named Smiler than Beast. Say, why don’t we take a look at that smile?
GAH WHAT THE HELL!
This is not the smile of a mentally stable individual. Obviously, he isn’t, because, well, the series needs an antagonist. See, what it comes down to, at least for Spider, is that while The Beast is a colossal asshole who will do anything to make himself happy, at least he believes in something. The Smiler, on the other hand, is an amoral bucket of cockheads who goes from simply wanting power for the sake of power, to twisting the the entire Constitution just to fuck over one man. Gold star to whoever can guess who that man is!
It’s Spider. I feel like that one was pretty easy.
Anyways, after initial supporting the Smiler (because fuck The Beast), Spider begins to swing back around after befriending campaign manager Vita Severn. At this point, things are looking pretty good for ol SJ. He’s well off, he’s got a bitchin’ apartment, a two headed cat, two awesome assistants, and all the drugs and heavy weaponry that he could ever desire. There was even some budding indication that he and Vita might have something a bit more than friendship between them. So of course, this being a Warren Ellis joint, things just had to go tits up in the most spectacular of ways.
For the record, I really wanted to use the panel of Vita’s head exploding, but apparently there’s literally no scans of that anywhere. Also, Vita’s head explodes. Probably should have mentioned that first.
So yeah, in a calculated bid to seize the election, The Smiler orchestrates the assassination of Vita, hoping to capitalize on her death in order to receive support from the general public. To anyone paying attention to the story so far, it’s pretty transparent as to what happened and how.
But of course, American politics are American politics, and it works. Outrage and tragedy mask any other issue, and the candidate wins. This is a tactic that Spider would later expose The Smiler for using all throughout his life: whenever something started to go wrong for him, he’d just get someone killed and use the sympathy to his advantage. Of course, this would lead to his eventual downfall, as Spider would expose the man for everything he had ever done in his life.
Oh, Spider totally wins, by the way. Like, one hundred percent, he is the victor at the end of the series. And you know what? In almost any other comic, I would hate that. But in Transmetropolitan, god damn, does it feel earned. Spider’s been through the wringer, he’s had pretty much every single bad thing in the world happen to him, and he still comes out on top. It’s like when Spider-Man or Daredevil wins. It doesn’t just feel good for them, it feels damn good for you too. You want to join them in their celebration, you want to pump your fists and whoop and holler, because damn it all, they won, and you were there every step of the way with them.
It helps that the villain is (or rather, was) such a fantastically weaselly piece of garbage, and that seeing him fail is the most satisfying feeling in the world. Oh, and that Spider has, previously, had an absurdly shitty life.
Step Three: Fire Walk With Me
To further elaborate on exactly what Spider goes through, well, here we go. Spider grew up on the docks of the city, with a father who was a bus driver and a mother who was so broke that she could only cook lizard for every meal. At age 8 (according to him, at least), the man worked as a stripper, and he apparently worked as a prostitute at some other point in his youth. He would go on to spend much of the rest of his life taking basically all the drugs ever and murdering dogs (he has a… thing… about dogs) whenever he wasn’t writing. After writing an absurdly popular book about politics (as well as an eight thousand word essay when The Beast was first elected that consisted of the word “fuck” repeated ad infinitum), he received a lucrative advance from a publisher who wanted two books from him. In response, Spider promptly decided to fuck off to a mountain outside The City and slowly burn all of his cash over the course of five years. He would eventually return to this home on the mountain, but not until the end of his war against The Smiler.
Of course, before that, something awful would have to happen to him, wouldn’t it? After all, what hero’s journey would be complete without some sort of final trial? For Spider, his came in the form of a debilitating disease. See, over the course of the series, Spider had been exposed several times to an agent known as I-Pollen, a cloud of nanites that would disseminate electrical pulses within the recipients’ brains in order to deliver news and ads and such. However, this method of communication had been outlawed, as the redial electrical pulses of information would become trapped in the brain, slowly overriding and deleting primary brain function and most memories. Spider was diagnosed with a 2 percent chance of beating the disease. And yet, somehow, some fucking how, Spider pulls through, tricking all the readers for most of the final issue into thinking that he’s simply waiting for his last days, when in reality, he simply wishes to quietly retire to his home on the mountain.
At long last, after every loss, every poorly made media spinoff of his likeness, Spider got what he wanted. He won. And he deserved it. The people finally knew the Truth that he held so dear, the presidency was in line to be taken by someone who wasn’t a complete and total asshat, and maybe, just maybe, Spider had found love in one of his assistants (or at least he turned her into a gender-swapped version of him, which is… pretty much how most relationships end, honestly). He’s happy, and he earned it.
Step Four: Further Exploration
So we’ve got our hero, a man who at first glance appears to be an asshole (albeit an altruistic one). Suffice to say, he’s a complex individual. Unstable, weird, angry, cocky as all hell, and yet, like so many of our antiheroes, all of this is only on the surface. As the series progresses, we see that Spider is a deeply compassionate man, essentially saving the life of a woman who had her consciousness transplanted into a future body when he gets her off the streets, saving numerous children from prostitution rings, and doing anything to protect his “filthy assistants”. Of course, he’s not a man without his demons, frequently using anything and anyone to get whatever story he wants, no matter the cost, but in the end, he is still a good man, overcoming his own failings. Shit, he’s one of the only people in The City who prefers a largely nonlethal weapon over a lethal one. Sure, it’s literally a gun that makes people shit themselves with varying intensity (or should I say intestiney?), but still, generally more humane than say, bullets. And while he will use bullets and other heavy ordinance when he needs to, and has killed 16 people over the course of his lifetime, all but one of those kills was in self defense, and as far as I know, the last kill was his ex-wife, who had previously orchestrated an elaborate plot to fuck over Spider just before entering cryogenic preservation, so… yeah. I’d say it was justified.
Point is, he’s an overall good person, arguably even more so than any other Vertigo character. Constantine’s pretty much an unrepentant asshole, Jesse Custer is a good man of the roguish variety… even all the best ones are still flawed in their morals in some way. Spider just seems the least flawed, in hindsight. Plus, the idea of a poop-your-pants gun is hilarious and I love it, so he’s pretty much stolen my heart. I only started reading Transmetropolitan a couple weeks ago (finished it about a week before this article, actually), and it’s rocketed up to one of my favorite comics of all time. The world, the characters, the dialogue, the story, every part of it is just… magnificent. Seriously, go read it.
Regrettably, Spider doesn’t show up ever again, as Transmetropolitan reached its close. Although he does have a cameo appearance of sorts in Planetary, for all intents and purposes, his story is over. Now, this is a good thing, as there really isn’t anywhere else for his character to go, but god damn do I wish there was more of that book. Maybe it could get a halfway decent tv or film adaptation someday, but for now, we’ll all just have to consign ourselves to wait.
I really don’t have much else to say on the matter. I could plug Transmetropolitan some more, I guess, but I think I’ve done more than enough of that for one article. So for now, I will simply bid you all adieu.
Until next time.
Or I could also plug my shitty Youtube gaming channel right here! Wowza! It may sound like we’re underwater and we may have kind of awful commentary, but, uh… the important thing is that we’re having fun?
please watch us oh god we’re so bad i’m sorry