Punk Rock Jesus, the futuristic look at the ultimate reality show where Jesus Christ is cloned and then implanted into a young girl, has decided to grab hold of our collective nipples and squeeze. Writer Sean Murphy takes aim at corporations, religious dogma, science, faith, family, love, violence and celebrity culture all in one fell swoop. Punk Rock Jesus #2 forces open the door Murphy cracked in his first issue and does it with very little in the way of pleasantries.
The world has been harshly divided since the show "J2" (Jesus 2) debuted. The New American Christians, a right wing religious group that would make the Tea Party uneasy, are protesting the island camp where the cloned Jesus and his parents currently reside. The opening pages of issue 2 show the religious zealots standing on a boat chanting about how this reality show will lead to the downfall of mankind. As the boat chorus continues, some especially industrious NAC members are trying to scale the side of the island.
Remember Thomas from last issue? He was a child in Ireland whose IRA parents were attacked and bludgeoned before his eyes. In an attempt to help, the young Thomas shot through a closet, which accidentally killed his parents. Now he’s the grown-up head of security for clone Jesus and his family. Thomas’s way of handling the protest is to sink the boat and then yank those climbing the side of the mountain off and into the ocean. He’s a real charmer, that Thomas.
Punk Rock Jesus is a visceral experience. Everything here is pushed to the absolute maximum in order for Sean Murphy to make his point. The scumbag corporate liaison is a scumbag to Nth degree. He boozes up the co-star for ratings, lies about miracles the cloned Jesus has not performed, threatens people and tries to hold them hostage, in short, everything he does is despicable. Thomas is overly violent, to the point that he would never actually keep his job. The girl who is the mother for Cloned Jesus is full-on emotionally unbalanced and the doctor who perfected the cloning technique tries to hold on to her morality.
What Sean Murphy lacks in subtlety he more than makes up for in storytelling. Punk Rock Jesus is a layered and complex affair, a multi-pronged attack on our world as told through four different and distinct storylines. Thomas, the doctor, the family of cloned Jesus and the Network. Everything within these pages rockets towards you at ludicrous speed but never unravels. Even the slightly expected “bad ass turned good guy” vibe of Thomas is believable.
I also like how Murphy has yet to give us a clear-cut good guy. Thomas is likable but he’s a murderer, the good doctor is allowing bad things to happen so her research can continue, and even the family of cloned Jesus is in this for the money. It’s hard to write a comic with no hero and a topic that can easily fall apart. Religious dogma and faith have been the catalysts for so many fictional ideas that often slip out of storytelling and into simple shock and awe. Murphy doesn’t do that, he has a very specific goal and, no matter how much noise he puts around it, he never loses sight of that fact that he is holding up the afterbirth of our media culture and showing it to us.
The cherry on the parfait here is Murphy’s artwork. Working in strictly black and white can limit an artist, but not Murphy. His lines are so heavy, the inks sink right into the limbs and faces of the characters. I love his cross-etching work on clothes and even on faces. Murphy also has a great sense of drama. When the tone is softer and focused on the characters his backgrounds are blank or nearly blank. When there’s action he uses harsh strokes to convey movement and detailed foreground work to show the scale of the violence. When the characters are in a specific setting, Murphy opens up his detail skills.
Punk Rock Jesus is a happening, it’s a pop culture juggernaut that demands attention. Pick it up and dig on what could be the future of comic books.
(4.5 Story, 4.5 Art)