- Alternate Character Interpretation:
- Spider Jerusalem has this in spades. Is he an Anti-Hero, doing what has to be done? Is he a Knight Templar who crosses the line just as much as those he's against, with his constant physical assaults, and violations of people's privacy? Perhaps the most disturbing possibility: he's a massive hypocrite, who dehumanizes the rich the same way he claims they dehumanize the poor while also using their methods to accomplish his goals. Ellis encourages examination of Spider's character and there's enough evidence for just about any interpretation.
- Fred Christ is also a good example. There's no question that he has self-serving motives, but it isn't clear if those are his ONLY motives. There are definitely moments, immediately before his death especially, when he seems to actually be concerned about people other than himself.
- The Whorehopper is The Ghost, only appearing via phone to kick Jerusalem's ass into gear, and then only by phone. After the election, he disappears entirely from the narrative, with nobody even commenting on the absence. It's possible that the Whorehopper isn't real, just another of Spider's mental problems.
- The future is a chaotic mess and always will be, but the past was always worse. So if you see something weird, suck it up and deal instead of turning on your Nostalgia Filter.
- Sex is like any other kind of drug; insane fun, but only between consenting adults. Inflict either on a kid and you deserve nothing less than a Cruel and Unusual Death.
- Religion makes you evil, period. If you are religious you can't even die with dignity.
- One of the lunatics in "There is a Reason" spouts off every stereotypically "right-wing" ideology under the sun, ending with a Bible quote. About as subtle as a brick to the eyeballs.
- Complete Monster: Senator Gary "The Smiler" Callahan is a sadistic politician who desires ultimate power for no reason other than to hurt others. On his campaign trail for President, Callahan first shows his cruelty when he has his political advisor shot dead to gain sympathy for his cause. Once elected President, Callahan begins running The City into the ground even more than it already was, orchestrating the release of vicious criminals so as to gun down the ensuing protesters, having all the prostitutes he ever slept with and those who associated with them hunted down and executed to cover up his illicit acts, and ordering several people sniped to lower the City's awareness of an incoming storm, hoping it would wipe out more evidence of his crimes. As Spider Jerusalem begins taking apart his cabinet and ruining his reputation, Callahan slowly becomes more unhinged and desperate for ratings, having his wife and kids killed in an accident to gain sympathy and instituting martial law across the City, setting an entire complex aflame and endangering dozens in the process. In perhaps his most despicable act, Callahan gives his troops the order to use lethal force on a group of young college protesters, leading to dozens of protesters being mowed down. Described by Spider as a man who believes in nothing but his own power, Gary Callahan was a self-described "James Bond villain" who simply hated every last person on the planet that wasn't himself, and stood out even in this Crapsack World as an absolute evil.
- Crazy Awesome: The whole thing, but especially Spider.
- Crosses the Line Twice: And then hops back and forth over the line some more before firing a bowel disruptor into the air indiscriminately.
- Draco in Leather Pants: While Spider definitely means well, some fans forget that he's also a dangerously unstable and occasionally hypocritical jerkass who uses unethical journalistic methods like violence and invasion of privacy to get the truth. See Misaimed Fandom below.
- Ensemble Darkhorse: The Chair Leg of Truth.
IT. DOES. NOT. LIE!
- Family-Unfriendly Aesop: Like so many things in the series it Crosses the Line Twice:
Spider: Hi. I'm Spider Jerusalem. I smoke. I take drugs. I drink. I wash every six weeks. I masturbate constantly and fling my steaming poison semen down from my window into your hair and food. I'm a rich and respected columnist for a major metropolitan newspaper. I live with two beautiful women in the city's most expensive and select community. Being a bastard works.
The City Careers Service. Call us now. No matter how much of a fuck you are.
Fred Christ: You know where most transients start? In the psychiatrist's office. High incidence of dissociative identity disorder. High incidence of self-mutilation. Suicide attempts. Alienation. I mean, fuck, look at us. We're fucking walking alienation. For every transient who wants to explore a new genome, I can give you ten who thought all their problems would be solved by getting another body. Compared to 95% of transients, I'm a god. And you know, when the change gets hold, it gets into your visual cortex, and your sex center. You might see skinny grey things, but in my perception, I'm fucking Marilyn Monroe nine times a day... (cue punch from Channon)
- Ellis comes up with another one of his disturbing and insightful summaries, which could apply to both the "Transient Movement" and transsexuals; the world hurt them, and going trans is their way of coping with it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it makes them easy meat for opportunistic demagogues...
