Punk Rock Jesus #1
Yeah, you read that title right and yes, it is an entirely literal one; this is a book about Jesus joining a punk rock band. Though before you get your pitchforks and placards out I suggest actually skimming through this introductory issue because the book’s auteur Sean Murphy isn’t making fun with his fiction; he’s not evoking the Lords name for the novelty but the strong meaning. Punk is puerile, it’s disrespectful by nature and this book is neither of those. Jesus is forgiving, he is infinite wisdom incarnate and although the book doesn’t quite reach those heights of omniscience Sean does at least strive for the limit placed on humankind in his approach to the issues of Religion, faith and their place in our modern world. In spirit then this book is actually much closer to Christ than it is that cock-driven rebellion rock.
In content though it merges the two terrifically into a twisted and terrifyingly believable concept. Taken as a whole it seems a bit much, our lord and savior shredding six-strings in a punk band, but the book cleverly breaks the idea down into steps so digestible that you leave wondering why this hasn’t all actually happened yet. Cloning is within our grasp, or at least it would be were it not for the ethical issues impeding scientists and those in the place to offer the support that they need. Where though is the ethical quandary in quickening the return of Christ? With this as their goal and the full blessing and banking boons of the church behind them scientists would believably break that barrier briskly. And if they did, surely we would all want to see it happen (The Bible is still the highest selling book of all time) and if we did, someone would surely stand to profit. Under that kind of pressure, surrounded by that kind of sin and selfish belief what would any Teenager do but throw a tantrum and act out?
Interestingly enough though the trinity two-point-oh doesn’t really make an appearance in this issue, instead we are introduced to those tasked with introducing him to this world and through them the warts and wails of it. It would be comforting to call this comic ‘dystopic sci-fi’ because it takes place somewhere in the future, but the truth is nothing presented here hasn’t actually already happened: the visceral horrors come in the form of flashbacks to a brutal IRA battle that left one lead character a cold and hardened victim of the cruelest catholic guilt, while the omnipotent seeming corporations and crazed crowds are hardly exaggerated versions of those currently controlling their parts of the world. In many ways it seems that the books far out concept is really there to trick people into receiving the lowdown on real life from Murphy, which is fine by me because these are obviously issues that need to be discussed right now.
For those less interested in thematics and theology though the trick front, the facade, is a fully fleshed out one and well worth reading even if the meaning were empty. The monotone art is marvelous, Murphy’s lines clean but his panel’s increasingly complex (though only when they need to be) so that the focus of the picture is always clear but never at the cost of its depth or detail. The characters that commonly hold this focus are as fully realized in the script as they are the scribblings: they are a motley bunch, the aforementioned ex-IRA security agent, the naive teenager roped in to mothering this child, the techie in charge of documenting and doctoring the whole thing, the positive-thinking atheist scientist who makes it all possible and the cynical corporate head controlling them all. Each of these people could carry their own mini but Murphy does a good job of delivering them as an ensemble, a much more delicate task that will only get worse once Chris slams onto the scene.
Also a delicate task is balancing the argument between those of different faiths and persuasions but in many ways Murphy manages to succeed. Like Sorkin in The Newsroom he only ever presents us with pessimistic views on the overly religious; there is no empathetic character of faith in amongst the leads, that role relegated to cameoing crazies instead, but strangely the book itself never seems so skewed. It would be too much of a contrivance to create a character just for the sake of sating some readers or to script a line that Sean himself didn’t believe, this though is the advantage of being a cartoonist, he can leave all such stuff to the art. There are moments in Punk Rock Jesus of unspoken support – characters sitting in the shadow of a cross and seeming strangely comforted by that, the constant uttering of ‘oh god, oh god’ – and subtle critique – this is a world without true faith and look at it, it’s a nightmare – that do enough to balance the scales in my eyes and i’m sure that this is something that later issues will achieve to even greater lengths.
I say all of this as an atheistic youth, as someone who was hard of hearing by the time I hit high-school, the volume knob stuck permanently at eleven, and the most shocking thing about Punk Rock Jesus is that if they were they to give it a chance a church minister or mincing suburban mother could well say the same. Like the man from which it took its name Jesus doesn’t discriminate, it provides a valid entry point for every possible perspective on the issue and enough entertainment for those who don’t give a damn either way. Vertigo had dropped off the radar and their past three new titles didn’t do much for me but now, with Jesus, they have risen again.