Did you pick up issue #1 of Punk Rock Jesus last month? Congratulations if you did. If you didn’t, you need to. And then you need to pick up issue #2 this week.
Why? Because Punk Rock Jesus is one of the most interesting, intelligent, exciting, thought-provoking comic books being produced by anyone right now.
Punk Rock Jesus takes place in a not too distant, but all too recognisable future. Reality television has reached it’s twisted, (un)natural apogee in J2, a program featuring the first human clone, created using the DNA of Jesus Christ, taken from the Shroud of Turin.
One of the things I liked about the first issue was the brilliant characters introduced by Murphy. Each character in the comic has a distinctive voice and they were fully formed in the first few frames they appeared in. That is, apart from the title character who was born at the end of the first issue, and who we will see grow and develop throughout this limited series. However, by the end of issue #2 baby Chris is still only a few months old; and not exactly “punk rock”. Maybe the title is not meant to be taken literally. Either way I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough and I’m going to enjoy doing so.
After the first issue’s shocking final panel it was always going to be interesting to see where Murphy took the reader next.
Issue #2 takes place a few months after the last scene in issue #1. The cloned baby Jesus is causing as much controversy and righteous anger amongst various groups, not least the New American Christians (NAC), as he did before he was born.
The NAC have been protesting since before the birth and it is clear that Thomas McKael, bodyguard to Chris and his mother Gwen, is getting sick of them. The NAC have commandeered a couple of boats and they have anchored them right outside the island which holds Gwen, the baby and the J2 television cameras. Thomas takes drastic measures and pilots a speedboat right through the middle of one of the NAC’s boats, ripping it in half. He then captures one of the NAC chief protesters and takes her to a room on the island, where Slate, the creator of J2, reveals that the NAC protests and Thomas’ methods of dealing with them are great for ratings. All publicity is good publicity right?
Dr Epstein, the show’s moral compass, has had doubts about the whole enterprise since the beginning. She has had to bury these doubts because Slate has a hold over her research and she is unable to leave the J2 juggernaut. However she tries to use Thomas to help an increasingly depressed, unstable Gwen escape from the island, if only for a short time to visit her parents. Dr Epstein tells Thomas about some of the things Slate forced Gwen to do prior to the birth. Thomas gravely says “I’ll talk to Slate”. I was thinking I would not like to be on the receiving end of that “talk”
Slate however is typically slippery – effectively holding Thomas to ransom – unless Thomas does what Slate wants he will get rid of him, and then Thomas won’t be able to look after the baby, something he is determined to do.
When Gwen accidentally gives Chris wine instead of juice she is convinced she is a terrible mother and is determined to get off the island, with or without Thomas’ help.
Thomas takes pity on her and helps her get off the island. However when they get to her parent’s house they find it abandoned with a foreclosure sign hanging on the front door.
While at a diner they discuss J2 and what Gwen is doing. She asks Thomas if he thinks Chris is really the second coming of Jesus Christ. Thomas answers yes, but doesn’t really convince. One of the things this issue does is make the reader question the characters motives, Thomas amongst them.
The brief respite from the cameras and the public eye is shattered when Thomas and Gwen are discovered in the diner and mobbed by a group of rabid “fans”. They manage to escape and suddenly, at the end of the issue we are thrown right in to the middle of a car chase.
One of the great things about this issue is the pacing. There is a lot of dialogue interspersed with amazing action sequences. We get holographic babies, cuddly polar bears, miracles, science versus creationism, and flashbacks to Thomas’s violent upbringing in Ireland in the 1980’s. It will be interesting to see what more details are revealed about Thomas’s childhood as the series progresses.
I love Sean Murphy’s art. I knew his work from the gorgeous Joe The Barbarian and more recently from the excellent American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest limited series. With Punk Rock Jesus his tightly detailed line-work remains and it is perfectly suited to the black & white format and non-glossy paper that Vertigo are using for this title.
As for his writing, Murphy is showing really strong skills, perfectly balancing the dialogue and the action, and bringing detailed characterisation to the comic. The man is talented.
A quick word about the cover of this issue. It looks absolutely stunning. It has an inverted cross, a tattooed man brandishing an automatic firearm and is set against an explosive red background. And it’s called Punk Rock Jesus for God’s sake. Why wouldn’t you want to pick this up immediately and devour it in one go?
There is no reason. So go do it.