Graphic novel review: Punk Rock Jesus

punk rock

Punk Rock Jesus was recommended to me by Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham. I can’t thank them enough as it’s been a truly superb read.

Sean Murphy’s graphic mini-series presents a controversial and daring concept which, at times, can be uncomfortable in its challenges.  Presenting a reality TV show from an idyllic island J2, a pompous atheist scientist brings about the second coming of Jesus Christ via cloning.  This second coming is developed using DNA from the shroud of Turin. This is such a wonderful concept for Sean Murphy to approach, challenging our perceptions of religion, science and at which point our manipulation and control of life should stop.

The reality show leads to a split reaction across America. Christians hate the show and believe the second coming to be nothing but a blasphemous experiment.  They attempt to shut the project down multiple times throughout the graphic mini-series, but this opposition is used to boost ratings in the entertainment industry and drive forward the plot for the J2 show itself. In amongst this, Sean Murphy’s depiction of Christian and later on, Islamist, groups is on the whole largely unfair. These are the points at which the series becomes uncomfortable to read. All religious groups throughout the narrative not only meet the stereotypical expectations we have in place today but are over exaggerated by the creator. It’s not hard to pick up on his disdain for religion in general, reinforced by the author’s declaration of recently becoming an atheist – revealed on the very last page of the graphic novel.

The plot fulfils the title. After a number of manipulated events at the hands of the scientist and producer on J2, Chris (the engineered child who is supposed to be the second coming of Christ) quits the show, hurling tirades of abuse against the state of the entertainment industry before joining it himself as part of a punk rock band. It’s unclear why Chris leaves to join the last remaining punk band in America, with no clear commentary from Sean Murphy as to what it represents. Is it an alternative to the controlling media, the brainwashing entertainment industry and an escape from religion? It is never clarified and unfortunately, this is where Punk Rock Jesus really falls short for me.

Chris, the second coming, could have been a mouthpiece for so much more – rather than a whiny teenager who screams obscenities against others’ beliefs.

In between a teenager’s angst to uproot religion is the quieter story of Chris’ body guard, Thomas Mckael. After the death of his father, he is raised as a member of the IRA. In sequences of flashbacks, we learn about this ex IRA man, now J2 bodyguard, who wishes to save his soul and repent the murder of 13 people by protecting Chris. Through Thomas, Sean Murphy delivers emotive dialogue that makes us fall in love and in sympathies with this remorseful criminal. Unfortunately, Murphy repeats the same mistake in his characterisation – he just doesn’t develop Thomas enough. In fact, it often feels that Sean Murphy is attempting to gel together depictions of two entirely separate stories throughout Chris and Thomas’ relationship.

Outside of the daring concept, Punk Rock Jesus excels as a visual piece. Sean Murphy has created brilliant artwork and the detail within some of his panels is where the brilliance lies. There are many points that require more than a moment’s focus in order to absorb what’s really going on in the story and for each of the characters. Sean Murphy portrays a taste for gritty violence throughout his artwork, with some blood splattered panels delivering danger, destructiveness and gore. Black and white artwork can be particularly hard to observe, especially when there are multiple events happening within them, thus Sean Murphy must be acknowledged for his creative talent that bolsters Punk Rock Jesus. This is best accomplished when the failings of character development threaten to outshine the intelligence of the original concept.

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