unconventional Spider may be, in many ways he represents an
ideal journalist, someone who will challenge the system, tell
the truth and sacrifice himself to show the world what is
being hidden from them. Spider is the anti-anchorman, the
man who cannot be pacified by the administration, who will
not be tossed aside. He is the journalist who will not be
all the heroic work Spider has done in his own comic book,
called Transmetropolitan, he also apparently has inspired
a wave of comic books and graphic novels that feature journalists
just doing their job, albeit in extreme circumstances.
ran from 1997 to 2003, and when the series ended, Wired
called Transmetropolitan the graphic novel of the
decade and christened the series the “dark lord of the graphic
its passing, Transmet’s influence continues, and all
sorts of comic journalists have sprouted up to fill the void.
From large, multinational comic companies to small-press publishers,
journalists are showing up in comics everywhere. And they
aren’t someone’s alter ego. They aren’t reporter Clark Kent
or photojournalist Peter Parker; they are simply reporters.
Reporters no longer have to throw off their trench coats and
glasses to be heroes: In the world of comics nowadays, all
they have to do is report.
is the shy, goofy reporter alter ego, replaced with the rampaging,
determined bravado of Spider Jerusalem, Matty Roth, Sally
Floyd and Ben Ulrich. Even Lois Lane recently was wounded
while reporting on a war in a Middle Eastern country.
it has taken a number of decades to smash the comic-book image
of the bashful reporter created during the 1940s, during times
when journalists were perhaps not as threatening, but now
that the image has been broken, it appears the floodgates
Brian Wood is not sure there is a trend developing, but he
does say he has been influenced by Transmetropolitan.
“I remember when I was thinking up DMZ how amazed I
was that nothing had been done to fill the gap that Transmet
caused when it ended,” says Wood.
mainstream company has helped propagate the journalist in
comic books, it has been Marvel. One of that company’s most
famous journalist-driven books was called Marvels and
was presented as a photo essay on the emergence of superheroes.
The 1994 series tried to capture the “reality” of superheroes’
becoming part of everyday life through the eyes of news photographer
writer Warren Ellis followed up Marvels in 1995 with
Ruins, a dark satire of Marvels, which showed
how the birth of Marvel’s superheroes could have gone terribly
wrong. For example, Bruce Banner, who was exposed to nuclear
radiation, does not split off a monstrous green alter ego
the Hulk; instead, he is turned into an undulating mass of
tumors. The Fantastic Four and Spiderman share similar fates.
journalist characters are playing a huge role in Marvel’s
large crossover productions such as House of M and
Civil War. Comic books like The Pulse, Generation
M and Civil War: Frontlines have told some of the
company’s larger stories through the eyes of journalists.
These books allow Marvel’s writers to document the affects
the superheroes are having on their world in a more personal
and direct manner. They show what happens to a society that
is accustomed to superheroes when mutants lose their powers
and when superheroes are forced to register as federal workers.
Pulse, written by Brian Michael Bendis, focuses on reporter
Ben Ulrich, who has for years battled his editor, J. Jonah
Jameson, over whether superheroes like Daredevil and Spiderman
should be seen as heroes or criminals. Ulrich, despite knowing
the identities of Daredevil and Spiderman, chooses not to
reveal them in print. However, Ulrich gets to break it to
Spiderman that of course he knows his secret identity: It’s
not exactly clear what, if anything, Marvel is trying to say
about journalism through its superhero journalists, but Wood
says it might not be worth trying to figure it out. “I think
Marvel’s take on the real world is so bizarre I’m not sure
if it is worth trying to analyze,” he says. Wood, on the other
hand, clearly is trying to say something about the current
state of the profession through his work.
year, Wood began a series titled DMZ, which tells the
story of a TV news intern who is stranded in a war-torn New
York City with a stash of cameras, an editing suite and his
trusty press pass. In Wood’s future, an America preoccupied
with wars overseas is dragged into civil war at home when
militias rise up to take the country back from the war-hungry
government. Wood’s protagonist, Matty, is there to expose
the atrocities and suffering along with the subtleties of
life in a war zone.
like Wood’s are not just filling the void left by Transmet;
they may also be satiating some part of the public’s desire
for heroic journalism.
to a June 25 report by the Pew Research Center titled “Public
More Critical of Press, But Goodwill Persists,” almost all
news organizations, whether print or TV, local or national,
received higher favorability ratings than political institutions.
