Near the end of 1997, Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson birthed the gritty, cyberpunk story of a gonzo-journalist hell bent on revealing the truth to a city obsessed with perverted forms of self-improvement, consumerism, and political apathy. Transmetropolitan was ahead of its time, even at the end of the ’90s when the anti-globalization movement began to rise and the Internet gained a foothold. Considering the political climates in America, Great Britain, and elsewhere currently, it’s extremely timely to reexamine the merits of such a groundbreaking comic series, especially since this year marks its 20th anniversary.
In examining the context of Transmetropolitan among today’s comics, special attention has to be paid to its main character, Spider Jerusalem. Spider is a comic book character who did not fit the mold of a superhero, but was rather an antihero, despite not being able to stand most people. Instead of fighting to protect the citizens of his city, Spider ultimately wished the people would fight for themselves, actually giving a damn about the world they’ve all allowed to be created. Whether you’ve read the entire series or not, Spider is a character worth talking about. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Spider Jerusalem.
15. He was inspired by both real and fictional people
Upon reading any bit of Transmetropolitan, it’s pretty obvious whom Warren Ellis’ main inspiration for Spider Jerusalem was. He’s a chain-smoking, firearm wielding, drug-abusing gonzo-journalist who’s set on telling the truth as he sees it, no matter what. Ellis has mentioned in many interviews that Spider is loosely based on Hunter S. Thompson, with a sprinkling of other people—both famous and otherwise—thrown in for good measure. In fact, Spider’s “filthy assistants” are said to come from Thompson’s longtime assistants Deborah Fuller (whom he accidently shot once) and Anita Bejmuk (whom he eventually married).
In a few instances, some books are seen in Spider’s mountain retreat, one of which is Thompson’s Fear and Loathing, and the other John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. In some ways, Spider mirrors the latter’s main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, with his eccentricities and paranoid rantings. However, in terms of creating the basis of his character along with his looks (pre-shaved head), Spider was actually modeled after Darick Robertson’s friend, Andre Ricciardi, a creative director and copywriter.
14. He ages in real time throughout the series
Transmetropolitan first hit the stands in July of 1997 through DC Comics’ sci-fi oriented Helix imprint. It was the only series to continue on after Helix was disbanded, and it lasted for four more years at Vertigo comics. During all those years, there was never a time-jump that put Spider, or any of the other characters, in the future or past, like so many other comics were prone to doing. Although it takes place 200 years in the future, and there are times when Spider recollects certain instances from his past, he lives as we do, in the present moment.
His story is chronological—from being contacted by his editor (affectionately known as Whorehopper) to returning to his mountain retreat to live out the rest of his days—five years have elapsed like they did in reality. Although there aren’t any noticeable signs of aging on Spider’s part, you witness his transformation from relative hermit to alleged invalid who requires constant assistance, over the course of a presidential term + one year. In short, a lot happens in that half decade.
13. Darick Robertson had to draw Spider’s tattoos on an action figure just to keep track of them
When Robertson originally drew Spider, only a few tattoos could be seen here and there among his various stages of dress and undress. As the series progressed, both through his illustration of Ellis’ writing and the natural evolution of Spider’s personality, the tattoos became more than just a few decorative details. In fact, Robertson created so many tattoos for Spider that he eventually had to draw them all on an action figure just to keep track of what they were and where they were placed.
While originally they were added to differentiate Spider from Grant Morrison’s King Mob character (another bald punk with glasses), Robertson put a lot of thought into many of them, especially the more tribal designs. “I’ve always had affection for tribal tattoos, symbols, and shapes as opposed to pictures. I assumed Spider got them one by one and there would be a story with each,” he told FlashINK. Since Robertson doesn’t go into detail about the meaning of many of the tattoos, it’s entirely possible that some of them could have occurred during one of Spider’s many drug bender-induced blackouts.
12. His POTI tattoo is a fictional soda company
Speaking of tattoos, one in particular often receives a lot of speculation on its meaning, since it’s one of only two that actually have words (the other, ‘Kiss Me’ on his butt-cheek, is pretty self-explanatory). The word ‘POTI’ is seen on his right shoulder blade inside a circular design. At first glance, it resembles a 1960s campaign button, but Spider’s not one to sell out to politics. Besides, the story takes place in the 23rd Century, where everyone’s so concerned with the present that they’ve likely forgotten about the past.
Lucky for us, Robertson explained to FlashINK that ‘POTI’ was “a fictional soda company.” On a second look, it does kind of resemble Pepsi’s logo from the 1970s. “I had imagined it was Spider’s first tattoo that he’d got as a teen, and [that he] exposed the corporation behind it for paying kids to tattoo their logo,” he explained further. As with all good science fiction, his idea eventually became a reality, with many American companies paying thousands of dollars to individuals to permanently brand themselves with a logo.
