Why We Are Beyond Transmetropolitan’s Predictions, Part 1: The Politics

by Benjamin Hall

[**NOTE: Warning of spoilers for the series Transmetropolitan! Also, links below lead to news sources.]

Transmetropolitan was a series created by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson in the 1990s. Originally, it was published by DC’s imprint Helix and then moved to DC’s other longer-lived imprint Vertigo. It is a rarity in that this series from an American publisher has a beginning, middle and end. Of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s works, Transmetropolitan is one of the most well-known. This Is mainly due to the protagonist, Spider Jerusalem.
However, we are not exploring the above. Instead I will be pointing out via this series why we are at the promised future points and forewarnings from Transmetropolitan. We will explore how various political issues, potential future developments, and forms of media found in Transmetropolitan have since been realized. Starting with that oft dreaded topic known as politics. The three topics relating to politics we will be looking at include: analogies, uncanny coincidences, and social commentary.
First, we have Spider Jerusalem being based off gonzo journalist and political commentator Hunter Stockton Thompson. While that is well-known to many readers of this series, most will miss how oft-referenced character Senator James Longmarch is essentially Senator George Stanley McGovern. McGovern’s bid for presidency in 1972 was covered by Thompson much like how Spider is said to have covered Longmarch’s bid. This brings us to Spider’s first (published) political antagonist, The Beast, being essentially a version of Richard Nixon. While The Smiler could be seen as various corrupt political figures, mixed with a rather obvious Bill Clinton analogy.

However, if we look deeper on the characters of The Beast, The Smiler and the bigoted Heller, we see some uncanny coincidences to current times. For example several people have argued in the past that Nixon and/or George W. Bush were the worst presidents that America had in its history. Despite that the term “worst” is subjective and not finite in historical terms. But consider that Presidents like William Howard Taft (who supposedly didn’t want to be president) and Warren Gamaliel Harding (who had the Teapot Dome scandal) are not well-remembered. That said, The Beast represents the “principled” corruption that is often found in politics. Meaning that he at least has some sort of moral belief and want to do the job, fueling his actions. While the Smiler and Heller are unprincipled and/or immoral.

In Warren Ellis’ presentation of the Smiler and Heller, we get the uncanny mirror of Donald Trump’s administration. Heller’s bigotry is coincidently similar to the racist remarks Trump has exclaimed before, during, and after his 2016 campaign. Also Trump (and various other political figures on nearly every part of the political spectrum) has been shown to be involved in politics for the illusion of power. (I say “illusion of power” since political authority is merely an idea given effectiveness by the majority.) This kind of politicking is very like The Smiler’s, in that it is less about the job and more about the power. Though to be fair, Hillary Clinton is also like The Smiler in that she has made many public attempts at pivoting on issues to save face.

As for relatable social commentary in the comic, we have the current situation with Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recovering from hurricane damage as coincidentally similar to The Reclamation Zone in the comic. In Transmetropolitan, The Reclamation Zone is a site left to rot by The Smiler and his administration. In comparison, Trump has essentially done nothing to show support or help for these two real world locales and their citizens. Again, to be fair, this series of events has happened after the comic was created, and Bill Clinton’s lack of help for Rwanda’s citizens in 1994 was probably Ellis’s inspiration.
To close out, I think these coincidences between Transmetropolitan and current life have happened for a few reasons. The foremost reason is that Warren Ellis is into studying and trying to figure out the trajectory of the future. Therefore, he has to study patterns, and what is history but a series of good and bad patterns? For example, political scandals like Bill Clinton’s and Warren G. Harding’s have been going on since the earliest recorded regimes and democracies. Thus, Warren Ellis could presumably predict that history would continue to follow similar patterns. However, though no one can truly predict the future, or that recent events would have happened when or how they did, Transmetropolitan continues to reflect our times.

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