Striving to create the ultimate reality show, an unscrupulous producer hatches the idea to use DNA farmed from the Shroud of Turin to artificially bring about the second coming of The Son Of God. From the Scientifically derived virgin birth onwards, a camera crew monitors ‘Chris’ as he lives and learns on the off shore J2 island, but aware of the uncertainty of his heritage, raged against for duplicitous reasons by zealot groups of all kinds, manipulated by the show’s producers and slowly loosing the people he loves to violence and depression, Chris looses faith in the religion he is force fed and breaks free, teaching the gospel of atheism via the medium of his favourite music.
It would be tempting to site writer/artist, Sean Murphy, as an exiting immerging talent in the comics industry if it weren’t the case that he’s actually been around for some time, paying little heed to the fact that he has a wonderfully appealing art style that could be snapped up by the Big-Two companies and instead concentrating on smaller projects that he has more control over.
Highlights from his career to date include the hilarious sci-fi adventure Outer Orbit, done for Dark Horse, the day-in-the-life comedy/drama, Off Road, done for IDW, and probably more popular, though only supplying the artwork, were his works at Vertigo, which have included several Hellblazer stories and Grant Morrison’s Joe the Barbarian.
It seems that he has now earned enough points with Vertigo that they have allowed him free reign as writer and artist on his own project, which as it turns out is the ludicrously original mini-series, Punk Rock Jesus; a comic I don’t think it would be out of order describing as the only new book Vertigo have put out in the last few years with teeth and that pioneering Vertigo sprit (another sign of DC’s steady ongoing drop in quality).
The story description above doesn’t really do it justice, as it’s a lot less generic and one-sided than then you might think. It has a storytelling style all of its own, with parallel storylines and subtleties that could take pages to describe. Indeed there is actually a parallel storyline which is of equal importance to the central story that revolves around J2’s head of security and his past with the IRA, and so prominent is this story that one could accuse Murphy of shoe-horning two small ideas of vastly different content together to form one longer story. Be that as it may, it’s executed well enough to be relatively seamless, which, along with Murphy’s knowledge of the subject matters at hand, makes for quite an all around informative and well balanced narrative.
It’s true that people of a more religious disposition might find some of what Punk Rock Jesus has to say to be a personal affront, and I wouldn’t recommend it to them despite its quality, but it must be said that it isn’t wholly an ‘anti-religion’ book. It DOES point out many of the inconsistencies of Christian dogma but if the comic is anti-anything then it’s anti-extremism.
All that controversial stuff aside, Punk Rock Jesus is a very entertaining and intriguing story with characters that are well rounded and interesting based in a world that is built with enough idiosyncrasies to have you genuinely feel like you’re reading something fresh, which is only assisted by the detail of the artwork.
The artwork, pencilled AND inked by Murphy, is an absolute tour de force. His character designs are quirky, with a reminiscence of Humberto Ramos only with a more grounded sense of anatomy, his clothing design could put many fashion designers to shame, his technical design and execution are comparable in many ways, including detail, to Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), the pacing and story telling are easy to follow and his sense of movement along with the kinetic portrayal of action is right up there with the very best that you could find in manga.
It’s presented in black and white, which some may find off-putting, and it’s not clear if this is a cost saving device or one to really show off Murphy’s inking skills, which, though thick with detail and heavy of texture defining brush-work, somehow feels crisp and clean… I guess all told it’s near flawless artwork.
So, potentially the best mini-series of 2012, Punk Rock Jesus constitutes essential reading to those with an open mind and a love of originality and great artwork. If there’s any justice it’ll be held up soon enough as a modern classic.
A grade – for originality
B+ grade – for storytelling
A grade – for artwork
Overall grade – A-
Punk Rock Jesus will be available in collected trade paperback from mid April.