11. His signature glasses were made by a drug-addicted AI
Spider Jerusalem’s red and green glasses are such a significant part of his appearance, but it’s easy to forget how he came to look the way he does when you’re so used to it. If you’ve been a Transmetropolitan fan for a long time, or if it’s been awhile since you’ve read the earlier comics, you probably haven’t thought twice about them or where they came from. As you might remember, he didn’t have them with him on the mountain; they were made by a machine in his apartment.
Spider utilizes the Godti 101 Maker (which looks an awful lot like Marlon Brando as The Godfather) to make him a pair of glasses. These are no ordinary glasses, though. They’re called “live shades,” and they can take still photos when Spider commands them to. After spitting out the glasses, which have two differently colored and shaped lenses, he discovers the AI in the machine is on drugs—hallucinogens to be exact. A sane person would have had the AI make another pair, but then again, Spider isn’t exactly sane.
10. He was actually married once
As part of a three issue story arc near the beginning of the series, it’s revealed that Spider was actually married once. Although her name is never revealed, Spider makes it abundantly clear how much he hates her. Apparently, she hated him loads too, so much so that she had herself cryogenically frozen the day after she committed a taboo against a cult of people with a zero tolerance policy for touching.
Looking for revenge, they kidnapped her frozen head and then tracked down her next of kin—Spider—when he didn’t come for her. After the cult finds him in a toilet, he tells them he wants nothing to do with her for a variety of reasons. In his own words, “That divorcing moaning screaming crossbow-happy deliberately-infected-with-Anthrax taxman-blowing b**** set me up!” From the sound of it, she sounds like a winner, and she probably reminded Spider just a bit too much of himself.
9. He’s a nihilist
While Spider doesn’t encompass nihilism in all senses of the word, he does fit somewhat into the political and existential nihilist spectrum. He’s a slave to no one and no ideology, instead choosing to remain skeptical in search of The Truth. Sadly, most of his disbelief in the meaning of anything comes from the city’s culture of political and social apathy in favor of consumerism. When faced with nihilism, he can only become a nihilist himself in order to affect change.
In the very first issue, he makes it clear, “If I’m miserable, everybody’s miserable,” after blowing up his neighborhood bar. As Nietzsche would say, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” and Spider sure does love to hate people and make them suffer. As he sees it, it’s only through man’s suffering that he can again rise up to greatness. Although whether or not humanity deserves saving is still up for debate.
8. He’s responsible for the deaths of multiple people
There are a lot of people who want Spider dead — and for good reason. When you’re hellbent on telling the truth, you’re probably going to piss a lot of people off along the way. Plus, he isn’t the most pleasant person to be around, let’s be honest. His ex-wife hates him and tries to have him killed, but he actually disposes of her frozen head in a canal, effectively killing her. He also kills a bunch of assassins and the like who come to his apartment or hunt him down to try and kill him.
In issue #38, Yelena asks him just how many people he’s killed. He answers “sixteen,” but that they were all “pretty much” in self-defense except one. He never does admit who that one was. It could have been his wife, but he has no qualms with ridding the world of her. No, this would have to be someone else, someone important to him that he never wanted to die. It’s very likely he was speaking of Vita Severn, Callahan’s campaign manager who Spider found himself attracted to. They very nearly had a relationship until she was assassinated, which Spider continued to blame himself for.
7. DC censored a shot of him urinating out a window
Censorship isn’t anything new in comics, but it always comes as a surprise when the major presses still find the need to censor something. That being said, comics intended for an adult audience have to draw the line somewhere or else risk a pornographic labeling, which doesn’t exactly fit with the DC brand.
Transmetropolitan is no stranger to foul language, graphic violence, and nudity, but amazingly, those weren’t the things that DC had the greatest problem with. The case of censorship that stood out the most to Darick Robertson involved Spider urinating out a window.
“It was a distant shot so he was really, really tiny in the frame, and you could see a little arc of urine coming out and down, and that was the whole point: He was urinating on the city,” he told Lollipop.com. “Well, [DC] didn’t like that. They said you can’t show public urination. I can draw heads exploding in graphic detail, but I can’t draw public urination. So I had to redraw the entire page. You couldn’t even see his penis because it was too far away, but that was still a no-no.”
6. He cheated death
Okay, so there have been a lot of instances where Spider narrowly escaped death due to someone or another trying to kill him. However, the moment when he really cheated death came at the very end of the series when he is diagnosed with Information Pollen-induced Alzheimer’s.
In issue #60, Mitchell Royce goes to visit Spider at his mountain home where he has retreated to essentially waste away. It’s very likely he will die, since only 1-2% of people will recover from the disease. Supposedly, he can’t even light a cigarette and has been somewhat suicidal, or so he wants everyone to think. When they leave him alone, he reveals to us—the readers—that he can, in fact, light his own cigarettes and happens to be part of the 1% of people who recover.
Aside from just being a lucky bastard, Spider was first dusted with Information Pollen at the Farsight Community, which exists somewhere outside the present moment. Because of this and the fact that they have supposedly found a way to prevent the Alzheimer’s-like effect, he’s saved from what would otherwise be certain death.
