Packing more satire, commentary, dark humor, and straight up socio-political horror in every panel, and in just about every sentence, than any other series being published right now, Punk Rock Jesus continues to display a tendency to potentially grind to a halt under its own weight, but it’s a damn fun read. In issue #2 the story flashes back forth between the characters of Gwen Fairling (J2’s mother), Thomas McKael (J2’s bodyguard and former IRA terrorist), the J2 reality show team’s present and McKael’s young life in the Catholic/Protestant segregated Northern Ireland. The flashbacks are essential though as they reveal some of the twisted and hate filled teaching that he underwent under his uncle’s tutelage and the affect it had on him. His memories of a lost childhood are softening his approach to Gwen and Chris’s (J2's) plight at the hands of her media mogul handlers. Handlers whose only concern is ratings and the New American Christian movement that keeps protesting the island where the J2 reality show is being filmed, demanding that Gwen be released from her “captivity” on the island. The New American Christians (backed by the Tea Party and the NRA) might have a point though, as the pressure and constant lying being perpetrated by the J2 camp might be just too much for Gwen to take…
Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus is the kind of series that is tailor made for Vertigo. A little bit sci-fi, a little bit social and religious satire, and a whole lot relevant to current society, it is like a refracting mirror held up to our current consumer, religious, and politically moribund culture. Murphy’s near future society isn’t as dystopian as it is completely fabricated. Everything and everyone has some kind of money or power based agenda and cares nothing for anyone but themselves. Even McKael’s motivations are motivated from a desire to alleviate guilt over his previous actions. Gwen tries to be a good parent to Chris, but she rapidly crumbles under the scrutiny of the public and the manipulation of her benefactors.
Interestingly enough, the Punk Rock Jesus of Punk Rock Jesus has yet to show up since Chris is still a baby and really does nothing to forward the plot, other than by simply existing. Murphy brilliantly builds this aspect of Chris’ character into the story though as Jesus, as a cultural and religious figure/myth/God really is more of an existing, and fought over, idea now more than anything else, let alone a man who really once lived. The atheistic undertone to the story and the futility of religion might be a clue to the books future direction. Maybe Chris really isn’t a clone of Jesus of Nazareth and is just another con perpetrated on a society desperately looking for a cause rather than a morality.
Murphy’s art continues to be a visual treat, even if it is in black and white (again thematically fitting though). His panels are packed with tons of detail and his characters’ body language and facial expressions are beautifully expressive. The realism he infuses in his work is also quite stunning.
Punk Rock Jesus isn’t perfect, but like I mentioned above, it’s a damn fun and intelligent read. It’s a shame this is only a mini-series though. If conceived as an ongoing series, it really might have become one of Vertigo’s signature series.