Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Punk Rock Jesus Review

Even though I know Sean Murphy has written comics before (Off Road) I think of him primarily as a comic book artist. Murphy tried to prove me and possible other non-believers that he has just as much talent behind the keyboard than he has at the drawing table. 

Punk Rock Jesus is a story set in the future. A new reality TV show, J2, has impregnated a virgin woman with the clone of Jesus Christ. They’ve taken dead DNA material from the Shroud of Turin, revived it and cloned Jesus. The J2 compound is located on an island before the first episode of the show even aired, dozens of people are found outside the gates protesting. For obvious reasons, the show causes much controversy and like many things that are controversial, the show becomes hugely popular. Murphy sets up the story in a mere handful of pages. This comic is wonderfully dense and I really enjoyed that. The story spans several years in the life of the cloned Jesus and it’s all contained in six issues. In a market still dominated by decompressed storytelling, Murphy decides to head the other way and pack a satisfying amount of story in each issue. That alone makes this a worthy comic for your hard earned dollars.

Punk Rock Jesus gives us a chance to see Writer Murphy battle it out with Artist Murphy. I was surprised at the amount of smaller panels and that's probably because I consider Murphy primarily as an artist. He surprised me though. He has a large amount of caption boxes and speech bubbles on most pages but it doesn't crowd the page. That's one of the biggest a surprises here. The pages are dense with words and panels but Murphy's keen eye as an artist keeps it balanced and more importantly, he keeps the reader engaged in the story. I've found in the past that the more a comic is dense the more difficult it is to keep the reader at a suitable level of excitement. The density of a comic has a significant impact on the pacing of the story being told. Either due to impressive story or the stellar art, Punk Rock Jesus captivated my interest and never let it go. This story had some serious momentum. It’s also got tons of action. More than I was expecting. 

Sean Murphy, quite unsurprisingly, draws a great polar bear. It's name is Cola.
One of the concerns I had while reading developed over the course of the first issue. Murphy uses the media quite heavily. There are numerous reporters, news channel broadcasts and one news talk show host that take up a considerable part of the story. I'm not a huge fan of the media being used heavily in comic. It often comes off as expository and dry. I also find that it sucks the energy right out of the story. Few comic creators can and have used the media successfully in their stories. Frank Miller is particularly adept at using this technique (The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and Elektra Assassin are probably his best examples). Murphy proves he has a knack for using this story telling device in a way that is not only effective, but interesting.

Murphy's use of the media allows for him to increase the amount of story he can fit in a single issue. Yes, it serves a purpose as an expository device but it also serves to comment on the story while it’s happening as opposed to simply telling the reader what's going on or what has already happened off-panel. His use of the media isn't done in a vacuum. Several characters appear on TV shows and are interviewed about events that have are happening. It helps that Murphy intercuts the media segments with other stories happening elsewhere.

I wasn't prepared for Punk Rock Jesus. I thought this was going to be some sort of pseudo-cult type story where the loss of innocents of one or many characters was going to be the focus of the story. All I knew for sure before flipping to that first page was that the art was going to rock, and it did. Murphy makes the ordinary look extraordinary and the extraordinary just plain awesome. The art is easy to follow and it all looks and feels so damn energetic. I'm glad this book is in black and white. It's adds a raw energy to the story and art that perfectly fits Murphy's style. There are some artists that simply don't require any colour and Murphy is one of them. Murphy is the kind of artist I want to see draw. I would love to find a video of him attacking the page with pens. It's suitable that punk lifestyle and music play a role in this comic because Murphy's art exudes that same energy. It's go scratchy lines and it gives a sense of artistic and creative energy that’s let loose on the page.

I finished reading Punk Rock Jesus a few days ago and I've been thinking about since. The prevailing emotion is still that of pleasant surprise. I don't know when Murphy had the time to grow as a writer but since he’s arrive on the comics scene with Joe the Barbarian and a couple other Vertigo mini-series, he still had enough creative energy to give us this dose of a 21st century religious big brother that’s combined with a documentary of punk all of which has undertones of social responsibility. This comic will make you a Sean Murphy evangelist. 

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