5. Patrick Stewart is obsessed with him
As if you needed another reason to adore the crap out of Patrick Stewart, you might not have known that he’s had quite an obsession with Spider Jerusalem, and Transmetropolitan in general. At Wizard World Chicago in 2006, Warren Ellis recounted something Stewart told him upon their meeting, which truly shows his fascination with the character. “Spider Jerusalem is my role model. I was in line to get my medal from Prince Charles recently and I was in line thinking ‘What would Spider Jerusalem do?’ He’d headbutt the bastard! So I wasn’t listening to what he was saying because I was trying not to headbutt the bastard!”
Sometime around 2003, Stewart had also tried to bring a movie adaptation of Transmetropolitan to the big screen (with him playing Spider) and then an animated series—both of which are currently still stuck in development hell. That hasn’t stopped him from continuing to revisit the series, though. In an edition of one of the graphic novels, Stewart wrote the introduction, where he confesses that Spider is his hero and that Transmetropolitan is basically a work of pure genius. You can’t argue with him on that.
4. His creators would want Tim Roth to play him in a live-action adaptation
Although a film adaptation with Patrick Stewart never panned out, that hasn’t stopped both Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson from fantasizing about who else they’d want to play Spider. Wired published an article and interview with Robertson in 2011, following the release of a Transmetropolitan art book, “All Around the World,” that benefitted charity.
When asked about a potential film, he pretty much confirmed it’s never happening, but did have some big names in mind if it did. “I would love to see a faithful film or hard-hitting TV series created,” said Robertson. “My first choice was always Tim Roth to play Spider. He’d still be perfect. And I would love to see Darren Aronofsky direct.”
If you go back to Vol.7 of Transmetropolitan, the graphic novel entitled “Spider’s Thrash,” none other than Darren Aronofsky has written the introduction. He raves about Spider’s perfection and his understanding of the world Ellis and Robertson have created. Obviously, it seems as though he’d be on board for the film, but it remains to be seen what Tim Roth thinks about the whole thing.
3. Jack Carter from ‘Planetary’ turns into Spider at the end of Issue #7
In a move that still seems strange to many of his fans, Warren Ellis paid homage to Spider among the pages of another one of his series. A character named Jack Carter was created for Planetary (part of the Wildstorm universe) who was similar in description to John Constantine. Namely, he had dealings in the occult underground and was apparently big in the eighties, which certainly screams Constantine, but not Spider.
However, in issue #7, Carter appears after faking his own death and takes out his supposed killer. While explaining how and why he faked his death, he’s also dumping his gun and shedding his clothes. Then, in the very next frame, he’s standing there in a black blazer and pants with tattoos on his chest that resemble Spider’s. They’re not exactly the same, but they’re certainly similar enough for you to recognize them. While Ellis has never really explained the meaning behind this reference to Spider, it could just have been a cool Easter egg for his fans that were reading both Transmetropolitan and Planetary at the time.
2. His name likely comes from Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime & Punishment’
Judging from the kind of literature that Ellis has drawn inspiration from, in addition to his political and ideological leanings (just read his former Vice column), Spider’s name probably came from something like Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment. The main character of the novel, Raskolnikov, refers to himself as a spider after committing a murder much in the way that S.J. would. “I did not commit this murder to become the benefactor of humanity by gaining wealth and power that, too, is nonsense. I just did it; I did it for myself alone, and at that moment I did not care a damn whether I would become the benefactor of someone, or would spend the rest of my life like a spider catching them all in my web and sucking the living juices out of them.”
A frequent theme in Dostoevsky’s work is also the concept of a New Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the new heaven on Earth. In the context of Transmetropolitan, it’s basically The City, which has perverted Utopia and is entirely self-serving. Thus, the spider is meant to catch all the hypocrites who have tainted their New Jerusalem, much like Spider does with his journalism.
1. Hunter S. Thompson may have acknowledged the character while doing promos for the Fear and Loathing movie
With such a blatant character reference to Hunter S. Thompson, you’d think he would have something to say about it. According to Warren Ellis, there was never any sort of direct communication between the two. “I never met Thompson. Had the opportunity a couple of times — magazines wanting to send me to Woody Creek and the like — but you should, whenever possible, not meet your heroes. I wanted to still be able to read his books,” he explained in a Goodreads Q&A.
During the press junkets and promotional touring for the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas film, Thompson wore his signature white hat and sunglasses. However, in a few of the photos, a big black spider can be seen on the hat, which he has never commented on. As Ellis put it, “I still suspect he was sending me a message…!” So, hopefully, that means Thompson was at least aware of his contribution to Transmetropolitan’s creation, if not a fan himself of Spider Jerusalem.
Do you know of any other fun factoids about Spider that Transmetropolitan fans should know? Who do you think should play him in a movie/TV show? Let us know in the comments.