Joe The Barbarian is where I first remember paying attention to Sean Murphy as an artist. After Hellblazer: City of Demons and American Vampire: Survival Of the Fittest, Murphy joined my “must buy” as an artist – a category he shares with only two other artists, Sam Keith and Scottie Young. So when Punk Rock Jesus was announced as a limited series from Vertigo I made the note right away to pre-order the trade as soon as possible. It wasn’t until after I re-read the solicitations that I realized that Sean wasn’t only attached to this as the artist, but also the writer my curiosity was peaked and I became more and more impatient for the book as time passed. When I finally received the trade I drank it in going so far as to read it while my wife was fretting in the waiting room while my son was having tubes surgically implanted into his ears. In brief, as an artist on my must buy list, Punk Rock Jesus did not disappoint. As story, Sean Murphy has a while to go before he makes that list as a writer.
The art in Punk Rock Jesus is amazing, I’ve stated before my growing respect for black and white comics, and all I can say in that regard is that color would have muddled the book. Murphy is able to create pages and pages of art with so much going on that visually needs to be taken in that color would have been a waste of time and resources. From a visual perspective, nothing would be added by the inclusion of blues, reds, etc while the tone and feel of the book would have been lost had they been used. Murphy reminds me of Ted McKeever and his ability to use the whole page to tell the story. No white space is wasted and every line serves a purpose. In short, the book is beautiful.
The writing, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. Punk Rock Jesus tells the story of a young man who was cloned from DNA taken from The Shroud Of Turin for the purposes of creating a reality show around Jesus version 2’s (J2) life. Basically, The Truman Show meets Christianity with a bit of self serving capitalism tossed in. Theoretically, this is the perfect set-up for a great social commentary on the nature of faith, television, technology, and the free market. In reality though, Sean Murphy was not the person to write it.
In no way am I trying to say that the story is bad, it’s just not as interesting or as deep as it wants to be. There are barely two likable characters in the whole comic, and one of them is rarely seen and the other abandons his promises to his Lord as soon as it becomes hard to maintain his vow. Neither of the likable character are the Jesus clone, Chris, who turns into a huge douche bag by the time he is old enough to have an original thought, and goes on to act like a high-school student who just discovered atheism rather than a main character whose voice the reader is supposed to listen. The basic tenant of Chirs’ message is “religion bad” and Murphy did not include any kind of redeemable religious character who could challenge this assessment. Instead what we get are protagonists we are supposed to (but don’t) like who are anti-religion and religious antagonists who contribute nothing positive to society and rely on violence and anger to move their message forward. In the world of Punk Rock Jesus , there is no grey area when it comes to religion and faith, and this hurts the legitimacy of the point Murphy is trying to make.
On the whole, the art in Punk Rock Jesus outshines the story to the 10th degree, and you should read the book just for it alone. Keep in mind, though, as you read the book that the comic that, while the story is interesting and entertaining, the themes and message of the book are, at best, simplistic and unbalanced, and, at worst, juvenile and pedantic.
Off topic, if you are looking for a great Sean Murphy book where he is the artist and writer, I recommend Off Road, easily the funniest comic I’ve read since Barry Ween.