Review: Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy

15798792Punk Rock Jesus — Sean Murphy
Released: April 9th, 2013 by Vertigo
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon, Book Depository

A reality TV show starring a clone of Jesus Christ causes chaos across the U.S. of the near future in PUNK ROCK JESUS, a new graphic novel written and drawn by Sean Murphy, the acclaimed illustrator of JOE THE BARBARIAN and AMERICAN VAMPIRE.

J2 causes both outrage and adulation. Religious zealots either love or hate the show, angry politicians worry about its influence on the nation, and members of the scientific community fear the implications of cloning a human being at all, let alone the Son of God.

Thomas McKael is the clones’s bodyguard and former IRA operative, who despite his turbulent past is hired to protect the new Jesus—a baby who captivates the world, but grows up to become an angry teenager.

When falling ratings force the network to cut Jesus’s mother from the series the young star runs away, renounces his religious heritage and forms a punk rock band. And what starts off as babysitting for Thomas becomes an epic battle, as Jesus goes to war against the corporate media complex that created him.

I want to start off this review with a couple of disclaimers.  The most important of which probably being that if you do not like reading graphic novels or other mediums that depict religiously controversial content, then this is not for you.  I’m sure you may have realized that from the title and synopsis above, but I figured it might be good to mention such a thing.  Additionally, I will admit to being sympathetic towards a lot of the views perpetuated on the side opposite of religion in this graphic novel; however, as you may be able to extrapolate from my rating, this does not make me automatically start raving about the amazingness of this comic.  So I’m a little less biased than you might think. ;D  Finally, while the art is absolutely fan-flipping-tastic, I am mostly critiquing this on the writing and story content as I feel that I’m not quite qualified to be an art critic.

So this graphic novel essentially has two halves: exposition/buildup and the actual punk rock portion that we are anticipating from the beginning.  And yes, while the buildup does make the latter portion all the more satisfying and understandable, I felt like more time was spent building up the scenario than the actual execution.  When we finally get to see Chris, the clone of Jesus, rocking it up, it feels so much more rushed than the rest of the comic that it is ultimately disappointing, with the ending feeling like it was quickly slapped on.  Which is quite sad, too, when the premise held a lot of potential to be ungodly fun.  That isn’t to say it completely fails in this regard though.  I mean, I can’t help but love that Sean Murphy drew a badass looking picture of Carl Sagan, among various gunfights and other action-packed scenes.  Also, I think I have a new love for genetically engineered polar bears to cuddle with.

The plot does give a somewhat heavy-handed examination of the role of religion within our society versus scientific advancement, with some unfortunately stereotypical fundamentalists being a consistent backdrop throughout.  In fact, a good chunk of the characters I felt did not get time to be filled out well enough to where I had trouble emotionally connecting.  I did like, though, that we get quite a spectrum of belief within the cast of characters, from the militantly atheist to the staunch Catholic seeking redemption, with skeptical scientists and others filling things out.  While not kind in its treatment of religion, the graphic novel manages to at least give multiple points of view, with the Catholic Thomas McKael easily being the best written character.  McKael’s backstory is heartbreaking, so be prepared with perhaps a tissue or two.  Just warning you.

We also touch on some other issues that were for me personally hard to read.  Gwen, Chris’s mother, deals with a lot of predictable issues for being locked up on an island taking care of a child while constantly in front of cameras on live television.  Post-partum depression being among those.  Murphy handles these issues well, I think, especially on the psychological front; I felt like he did do his research before writing and it shows on multiple fronts.  I mean, he showed the psychological effects of isolation quite well and I have no complaints.  Of course, reality television gets a heavy-handed treatment with this story, but that’s not all that entirely surprising.

Overall, I felt like this comic does succeed at making one think critically about their beliefs, even if I felt that the storytelling was flawed.  Read this one with an open mind, especially if you hold strong religious beliefs.

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Review: Damselfly by Jennie Bates Bozic

18216396Damselfly — Jennie Bates Bozic
Released: November 11th, 2013 (self-pub)
Series: Damselfly #1
Source: eARC via Netgalley
Rating: ★★★½
Links: Amazon, Smashwords

In 2065, the Lilliput Project created Lina – the first six-inch-tall winged girl – as the solution to a worldwide energy and food crisis. Isolated in a compound amidst the forests of Denmark, Lina has grown up aware of only one purpose: learn how to survive in a world filled with hawks, bumblebees, and loneliness. However, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, she discovers that she’s not the only teenager her size. Six ‘Toms’ were created shortly after Lina, and now her creators need to prove to the world that tiny people are the next logical step in human evolution. In other words, they need to prove that reproduction is possible.

