An OH DEAR GOD WHY Presentation / Spider Jerusalem: 21st Century Superbastard

 

Cosmo Personality Quiz 9000-F-U

How often do you say “breach of digital rights”?

Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange?

George Monbliot or Glen Greenwald?

Elizabeth Warren or Hilary Clinton?

The Beast or The Smiler?

I should be upfront on this. I’m assuming you’ve read Transmetropolitan. I’m assuming that you liked it as well. And I’m assuming you liked Spider Jerusalem. These are presuppositions. If you didn’t, the “notions” I prod at should continue to make some sense, but yeah, this one is aimed at people who are okay being called “Filthy Assistants”. If you haven’t read Transmetropolitan, go to a library, or a shop or just download them right bloody now. You’re welcome.

Okay. So the basic idea is that your favourite superhero says a lot about you, that the superhero is the apex form of wish fulfilment. Peter Parker as Spider-Man, is the standard nerdy comic reader who secretly wishes that their less than popular exterior self hid some incredible, superior internal self. Batman as our power to will ourselves through gods and the impossible or the fact that, we did do the Brexit and that if we do enough gadgets exercise and brain math, Farage won’t die laughing. He will. It happened. An insolvent commodities trader persuaded a huge swathe of the working and middle classes that the people who took their money and welfare are the immigrants without any economic or political power in the first fucki—-

*deep breaths*

*DEEP BREATHES*

*Writes hate mail*

Superhero protagonists are wish fulfilment. I agree. It’s an idea that probably got cooked up by some B-grade Guardian columnist, with a hangover, a deadline and a mis-read calendar. But it makes sense. So here we are.

Spider Jerusalem is our hero and his super power is journalism. Take the first arc “Back on The Streets”.[1]

people like me

The first arc opens with him as a drunk living as a rural recluse. Bearded and bankrupt, Spider is forced back to the city that made his journo-legend and the first arc concludes with his successful intervention of sidelined minority ethnic cleansing in a major city, solely by the power of his writing (which is shown in full detail to the readers).

The rest of the series, involves him taking down an increasingly autocratic President with his powers of journalistic karate. The primary conflict, against President Smiler, a sadist with a power boner (a Tony Blair satire) is triggered with the death of a well loved character, a political operative that works for The Smiler (with no idea of how monstrous he is). She has integrity, brains, compassion and reader and Spider alike, were completely crushing on her. Then The Smiler has her killed and uses the well of sympathy for her death to take the presidency. Excluding regular interludes to look at the lives of underrepresented citizenry and allegorical social issues, from child prostitution to a photographer out of time, the momentum of the Tranmetropolitan story is about Spider against The Smiler. The hero bastard journalist taking on the monster power whore. Eventually, against all the odds, decimated civil liberties and the third act introduction on “future degenerative illness you could basically call Boneitis”, Spider somehow succeeds and the story draws to a close. Our superhero came to town, reclaimed his Gonzo power belt and took down the biggest political bastard going.

So yeah, the Spider Jerusalem story is effectively, a pretty standard superhero arc. Hero claims dormant powers, beats bad guy. So what does that say about the Spider Jerusalem fan base, like me? If we identify with Spider Jerusalem, if we cheer his battles on the same way others do Green Lantern and Black Widow – what part of us makes him wish fufillment?

Okay. So I’ve got guesses.

To me, Spider Jerusalem is super powered political fantasy wish fulfilment. I cheer him on the way I do characters of The West Wing, a show famed for somehow straddling deep political accuracy, legendary dialogue exchanges and total liberal political wish fulfillment. There’s a reason the most thrilling and uplifting moment of a series that ends with the prescient prediction of Barack Obama’s presidency is the “Let Bartlett be Bartlett” scene way back at the start. Both let us watch stunningly well written characters engage with issues in a manner that is politically palatable to us as left wing viewers and fantasise about the fruition of our ideal political ends. Bartlett chooses short term statesmanship over long term personal political reward (and is thoroughly re-elected for it) and Spider Jerusalem, risks everything to successfully bring a monstrous political authority to account.

tobey

In fact, Spider and Tobey Zeigler would make an exceptional double act. SJ exists as a comic book powered political fantasy, set aside his character flaws that render him a perverted, violent, shit flinger and professional cruel bastard. He writes stuff so powerful that he takes down Presidencies. He’s ideologically super powered.

And come on – you wish you could do what he does. Just like you wish you could fly around the Daily Planet.  If you agree that the pen is mightier than the sword, if you love Spider, it’s not for his domestic sitcom flaws. It’s because this shambles of a bastard represents the wish fulfilment of super heroic political power – a herculean ideological revolutionary. Someone whose political actions are both morally incorruptible and practically effective, to the point of completely eviscerating corrupt and apparently unstoppable establishments. His words change the world – for our liberal better. He challenges corporate greed, political apathy and civil rights abuses that are somehow, terrifyingly both Saturday morning cartoonish and wholly accurate at the same time.

wheres my fucking column

And the idea that writing, self expression, can save the world? Yeah – that’s wish fulfilment. That’s why Spider Jerusalem is a super hero with a distinct, less than practical costume (IT GETS CHILLY WEAR A SHIRT SPIDER), iconic head gear, mottos and near cartoon enemies.

