Louis Falcetti writes for Bleeding Cool;
I’ll just come right out and say it, if Punk Rock Jesus really is only 6 issues, I’m going to be angrier than a New American Christian at a clone of Jesus’ island fortress. Sean Murphy who’s already produced gorgeous, genre bending work for creators like Grant Morrison (Joe The Barbarian) and Si Spurrier (Hellblazer: City of Demons) is now writing and illustrating (inks and all!) his own creator owned series for Vertigo and it’s one of the best comics I’ve read this year.
Don’t be thrown by the title. This isn’t a gimmick comic. This isn’t premise beach. Apparently at some point, the clone of Christ (named Chris, natch) is going to be fronting a punk band. He’s not yet, he’s still an infant and the story is much more around his ex-IRA bodyguard Thomas McKael and his personal mission of redemption he’s embarked on by agreeing to protect the (possible) second coming of the Catholic Christ.
The whole thing is orchestrated by the OPHIS television network, a compliant yet strangely silent Catholic Church and a supreme sleazeball producer named Rick Slate. The Shroud of Turin has been mined for it’s DNA treasures, in international waters the clone was implanted into the new Mary, a totally damaged piece of reality show television debris, 18 year old Gwen and now the born baby is being raised in an environment that makes Jersey Shore look like the Shire. Did I mention that the baby had a twin? A twin that was dumped into the ocean at the end of issue one? Well there’s still no word about what happened to Chris’ sis, but the head scientist on the project Dr. Sarah Epstein is suddenly pregnant with a girl after formerly being unable to carry to term, so we’ll see if that’s real or a cover being used for the infant she rescued.
This issue brings us more fanatical Christians angrily climbing all over the island demanding the release of Gwen and her baby. If that makes it sound like their being held prisoner on the island, well, they sort of are. But there are people on her side, McKael for one, and Tim, McKael’s assistant and resident “tech-guy”.
Murphy has created a comic that, like the best of his work, defies convention and classification as it runs back and forth from satire to sci-fi to gritty nationalist drama to familial guilt and the path to redemption. Despite this being the second comic Sean’s written (his first being an OGN that I only discovered moments ago when fact checking this sentence, “Off Road”) even when he’s just been on pencils, his work challenges you to try to pigeon hole it. His style is electric when it’s being utilized by top tier writers and it’s absolutely incendiary when it’s Murphy on Murphy.
I mentioned my angst at the six issue run allotment earlier and in part that’s due to the fact that at the end of issue 2, Chris is still a baby. When is he going to grow up and take the stage? I don’t want Murphy to rush it but I want my tattooed, shit-kickers, angry as hell and going to scream about it Punk Rock Jesus!
Sometimes during the book, it does feel like Murphy is showing his hand, at least as far as his writing influences go, with a lot of the structure and characters resembling those utilized by another Irish writer with a penchant for blasphemy, Garth Ennis. The ex-IRA bodyguard with body issues, the sleazy corporate TV producer, the girl over her head who needs to be rescued, and of course the big mobs of idiot, slogan shouting, reactionary protestors all ring with the notes of Ennis’ work. That being said, who cares?
At no point while reading Punk Rock Jesus do you feel like you’re reading something that’s been done to death, or even done before. It may start with a concept but it’s so much more than that. Perhaps what’s most inspiring about the book is that now we have an example to point to, when people wonder why they should be checking out creator owned books versus for hires. I’ve already lavished praise on Murphy’s for hire work and let me tell you, the difference is still enormous. When an artist actually truly, deeply cares for the project, when they connect with it on that extremely personal level that only comes from bringing an idea from the recesses of your mind to the page you can tell. I can’t imagine how long it’s taken Murphy to put these pages together but there is no wasted space and no throw away scenes. His characterizations are perfect and his environments are rich and detailed. If he can write and draw and ink this good, I’m really not worried about the future of comics, at least not as far as Sean Murphy’s impact on them is concerned.