Sean Murphy, of Joe the Barbarian fame, is back (did he ever leave?), and he’s not pulling any punches. Punk Rock Jesus, a 6-issue mini-series from Vertigo, takes place in the year 2019 where an American reality TV show wants to clone Jesus and broadcast his birth and life (and resurrection?) to international audiences. Not surprisingly, some of the future religious groups aren’t overly thrilled with the idea.
Are you intrigued yet?
Sean Murphy certainly hopes so, because Punk Rock Jesus #1 is an introduction, both to the story and the characters, but not much more than that. The 32 pages focus on a handful of main characters: a scientist, the show creator, an IT guy, the chosen mother, and an ex-IRA member. This last cast member presumably will play a larger part in the series than his understated presence in most of this first issue, because we’re introduced to this character in the opening pages of Punk Rock Jesus #1 by means of a traumatic event from his past. How will this event play into the future story, we wonder?
The Good and the Bad
The particular science-meets-religion aspect of this comic is fresh, and feels just as wonderfully adventurous as Jonathan Hickman’s science-meets-religion series: Pax Romana. In fact, it’s this fresh take, more than issue #1 itself, that’s keeping me reading. I want to know what this story is getting at, and hopefully Murphy will deliver.
Murphy is also clearly commenting on reality TV culture, corporatism, and religion, and Vertigo’s imprint gives him the leeway to get some things off his chest. So far, however, I feel that the characters are a little too one-dimensional, some coming across as caricatures. The show’s creator is singularly obsessed with the show, J2, fitting his vision that he is indifferent toward everyone and everything else. The religious presence is portrayed as shouting nuts with an inability to form cohesive arguments. The atheist comes across as sensible, knowledgeable, and respectable. Maybe more development is on its way. I certainly hope so.
Sean Murphy is a talented artist, and in Punk Rock Jesus he opts for an all black-and-white aesthetic. This works for him most of the time, giving panels a gritty feel. In fact, the details are worth a second look. Something like Manapul and Buccellato’s artwork in The New 52: Flash may be easier to casually take in (and I’m a big fan), but Murphy’s rich panels are like a Where’s Waldo of detail. It was fun to go back through the comic and check out the details in panels that I glossed over the first time.
Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus shows a lot of promise, and I’m hoping it will deliver. There are a handful of plot twists in issue #1, but it isn’t a nail biter by any means. If you’re looking for a cool premise to get into, and you don’t mind a title that’s a bit more mature, this could be right up your ally. This is one for the long haul, because Murphy’s trying to hook you on an idea that he plans to unfold in future issues (not a gimmicky first issue). In fact, issue #1 doesn’t even make it clear why the series is called Punk Rock Jesus (it certainly is an eye-catching title), so there’s that too. Let’s hope good things come to those who wait as we give this title a chance to unpack.
~ Tim Jenkins ~