Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Journalism is just a gun. It's only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that's all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world..."
DC has recently been repackaging its slimmer Vertigo volumes into heftier editions, and this combines the first two precisely - BACK ON THE STREET and LUST FOR LIFE - for little more money than those single editions.
Back On The Street
Campaigning journalist Spider Jerusalem is a very cranky man. Five years ago he sold his ass to a publisher for a two-book deal whose advance he squandered on escaping his fans by barricading himself up in a shack on a mountainside and surrounding it with mines, guns and ammunition.
Spider is not a people person.
So here is he is with not a word written, hairy and naked and covered in tattoos, the guns now bartered for drugs which have long since run out and the devil is wanting his due:
"That ignorant, thick-lipped, evil, whore-hopping editor phones me up and says, "Does the word contract mean anything to you, Jerusalem?" I was having a mildly paranoid day, mostly due to the fact that the mad priest lady from over the river had taken to nailing weasels to my front door again."
And so it is that to avoid being sued Spider Jerusalem has to return to a noisy, stinking city he loathes but which feeds him exactly what he needs to write. There he hunts down old friend Mitchell Royce, city editor of The Word, for a regular, paying column in which to scream truth to apathy and all the blind eyes being turned. After that it's one long refrain of "Where's my fucking column?!"
Set in a future not so distant as to be unrecognisable from the present which it's passing judgement upon, this was Warren's first perfect vehicle in which to address his chief obsessions - technology, politics, drugs, sex and bowel movements - and do so in a foul-mouthed frenzy of highly cathartic rage. Apart from political and social apathy, his first targets included organised religion (Spider dressed up as Jesus at a temple of mad new religions, overthrowing the stalls of the money swindlers) and multi-channel TV saturation, all the hideous advertising that comes with it, and the state of what passes for journalism there:
"...You people don't know what the truth is! It's there, just under their bullshit, but you never look! That's what I hate most about the fucking city -- lies are news and truth is obsolete!"
It's also round two between him and the US President about to seek re-election, in a hotel toilet with a bowel disruptor gun. That one's going to run. But first it's live feed from a rooftop overlooking the massacre by the state police of a group of Transcients ("Transcience is all about the right to change your species") mislead by their dickhead and dick-led leader into attempting secession from The State.
It's a riot throughout, with the second half lightening up both comedically and visually with fewer panels bleeding off the page and the return of some white behind the panel borders. Darick undergoes a massive leap from the very first page of the fifth issue, his faces and figures more fully formed, but he's the perfect artist for this from the start, as are the two cover artists Geoff Darrow and Frank Quitely. It's packed full of background details from a Direct Action Baptist roaming the streets with a water cannon (I laughed a lot at that), hoardings advertising newly invented foods or fetishes, and the insignia of the Transcients, a smiley button with three eyes and a devil's tail smile.
Lust For Life
Although most readers become instantly addicted to the profane ragings of the easily antagonised political columnist Spider Jerusalem, there are some who come away bewildered by the bombast. Here, however, the first three issues are an emphatic change of style and pace as Jerusalem - against all expected odds - shows that he has a heart. Each self-contained chapter is bursting with speculative science about where humanity and the societies it inhabits might potentially go from here.
In the first Spider's assistant finds herself nursing a broken heart as the boyfriend whom Spider never liked ditches her in order to die. At least, that's how she sees it, but Jerusalem has prior experience of the transfiguration: a friend who's already successfully "downloaded" himself into a billion tiny machines, self-sustaining and strung together by lightning, so leaving his mortality behind. In an attempt to give her closure he explains the process as they travel by a horse-drawn cab through the open parks of the future city, introduces his friend and then arranges for her to witness the event itself. Unfortunately the final moments are so traumatic that she ends up quitting to join a nunnery.
That's followed by two of Spider's columns. The second sees the journalist experiencing firsthand some of the reservations built to preserve ancient societies, whilst the first follows the story of one woman's attempt to preserve herself by electing to be cryogenically frozen, then revived when technology had advanced far enough to create for her a new artificial body. And it has. But society hasn't advanced far enough to care. She's dutifully revived as per contract -- then left to fend for herself in a traumatically alien world. It's touchingly done, Jerusalem/Ellis juxtaposing each remarkable feat of science involved in recreating her brain for a new body not only with the less than clinical conditions it's performed in, but also the less than impressed performances of those executing it in-between petty office politics, casual drinking and sex in the toilets. Oh yes, and when her husband died three years after Mary he was too far from America to be frozen himself, so Mary wakes up alone.
After that... it's back to the bombast as Spider finds himself the target of a death threat conspiracy involving the theft of his ex-wife's cryogenically frozen head, a longstanding French vendetta, a disgruntled target of Jerusalem's journalism and an apoplectic British Bulldog whom Spider once relieved of his prodigious wanger.
Tip of the hat to artist Robertson, not just for making the burlesque great fun, but also for the most gorgeous landscape portrait of a contemporary San Francisco Bay swathed in fog under the crystalline light of an early morning sun.
Reminder: Spider Jerusalem is not a people-person:
"If you loved me, you'd all kill yourselves today."