- "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: In his acknowledgements, Ellis saves his appreciation for Patrick Stewart for last and jokes that Stewart's wife Wendy Neuss is "smarter than both of us." Stewart and Neuss divorced a year later.
- Genius Bonus: The reveal that Channon will be getting plenty of sex at the nunnery she's joining is foreshadowed a few panels earlier by the brochure, which reads, "Our Lady of the Little Death." The French phrase "la petite mort" or "the little death" is an old euphemism for an orgasm.
- Harsher in Hindsight:
- On the penultimate pages of the series, Spider puts a cigarette in his mouth for One Last Smoke, draws a handgun, puts it under his chin, and it turns out to be a lighter. Sad part? Three years later, Spider's inspiration, Hunter S. Thompson, did the exact same thing... except the gun was real.
- The Ruin-Storm arc is a lot harder to read for some after Hurricane Sandy, considering that The City is heavily implied to be New York throughout the series.
- Jerkass Woobie:
"Sometimes I want to be someone else so badly it hurts."
- Spider. His reaction to Vita Severn's murder is heartbreaking, and whenever he's not being completely insane, you can't help but feel bad for him.
- The Beast. His argument to Spider is that, due to the limits of his power, he cannot be expected to do more than the bare minimum. He's not corrupt so much as beaten down and jaded, skating through the time remaining in his term. He's what happens when cynicism wins, as a contrast to Spider's angry, frustrated idealism.
- Misaimed Fandom: Ellis has repeatedly said that Spider is not a role model to be emulated. And yet...
- Moral Event Horizon: Calahan did a lot of shitty things, but the first one we learn about is ordering Vita Severn's murder.
- Squick: Yelena drinking the bottle of tequila on election night. Rather than a worm it has a cockroach in it and we're treated to an extreme close-up of her slowly biting it in half!
- Tear Jerker:
Spider: He systematically sexually abused her over a two-year period and she missed him because he was her brother and she loved him.
- A story Spider tells in an interview about a young woman and her brother. It's agonizing.
Spider: You can let yourself forget that they're just kids so easily.
- Vita's death. Spider's reaction shot is crushing. We've seen him angry, excited, confused... it's the first time we've seen him horrified.
- "Business". The whole damn thing. But especially the line "Can we go to Long Pig? They have toys."
- Unintentional Period Piece: The work has many hallmarks of being a parody of late-1990s society and politics.
- The technology presented has plenty of zeerust, being written just on the cusp of the Internet and cellphones coming to dominate the exchange of information.
- The political satire is basely almost exclusively on domestic events and issues. It was predominantly written during a period in American history of unusual peace that gave the nation a chance to focus inward. Toward the end of the series' run, the attacks of 9/11 happened, causing the political landscape of the nation to swing sharply toward international war and foreign policy.
- Spider's character-defining political cynicism and shockingly frank discourse in the face of stuffy, corrupt politicians has lost a lot of its impact in the wake of the 2016 election. Spider gives politicians mocking nicknames, but Trump did this himself to his political opponents while on the campaign trail. Spider's scatological jokes become less shocking when major party primary candidates started making insinuations about their relative penis sizes during debates. Spider declaring victory when he pushes Callahan into making a public promise to work for change comes across as naive when politicians are now making daily and disposable declarations via Twitter.
- Values Dissonance: Toward the very beginning of the series. Spider's first story is covering the "Transients", who are people transitioning between being human and alien which began as a kind of temporary body mod. Spider finds the whole thing distasteful, says Transients should be treated like the kids they are (in so many words), and there's an overwhelming implication that Fred Christ, the spokesman for the "Transient Movement" protesting in the City, is faking it for the exclusive purpose of getting access to sex. In 1997, just about everyone probably would've agreed with Spider's (and Ellis') take on the situation... but two decades later, it's hard not to make comparisons to actual transsexuality and for the section to come off as more than a little transphobic for hitting just about every negative stereotype of transsexuals (just faking it, it's just temporary, et cetera). Of course, the City government and police then use the flimsiest of constructed excuses as justification to send in the riot cops to crush, kill and erase the Transients, and Spider shines a light on the utter ridiculousness and naked power-displaying of this (as he notes that he might not agree with what the Transients do to themselves, but they weren't hurting anyone and in no way or form deserve what's happening) resulting in the whole thing whipping straight back around into a kind of Values Resonance that Ellis may not have even intended.