I only vaguely recall the mini-series Punk Rock Jesus being announced and released sporadically throughout 2012. I didn’t think much of it outside of the interesting premise (a clone of Jesus rebelling against the reality show he was made for and becoming a punk rocker) or try to seek it out, even though I am a big Vertigo junkie and try to read just about everything the line puts out. The comic was just sort of there to me.
Then earlier this year, I discovered the trade paperback on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. I thought long and hard and ultimately decided to give Punk Rock Jesus a shot. After reading and thinking it over for a while, it’s time to discuss and give the ol’ tome a review. Is it good?
Punk Rock Jesus (Vertigo Comics)
In the not too distant future of 2019, a TV network announces the biggest reality show to ever hit the air waves. Known as the J2 Project, the TV show would be about the life of the first ever human clone, Jesus Christ. The concept starts out like a scaled down version of The Truman Show, where the audience can watch a live 24 hour broadcast of the kid as he grows up and learns about the world through a filter.
The concept, as you can imagine, garners attention from all groups and walks of life — including mixed reactions from Atheists to the extreme Christian Right. Some dismiss the whole thing as a joke while others protest out of sheer disgust. To protect the child (named Chris), his mother (Gwen), and basically anyone who works on the show from unsavory types that might get violent, the head of the project, Slate, hires former IRA member Thomas McKael, as head of security to keep everyone safe. From there, we watch as the world reacts to the show, how the characters deal with their situation and fame, and the dark events that take place behind the scenes.
Yes, why did you hire the Punisher to protect us?
There is much more to the story, of course, including the ultimate fallout of Chris breaking away from the show and becoming an atheist punk rocker (not a real spoiler since that is sort of the premise), but the details are best left for you to discover for yourself. The main thing is that this is a very good comic that is even more impressive than it seems because, from what I’ve heard, this is the first time Sean Murphy has written anything before. If that is the case, then I do look forward to more work so I can see him grow as a writer because he has delivered one of the better mini-series I’ve read with Punk Rock Jesus.
Starting from the top, I really enjoyed the premise of the story. It’s the kind of premise that is unique enough to stand out amongst other stories, and sounds interesting enough to pique peoples’ interest and get them to take a look. The story itself lives up to the premise very well, exploring all the concepts, themes, and ideas that one would expect from such an idea and presents it from multiple viewpoints. There’s talks of religion (obviously), morality, redemption, fame and what it can do to a person (especially in this particular circumstance), and why people believe or do not. It’s very fascinating material and I do appreciate the fact that the writer allowed for different perspectives on each of the topics, instead of just making one side look better than the other to prove a point or secretly push the author’s agenda. That sort of thing usually makes a writer look smug, acting as if he or she is better than everyone, and can severely damage a story by turning into a big mouthpiece. There’s none of that here from Sean Murphy, however, and that is a huge plus.
The story is broken up into two parts. The first half of the story (which makes up a little less than two thirds of the whole story) takes place with the characters in J2 and how they each deal with the situation at hand. It’s a slow burn, but very engrossing as we witness the characters grow and develop in different ways. The second half is with Chris when he becomes a punk rocker and watching the characters’ new reactions unfold. This part is faster paced, more energetic, and just as involving as before — and we also get to see the payoff of numerous instances of characterization and the unraveling of sub-storylines. Each half features pivotal moments that are meant to be emotional and quite heavy, most of which are effective and leave the audience feeling something.
The downside to Punk Rock Jesus being broken up in such a way is that the last half is faster paced. It tends to gloss over situations, like Chris and his band’s rise to fame; characters introduced here are not as well developed, the band members being a notable example; and a part of the ending can come off a bit rushed, despite how strong the rest of it is. Heck, the fact that the comic doesn’t spend more time with the punk rocker area can be a bit disappointing. Maybe an extra issue or a couple of more pages would have been nice to bolster this part of the story, since it also deals with some new themes and ideas that could have benefited from more exploration. None of this sinks the story mind you, it’s just a bit sad that the second half wasn’t nearly as strong as the first.