He’s a superhero that we could almost be, assuming ideal circumstances. I’d say Batman, but there’s a lot less self pity involved and way more aspirational politics – but he’s also a grouchy, arrogant prick. Batman and Corbyn and Columbo and Hunter S Thompson went into a hut for 9 months and and a utopian left wing superhero called Spider Jerusalem came out.

Eventually, unlike most superhero stories, issue 60 says goodbye. We say goodbye to Spider in the rural home he abandoned at the stories start. When Spider takes down The Smiler, he says he’s all out, that this was his last act as he collapses, bleeding from the degenerative illness that is 99 percent going to drag his mind to death. But something survives and it’s in the garden, waiting for a chat with Royce to let the audience in on the resolution. The last image is triumphant – Spider Jerusalem’s mind and body, as savagely powerful as ever, the illness abated, flipping a gun and telling the world where to go. Except the world has been led to think otherwise. And with Spider, we finally apply the separation we apply to a character and their super-powered alter ego. We don’t necessarily aspire to Spider Jerusalem the person, the childish psycho brute who watches cartoons all day, abuses those closest to him and fires a bowel disruptor off for kicks. We aspire to be Spider Jerusalem the journalist – the super powered writer who kills presidents. And with Spider’s last trick, the journalist has been passed off to his filthy assistants and all that remains is the personally unpalable Peter Parker, flipping off the world in his garden.

Spider refuses lasting political power or influence. Having saved the world from a political monster, he rejects legitimacy and statesmanship. Spider rejects power – he wants to pretend to be a vegetable, along with the rest of the vegetables in his garden. No one idealises the power to enact seismic political control for the better without immediately assuming that they wouldn’t become corrupt. Hell, City Hall by Tenacious D is an essay on that. But also hilarious. Spiders ending brings the disillusioned political fantasy full circle – undertaking powerful actions but rejecting power and implicitly, corruption, to remain some Fanshawe styled noble hero who only appears semi regularly to win Question Time. The ending guarantees two critical elements in the Spider Jeruslaem superhero fantasy – the guarantee of moral absolutist purity by running away from the political spoils of a successful revolution and secondly, the continuation of the corrosively childish personality that served as Peter Parker to Spider Jerusalems political Spider-Man.

And it’s interesting, the Transmetropolitan writer, Ellis has spent a lot of time playing with Superhero revisionism. He birthed The Authority (Covered in a really fun LGNN discussion piece) with middling comments that are already on at least twenty streets as graffiti, like Batman and Superman in a relationship with each other. Those characters, at least partially because they didn’t exist to offer any new forms of wish fulfilment, never took to the zeitgeist like Spider. Spider though, for the “grown up” caped crusader offers political disillusionment a fulfilment fix, much the way the aforementioned The West Wing did. By hitting that cobwebbed area of disillusionment, when the Superhero genre has dedicated decades to stock obsessions with intellect, strength and heternormative sex appeal – Transmetropolitan (and TWW) bring something new and unforgettable to the discussion on why we fall for the Superhero genre.

Transmetropolitan turns the written word into a super power. And there’ll always be a piece of disillusioned, influence-void political observers that quietly fantasises for the day when their voice, their manifesto, changes everything for the better, whatever that is. As a superhero, Spider Jerusalem functions as chilli chicken instant noodles for the malnourished liberal reader. For the perpetually defeated liberal sans political power, existing under the crooked Cheshire cackle of Farage and the lice of Boris – Spider Jerusalem is a fulfilling, joyous fuck you from the back of the bus.

And that’s why I’ll probably have to read it again and again and again.

(Wait. Since I’m here and so are you and we’re taking about political action and super powers…okay I am, you’re just bunking off work. Would it be terrible of me to point to a couple of political developments you might want to look at/complain at your MP over?

Our constitutional makeup hinges on the idea of public scrutiny as an accountability mechanism for the legislative sovereignty of parliament. Westminster can do what it want, but public pressure is supposed to regulate their behaviour. In the post-Brexit chaos, the government has been pushing two things:

  • A second reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill (the “snoopers charter”)
  • The privatisation of the Land Registry, a public record of all property and ownership titles in the United Kingdom (whose services actually generate a profit of around £30M for the public).

As the public is distracted with various politicians trying to mount each other with unprotected all night knife fuck sessions, it seems opportune and frankly, an abusive action against the democractic process– and attention should be drawn to such significant policy proposals, especially those using the bodies of Brexit politicos as political sandbags.)

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[1] Libraries caused Brexit.

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