While the report shows steady declines in favorability for
both types of institutions from 2001 to 2005, the media still
remain loftily above political institutions.
the believability ratings for most news organizations have
shown steady decline since 2001. The believability for newspapers
has dropped from about 65 percent in 2001 to 54 percent in
says he certainly wishes there were more reliable news gatherers.
“I wish we had more Spider Jerusalems out there in the real
world, meaning journalists who dig and hunt for stories as
opposed to those who just report what they’re told from the
likes of Tony Snow and Scott McClellan,” says Wood. “They
must know when they’re being lied to, and it kills me that
we don’t wake up to 72-point headlines in the Times that read
BUSH LIES or something like that. And the ones that do, like
Greg Palast, to name one example, are marginalized.”
it is easy to take DMZ as a commentary on coverage
of the Iraq war, Wood says it was documentation of past conflicts
that gave him inspiration. “I always thought embedded journalism
was kind of weird, especially the ones that got dressed up
and rode around in tanks,” he says. “I could never imagine
how they could hope to be objective about anything. The images
that came back were compelling, of course, and it’s somewhat
thrilling to watch, but I wouldn’t ever consider it ‘news.’
When I was doing preliminary research for DMZ, I read
a lot of books written by journalists from a lot of recent
conflicts, going back to Soviet books about their war in Afghanistan,
which felt very genuine to me. They were very personal, very
honest, and you got to know the soldiers and civilians in
detail. Same with other books I read about Chechnya. I felt
more influenced by those than anything current.”
beginning of DMZ, Matty is interning for a Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist who apparently is killed in an attack
by insurgents, leaving the inexperienced Matty as the only
one who can tell the story of the residents of war-ravaged
New York City.
difference between Wood’s DMZ and Ellis’ Transmetropolitan
is the experience level of their protagonists. Spider Jerusalem
seems to embody all that is right with the old guard of journalism.
Transmet can be taken as a call for a return of their
ilk, whether it be muckrakers like H.L. Mencken, gonzo journalists
like Hunter S. Thompson, or investigative reporters like Bob
Woodward and Carl Bernstein. On the other hand, Wood’s Matty
is devoid of experience, and he is certainly not a newspaperman.
Is Wood calling for the slate to be wiped clean? Well, maybe.
says Matty’s inexperience is a blessing, in a way. “I think
Matty’s not knowing how to be a ‘proper journalist’ helps
him. He’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way, sure, but
there is no doubt that his intentions are pure. He’s got no
real agenda, and he’s not working for a paycheck or a promotion,
or an award.”
a time when the media are seen as a pack of weak lapdogs to
a corrupt administration or as mouthpieces for corporate America,
can comics like Transmetropolitan and DMZ keep
some hope alive? Wood certainly seems to think so. “I don’t
think current events make journalism seem very appealing,”
he says, “with newspapers coming under attack for treason,
and the threat of jail time for protecting sources. I hope
that books like DMZ and Transmet inspire people
in a more general sense to seek out the entire story, the
truth behind the smokescreen, to not be satisfied with sound
bites from the mainstream news reports.”
inspire comic readers to become journalists? That has yet
to be seen. However, from personal experience, it appears
these books are turning comic readers on to the works of real
recent trip to a bookstore, a friend mentioned he wanted to
read something like Transmetropolitan. But he didn’t
leave the store with a comic. Instead, he left with a copy
of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.