Everyone seems to forget that little detail about Jesus, don’t they?
Besides the story and the themes the true star and best part of the book are the characters in it. Despite some new ones that appear towards the end, the main cast is incredibly well-written and fleshed out. These are real people with real emotions, personalities, goals, and relationships that truly define them and make each fully unique. Throughout the six issue mini-series, you watch them grow and evolve as new things happen to them, how the world reacts or beats down on them, how they interact with each other, and how they make decisions that feel completely natural. Like I said, the first half is a slow burn where we see the characters grow and develop, which helps fuel their decisions later on and what makes them feel right. You can buy and believe the fact that Chris develops into the “Punk Rock Jesus” due to everything that has happened to him. You can easily see how depressed and broken Gwen becomes because of the events going on. You can understand why Thomas does what he does at the end because of how well his relationships with Chris and Gwen developed through the course of the book. It all rings true and that is what makes these characters so great.
However, even if the progression makes sense that does not always make for the most likeable of characters. What I’m referring to is the progression and character growth that Chris takes on when he becomes an atheist. While you can understand easily his cynicism and his frustration with religion, his attitude towards everyone with even tiniest bit of faith becomes irritating. He mocks Thomas for his belief, even though it is something that he holds dearly and defines him. He was planning on turning down meeting a fan with leukemia who came to see his show because of the Make a Wish foundation, a religious organization. He even calls his mother a media whore (to understand why that is so bad, you should read the series). In a way, he becomes exactly like the extreme Christian Right in the story, making him a rather hypocritical unlikeable jerk (probably intentional, but doesn’t make it any less annoying). If it wasn’t for the fact that Thomas, probably the best and most interesting character, got equal panel time, this unlikeability could have severely hurt the comic more than it did.
And in some other universe, this would lead Thomas to becoming Batman.
As I said earlier, Sean Murphy isn’t normally a writer — he is an artist (titles such as The Wake and Joe the Barbarian). As such, along with writing, he also handled art duty on the book. Punk Rock Jesus looks utterly fantastic; one of the best looking books that came out in 2012. First thing to note is that the book is in black and white, with no color in it (unless you count the covers). That’s normally something that’s not for everyone (since coloring can really bring out the best in a lot of other artist’s work), but it honestly works very well here. Murphy is a talented enough artist that he can make every scene easy to follow and every character identifiable, whereas other comics can have difficulty doing that without color (Satellite Sam for instance).
The usual aspects and areas I examine pertaining to artwork are all executed perfectly. All of the characters are easy to distinguish and unique from one another, with a wide range of emotions (some look similar to others in other Murphy comics, but not here). The moments that are supposed to be quiet and allow for the artwork to convey the mood are effective due to how well drawn and laid out the scenes are. The level of detail and effort put into many of the panels and scenes is astonishing, from the energy and crowds during the concerts to simple quiet moments, like two characters chatting in a diner. Outside of some panels having blank backgrounds and empty voids, there is very little wrong with this comic when it comes to art.
Today, we are pleased to present to you a long lost John Denver Christmas special!
Is It Good?
- Very engaging, unique, and emotional story
- Fully realized main characters
- Detailed and beautifully drawn art
- The second half is weaker
- Main character can be very unlikeable
Punk Rock Jesus is a solid comic through and through, especially for the writing debut of Sean Murphy. The story is very engaging, the characters are well developed and human, the themes and concepts intriguing, and the artwork on a level all of its own. It has a couple of downsides, most of which are found in the second half of the book. Regardless, this is a comic that simply must be read, especially if you enjoy works that cause you to think differently or view previously established ideas in a new light.
Punk Rock Jesus is available in regular single issues, on Amazon, and on Comixology. The trade paperback, which I reviewed, is the best version though since it would be cheaper and has 10 extra pages of story not found in the regular issues. I have no clue what these pages are exactly, but it should be noted. Definitely worth a look and your time.
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