Um. No thanks. Lina’s already fallen in love with a boy she met online named Jack. Only he has no idea that thumbelina1847 could literally fit inside his heart.

When her creators threaten to hurt Jack unless she chooses a husband from among the ‘Toms’, Lina agrees to star in a reality TV series. Once the episodes begin to air, the secret of her size is out. Cut off from any contact with the outside world, Lina assumes Jack is no longer interested. After all, what guy would want to date a girl he can’t even kiss?

Slowly, very slowly, she befriends the six young men who see her as their only ticket to happiness. Perhaps she can make just one guy’s dream of love and companionship come true. But her creators have a few more twists in store for her that she never thought possible.

She’s not the only one playing to the cameras.

When I originally read the premise of this book, I was a bit nervous.  While it intrigued me, I wasn’t sure whether this Thumbelina retelling with a Bachelorette component would actually work.  Unique, but maybe almost too much crazy for one book.  Somehow, though, I was proven wrong — it was crazy enough that it actually turned out quite well.  The book was definitely better than I originally expected, and it was a fun, albeit a bit short, ride.

We’ve got Lina, our pocket-sized protagonist, who has spent her entire life inside the Lilliput Project’s compound with only one person there that is even close to a companion, George in charge of the aviary.  The rest of the employees, and especially Dr. Christiansen, the program’s director, see her as little more than a scientific novelty and experiment.  Being isolated like this, it’s not all that surprising she develops a rebellious streak.  Unbeknownst to the director (and this part still confuses me — wouldn’t they notice her suspiciously being gone for hours at a time?) she has obtained a computer and has found an online boyfriend.  It was nice seeing how virtual reality technology was implemented here.  We get segments of the book detailing the dates she goes on with Jack and how their relationship develops, and even though logistically the relationship seems impossible, I was still rooting for this pairing the entire time.  Even when the reality show is forced upon Lina and she has six choices that are a logical choice size-wise.

But there’s no stopping love, is there?  Once that attachment is formed, it’s hard to forget.  Especially when Jack is one of the only people that has ever expressed true worry and care for Lina.  I definitely sympathized with her fierce loyalty to that love throughout much of the show she’s forced to take part of.  How can you blame her?

Still, the Toms are interesting characters in their own right.  While a few of them I didn’t get to see as much of as I would have liked to — Shrike and especially Blue come to mind — Row, Tom #2, was a well-developed character and stood out for his cheerfulness even in such a hopeless situation.  Though I found myself liking him as the book progressed, as Lina found trouble letting go of her feelings for Jack, I had trouble wanting her and one of the Toms to get together.  The forced situation was too troubling to me.

Yet, throughout the show, they begin uncovering secrets behind the project and why they’re being broadcasted to the entire world instead of keeping the entire thing behind closed doors.  There’s quite a number of interesting revelations I didn’t see coming, and Bozic threw in twists that actually had me stunned.  As in, screaming at my kindle “WHAAAAT” stunned.

My main issues with the book, though, were the sparse world-building and the reasoning behind creating Lilliputian-sized people.  It’s hinted at that the world’s been in upheaval and multiple wars and civil wars have taken place, but as to why it’s never told.  I won’t excuse Lina being stuck in the compound her entire life as the reason for the lack of information as she had access to the internet and could have researched this on her own.  This and the proliferation of virtual reality is about all we learn of the state of the Earth well over half a century from now.  Additionally, why would you create people six inches tall to solve world hunger and energy issues instead of more viable solutions like creating off-world colonies or researching alternative sources of fuel?  With small people comes huge problems, such as how humans would drop down the food chain tremendously and would have to worry about a huge host of predators and survival instead of reviving civilization to its height.  It just doesn’t come off as a logical solution.

Regardless of these particular problems, the plot and my enjoyment of the characters and romance still had me glued to Damselfly throughout its entirety.  If you’re looking for something different and don’t mind crazy reality show antics, then you should definitely pick this one up.  It’s a whole lot of fun!